Questions on: Pear

Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service

Q: I planted an ornamental pear that was doing great, but now the leaves have turned a dark red/burgundy color. The leaves are not falling off, but obviously something's wrong. I walked through my neighborhood and saw that the exact same thing is happening to all the ornamental pears. What is the problem and what can be done? (e-mail reference)

A: It sounds like a very virulent fire blight bacterium is going through your area. You must have had some rough weather recently, such as high winds or hard rain, followed by humid, steamy weather, which is conducive to the spread of this disease. If all of the leaves are affected, there is nothing you can do except give the tree its last rites!

Q: I planted a Cleveland select callery pear tree this spring. As I was looking it over yesterday, I noticed it is covered with ants and the leaves are starting to turn black. Do you have any suggestions for our baby? (e-mail reference)

A: The ants are probably helping to "milk" the aphids that are feeding on the pear. Get rid of the aphids and the ants will disappear, too. Get some Sevin insecticide and spray the entire tree-covering both leaf surfaces. Repeat the spraying in 10 days. That should take care of the problem. Sevin is a short residual insecticide.

Q: I have the type of pear tree that does not bear fruit, but is supposed to have white blossoms in the spring. My trees never have blossomed. Any idea why? (e-mail reference)

A: The tree is not flowering for one or a combination of reasons. It is being too generously fertilized, which encourages vegetative growth, but no reproductive growth. The tree is a subcanopy tree, in part or totally, where insufficient light exists for flowering to occur. Temperatures during the winter or more likely, coming into the early spring weeks, fluctuate to the extent that the flower buds lose their cold hardiness and then are killed by a sudden drop in temperature. What you have may not be a flowering tree.

Q: We bought a house with a Bartlett pear tree in our backyard. The tree produced a handful of large pears the first season. The tree was not cared for by the previous owner, so I trimmed the tree. The tree was loaded with pears last summer. However, the pears never ripened. The pears started dropping off the tree while they were still green. Could you give us any advice or suggestions to help us? Thank you. (e-mail reference)

A: Heavy fruit bearing every year as you describe could lead the tree to shed the fruit. If the tree doesn't have sufficient energy to maintain the crop it is bearing, it simply drops the fruit. It happens with apples as well. You can keep this from happening by selectively removing some of the blossoms as they start to drop their petals. This is known as fruit thinning. As long as the fruit isn't infested with larvae, which also could cause the fruit to drop, this should take care of the problem.

Q: My mother, who lives in south-central North Dakota, has a pear tree. It is very old and is probably 40 feet tall. It produces delicious, abundant pears each year. I also would like to start a pear tree. Can I take a cutting/branch from this tree and start a new one or do you know of a hardy pear tree that will grow here in North Dakota? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: You can collect the seeds from your mom's tree and plant them in a bed enriched with sphagnum peat moss. They need to go through a cold period to germinate. Planting them this fall in Jamestown will do that! You also can take terminal cuttings about 6 to 9 inches long. Dip the ends in a rooting hormone to see if that will give you some rooted cuttings. Generally, a 50/50 combo of sphagnum peat and sand will do the trick. For details, go to my site on Home Propagation Techniques at

Q: We read your column in the newspaper every week. We are trying to plant some fruit trees. We had a pear tree that did not survive the early frost. We want to replace it, but one of the problems we have is the trees blossom too early and then frost hits them. Do you have a recommendation for a pear tree that does not blossom early and is suitable for North Dakota? How about a peach tree? (Jamestown, N.D.)

A: Thank you for being faithful readers, it is appreciated! I also have had bad luck with pear trees. Either the blossoms are killed off or fireblight hits, so my recommendations will be tongue in cheek at best. Look for these cultivars at a local garden center: summer crisp, parker, luscious or gourmet. I tried summer crisp, but it finally succumbed to fireblight. However, other folks have told me that they are successful at growing and enjoying fruit from this cultivar.

Q: If you were to attempt to grow pears in the Jamestown area, what varieties would you select and what cultural practices would you suggest? (e-mail reference)

A: First, I would hope that I had better luck than I did growing them in Fargo! I grew Parker and Luscious. Both varieties are reputed to be good-tasting pears, but both succumbed to fireblight and a terrible chlorosis, not the winter cold. I have had better luck with apples and plums. Here is the pedigree on the two I attempted. Luscious is from South Dakota. It bears medium to medium-small fruits in mid to late September and has a flavor similar to Bartlett, but more intense. Its texture is firm, but melting. Like Gourmet, Luscious reportedly is somewhat resistant to fire blight and is pollen-sterile. Parker is an older University of Minnesota release (1934). Parker produces fruit similar in size, flavor and texture to Bartlett. It is somewhat less hardy than other varieties. It may not grow well north of the Twin Cities. Harvest in mid-September. I would grow Summercrisp, if I were to attempt to grow a pear again and could weasel some garden space from my wife. Summercrisp is the most current introduction from the University of Minnesota. The university released it in 1985. It produces medium-sized, red-blushed fruit that is mild and sweet with a crisp texture strongly reminiscent of an Asian pear. Summercrisp is hardy in most of Minnesota and moderately resistant to fireblight. An early variety, it is harvested in mid-August.

Q: We bought a house late last summer and discovered a pear tree. There were full-sized pears, but they were bug-ridden and unusable. This spring I expected to see the tree flowering, but it isnít. Are there types of pear trees that donít flower? Are the pears edible? What should I do to keep the bugs away so we can harvest the fruit? (e-mail reference)

A: Pear trees that bore pears last year should be flowering this year. You didnít tell me where you live, but in North Dakota the pear trees are in flower. To control insect damage to the fruit, a spray schedule and good sanitation (picking up fallen fruit) are essential. The spray schedule starts with a general-purpose fruit tree spray. This insecticide/fungicide combination is available at most garden supply stores. The general schedule is to spray at bud swelling, at petal drop and again about 10 days later.

Q: Is there a pear tree that you would recommend for the northern valley near Grand Forks? (e-mail reference)

A: Iíve had bad luck with pear trees, but that doesnít mean that everyone does! I would suggest that you contact Steve Sagaser, the Grand Forks County horticulturist, to see if he or any of his master gardeners in the area have had any luck growing edible pears. He can be reached at (701) 780-8229.

Q: We bought a new home that came with two apple and two pear trees. They are about 15-years- old. One pear tree has a few pears on it and looks healthy. The other tree has a lot of dead branches and some brown fuzzy clumps on its bark. A few leaves look a bit spotted also. Iím wondering if it has a fungus, some type of disease or is just dying. The lady we bought the home from said she always canned about 20 quarts of pears from the two trees. (Enderlin, N.D.)

A: From what you have told me, I would advise cutting down the sickly tree and hope the healthy one stays that way. In my experience with pear trees, if you have one that is producing for you, do all you can to keep it healthy and consider yourself lucky. More of them die because of disease and soil pH problems than survive to produce fruit.

Q: I have two ornamental pear trees spaced about 40 feet apart. After flowering, one of the trees continued as normal with the production of lush green leaves. The other tree appears distressed. It has a lot less leaves and the leaves are reddish in color. The only thing I have done differently this year is apply some lime to the lawn in the spring. Could this be the problem? If so, why is the other tree showing no signs of distress? (e-mail reference)

A: I assure you the lime application would not work that fast. Something else is going on. Try to get it diagnosed by local experts before you lose the tree.

Q: We have two pear trees about four or five years old. Last spring they bloomed for the first time. One of them bore three pears with one making it to maturity. It was larger than I expected it to be, juicy and tasted wonderful. This winter a deer found the tree and ate the bark off one side of the trunk. Will the tree die? How do I heal the wound? (Frederick, S.D.)

A: Thereís not a lot you can do. Make sure the tree does not undergo any more stress than necessary. I would put a cage around the trees next winter to keep the deer away. You can also use deer repellents.

Q: I am frustrated and thoroughly dumbfounded with the misfortune I'm having with my uke pear tree. This is the third one that's looking for a gravesite. It must be highly susceptible to disease, such as blight, which I think it has. The tree looked healthy when I bought it from the nursery. I sprayed it five times but the disease must have been too far advanced. Please help if there is any hope for this problem. I'm thinking of a less blight susceptible variety such as Summercrisp. (Harvey, N.D.)

A: Go for it. I've had bad luck with pears too! Summercrisp should fare better.

Q: I had a pear tree that grew beautifully for three years. It did not grow pears but had wonderful flowers. This year it had tight, smaller-than usual-flowers but no leaves. The tree died shortly after flowering. I might be the cause of its death. Last year we were infested with caterpillars so I put a band of vaseline about four inches high near the base of the tree because I discovered the caterpillars couldn't negotiate the vaseline. I placed vaseline around all my trees, but the pear tree was the only one that died. Did the vaseline kill the tree? (Thief River Falls, Minn.)

A: I doubt you caused the death of your pear tree, at least not directly so. Vaseline would not have killed the tree. Most likely it could have been girdled at the soil line by voles or other rodents or it could have been a root rot disease.

Q: I have a question about pears trees. I have a parker pear and a summer crisp pear. They both produce blossoms but not very many and do not produce any pears. What can I do to help them produce? The trees are healthy and grow well. The trees are 12 years old and have produced only once but I don't remember which one it was. (Enderlin, N.D.)

A: Could it be that you are too good to them? Try root pruning by driving a sharp spade into the soil at several spots around the outside of the tree canopy. That often stimulates them into their reproductive cycle.

Q: Does the Prairie Gem pear tree bear edible fruit? Or is the tree mainly for ornamental purposes? (Moorhead, Minn.)

A: The Prairie Gem pear is a beautiful ornamental pear. The fruit is not considered edible.

Q: I have a Luscious pear tree that is 9 years old. It is a very healthy tree. Last year was the first year I had flowers on it. The bad thing though is last year we had a freeze when the tree was flowering and lost it all. This year there are many more flowers and everything is looking good. Does the Luscious pear tree need to be cross pollinated or can it self pollinate? (E-mail reference)

A: Most pear cultivars are self-unfruitful, meaning they need another cultivar to bear fruit. You may get some fruit set without another pear nearby, but it will only be tokenism, not a crop. I suggest a 'Summer Crisp' as the mate to cross with.

Q: I have two pear trees that are about 15 years old. They only blossomed one year and produced only a few small pears. Can you tell me why they are not producing and how to get them to produce? (Gettysburg, S.D.)

A: Fifteen years and literally no fruit? I'm surprised you haven't converted them to firewood by now! Pears are generally not a good bet for the Dakota prairies—the soil is too alkaline, and they are subject to fireblight. In addition, as you pointed out, they bear poorly.

Purple pear leaves are often associated with phosphorus deficiency brought on by a tie-up with excess calcium in the soil when the pH is excessively high. This is also another reason for poor fruit set.

You won't like my advice, but I followed it myself after being unsuccessful at growing productive pears at my home. Get rid of the pear trees, and plant an apple tree!

Q: When is the best time to trim a Russian almond since mine is getting out of hand? I also have a 3-year-old standard pear tree that leafed out nicely this spring, but then the leaves started to droop and eventually dry up. There is also a new shoot coming out of the trunk near the bottom. Should I leave the shoot to grow or wait for the tree to re-leaf? (e-mail reference, Hague, N.D.)

A: I don't think it makes much difference how or when you prune the Russian Almond since this species has a strong tendency to sucker. Prune it any way you wish to keep it under control, or move it to a location where it can grow to natural form and save you the trouble of trying to keep it in bounds.

Concerning the pear tree, it sounds as if a root rot has taken hold. The tree's leafing out is a result of what carbohydrates were stored there the previous fall. The fact that the leaves wilted is because nothing was coming forth from the root system or so little that it could not sustain them. I suggest waiting about 30 days, and if no releafing takes place, consider the tree dead.

About the sucker coming from the base: This may be a renegade shoot coming from a grafted root stock, which may or may not be a pear of desirability. You can let it grow for a while and see what takes place. If it isn't to you liking, then get it out of there.  

I have not had good luck with pears in North Dakota. Something always seems to happen to them before I can get anything useful out of them!

Q: I have had this tree for four years. This year it bloomed and now has these little pears on it. Is this an ornamental or a pear tree? (Sykeston, N.D.)

A: It is both—an ornamental pear tree—Usurrion pear. Enjoy!

Q. I have two trees that I planted probably 10 to 15 years ago. They were given to me as seedlings by our local Soil Conservation District and they told me they were pear trees. They have grown to about 20 feet or so. The last three springs they had blossoms that covered the whole tree, but have never set any fruit. I can't find out what variety they are and why they don't produce any fruit. Can you give me any help? (Denhoff, N.D.)

A. If they came from the SCS, they were likely pears that are used for hardiness, and not fruit production—the Harbin or Ussurian pear.

Appreciate them for their form and flowers. They are essentially non-fruiting, at least from an edible perspective.

To get the fruit-bearing type try to get two cultivars that are not alike—"Gourmet," "Luscious," "Patten," "Sodak" and "Ure."

In fact, if you get just one of the above cultivars, the Harbins can act as pollinators. 

Thanks for writing.

Q. All of your information in the Sun Country has been very informative to me. I hope you  can give me a good report on what is happening to my pear tree. On the east one third of the tree the leaves are all turning yellow. There are pears on them. The rest of the tree has dark green leaves. Very healthy looking, the tree is about 25 years old, about 50 feet tall, has been very fruit bearing. It produces anywhere from 2000 to 4000 pears if I count small ones. Last year it had about 2000, larger than usual, and very sweet and juicy.

I give it four fruit spikes every spring. It is next to my apple tree, raspberries and strawberries.

Hope you can give me an answer to this. Thank you. (Bowdon, N.D.) 

A. First of all, congratulations on having what could be the oldest fruit bearing pear tree in our region!

Next, the inter-veinal chlorosis has me puzzled, but I can suspect a couple of things that only you may know.

My first suspicion is possible herbicide drift or movement. It is not a phenoxy type damage, but your description makes me think it is some type of other herbicide damage, with the rest of the tree appearing so healthy.

My second guess would be a possible canker or borer on one of the scaffold branches. If you can find any evidence of either, then the branches need removal.

My dollar would be on my first assumption, as everything else is too good looking!  

Q: I raise apples, grapes, cherries and plums in my orchard but no pears. My pear trees are growing well, but they do not blossom out nor set fruit. Can it be a soil pH problem, mineral deficiency or what? I have about 12 trees altogether so please help me if you can. (Burlington, N.D., e-mail)

A: Pear trees are a slight frustration for many gardeners, including yours truly. I gave up years ago! Here are some reasons why pear trees may not bloom or bear fruit: Wrong cultivar. Some will grow and survive, but not flower or bear fruit in your climatic zone. Summercrisp, Parker and Gourmet are the only three possibilities for North Dakota. You are too good to them. If they are growing well and not producing, perhaps your soil is being kept too fertile for fruit bearing, especially in reference to nitrogen levels. Wrong location. Since pears bloom before apples, they need special consideration when being located in a particular site. In even a slightly lower part of the terrain, cold air accumulates and can keep the pears from bearing fruit. The pH is too high. Pears are a little fussier than apples, as far as pH goes. Apples will bear over a wider pH range than pears. They ideally like it a little on the acid side--at pH 7 or lower. Most soils in the state test out to be quite alkaline--pH 7.8 to pH 9--enough to make a difference, since this is a logarithmic scale. It is tough, if not impossible, to permanently lower the pH in our region.

Q: Do you think that I should wait until the blossoms on my pear trees are fully formed to attempt a Q-tip pollination procedure, or will wild bees have visited the blossoms by that time? (e-mail)

A: Very likely, the wild bees will have found your pear blossoms, unless it is too windy or rainy (or both!). You don't want to use a Q-tip either if you try to do some pollinating. A small artist's brush works better to transfer the pollen to the stigma. Just be sure the pollen is mature when attempting to do this, or the results will be nil. Mature pollen will transfer to the brush; immature pollen will not. So, if you are brushing the anther for pollen and nothing is picked up, none will be transferred to the stigma.

Q: Can you give me some ideas on why two 20-year-old pear trees located about 100 feet apart in full sunlight don't bear. They seem to be in excellent health and to have escaped frost damage on blossoms most years. Occasionally, each has a few tiny pears. (Jamestown, N.D., e-mail)

A: Same reasons apple trees won't bear: not stressed enough, too much nitrogen, wet/cold/windy (any or all of the above) at the time of pollination. Another reason is lack of pollinating insect activity.

Q: I had a call from a patron this morning regarding their pear tree. She said it is about 16-17 years old and to her knowledge has never had a blossom on it, but they discovered three pears and tasted one. She said it was wonderful! It was shaped more like an apple. Her question: Is there anything they can do to encourage it to bloom and bear fruit? (E-mail reference, Tower City, N.D.)

A: It is not unusual for pears to have an apple shape, after all, they are in the same family! What it needs is another pear to act as a pollinator. The Ussurian pear would be a good one and should be available at many garden centers.

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