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Asian Pear Tree: Luscious, But Delicate

Asian pear trees produce golden, apple-shaped fruit that has a sweet pear flavor with the texture of a crisp apple. The Asian pear tree not only produces an abundance of delicious fruit, but it’s also aesthetically pleasing without taking up too much space. It has beautiful white flowers in the spring, lush green foliage in the summer, and colorful falling leaves in autumn. The species name, pyrifolia, means fiery leaves because of its intense fall color.

Asian pears can occasionally be found at the grocery store in the United States, but the fruit is very sensitive to bruising. Growing Asian pears at home is the best way to have plenty of quality produce. Unlike European pears, apple pears are greatest when picked ripe, so growing them in your garden guarantees that you can pick and enjoy them when they’re perfect.

Keep in mind, these trees are only partially self-fertile so they need to be cross-pollinated to produce satisfactory fruit yields. It’s helpful to plant two different varieties within 50 feet for optimal pollination or you can plant a cocktail tree with multiple varieties on the same tree. To extend the harvest season, choose varieties with different picking times. Most cultivars are cross-compatible for pollination, but it’s wise to confirm before planting. European varieties are also compatible for pollination. Make sure the bloom windows overlap to allow for cross-pollination. 

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Quick Care Guide

Asian pear tree
The Asian pear tree produces succulent but delicate fruit that’s prized by many. Source: Jillian Balli
Common Name(s)Asian pear, apple pear, nashi
Scientific NamePyrus pyrifolia
Days to HarvestBloom in spring and harvest in late summer and fall
LightFull sun
Water:1 – 2” once a week
SoilWell-drained loamy soil
FertilizerFertilize in the spring using a balanced fertilizer
PestsMoth larvae, scale, aphids, pear psylla
DiseasesFire blight, root and crown rot

All About Asian Pears

Asian pears are also commonly referred to as Nashi or apple pears. The Asian pear originates from East Asia. Most of the commonly grown varieties in the United States come from Japan, China, and Korea. Pears are large and often sold at a high price making it a great gift or treat for guests. The juicy, tasty fruit can be enjoyed on its own or it pairs well with cheeses and salads.

Pyrus pyrifolia is a deciduous tree with alternate symmetrical, teardrop-shaped leaves. The small white flowers grow in clusters and cover the entire tree during the spring. Tree size ranges from 8-20 feet tall depending on the rootstock. Dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard rootstocks are available. Dwarf rootstocks will produce an 8-10’ tree. Semi-dwarf rootstocks will produce a 12-15’ tree. Standard rootstocks will produce an 18-20’ tree.

The Asian pear is in the Rosaceae family along with apples, cherries, apricots, and plums (just to name a few). Growth and development are similar to apple trees. They bloom in the spring, the fruit tree develops over the summer, and is ready to pick at the end of summer and through the fall. In the winter, the trees drop all their leaves and go dormant. During the winter, the trees must reach a certain number of chill hours to produce fruit for the following season. Each cultivar has its chill requirement to produce fruit. Chill hours are accumulated when the temperature drops below 45℉. Asian pears require a range of 300-500 chill hours depending on the cultivar grown.

Types Of Asian Pear

Pyrus pyrifolia var. Shinko
Shinko (shown here) is a popular variety of Asian pear. Source: Puddin Tain

There are two main types of Asian pears; russet pears and green pears. Russet pears have a yellow-brown rind while green pears have a yellow-green rind. Below are a few popular cultivars and short descriptions of each.

Hosui

Consistently rated one of the best tasting Asian pears. Hosui is considered a russet pear. The fruit starts as yellow and turns a golden-brown color when ripened. This cultivar has a 300-400 hour chill requirement and the fruit is ready in August.

20th Century

Considered to be a green pear, this pear from Japan is juicy with a mild flavor. The chill requirement is 300-400 hours and the fruit is ready for harvest in August.

Shinseiki

Shinseiki produces bright yellow fruit that stores well in the fridge without compromising flavor or texture. The chill requirement is 250-300 hours and is ready for harvest from late July to early August.

Shinko

A golden-brown russet pear with strong flavor and a crisp juicy texture. The chill requirement is 450 hours and is ready for harvest in September.

Planting

The first step to growing Asian pears is to find the perfect location. Choose a sunny location in an area with good soil drainage. Give the tree 6-15 feet clearance from the nearest structure or trees. If you are not planting a cocktail tree, don’t forget to plant an additional variety within 50 feet. 

The best time of year to plant is in the spring when the temperature stays between 50℉ to 90℉. When planting, dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball. Loosen any circling roots and place the root ball into the hole. Fill in the hole and make sure to leave the graft at least 2-3 inches above the soil. After a tree is planted, it will slightly settle deeper into its hole as the soil settles. Always make sure that the rootstock is above the soil line to take advantage of the disease tolerant characteristics. 

Care

Pyrus pyrifolia flowers
Pyrus pyrifolia flower clusters appear in the spring each year. Source: Puddin Tain

Maintaining healthy fruit trees is crucial to avoid disease and pest issues. Follow the guidelines below and you will enjoy a bountiful harvest year after year!

Sun and Temperature

Asian pears should be planted in full sun where they will receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. They are hardy to USDA zone 5-9. Temperature tolerance ranges quite a bit depending on the cultivar and rootstock selection. Some combinations are frost tolerant down to -10℉ and others down to 10℉. Heat tolerance is also dependent on the cultivar and rootstock. 

Some varieties such as Hosui and Shinko grow very well in areas like the California central valley where temperatures exceed 100℉ during the summer. Cooler temperatures during the spring bloom can slow down pollination. Inadequate pollination can result in smaller fruits and less yield. Having two cross-pollinating varieties nearby and a surrounding habitat that promotes pollinator presence will help overcome this potential problem.

Water and Humidity

Asian pears need about 1-2 inches of water every week. During the summer, frequency and/or duration may need to be increased. Keep in mind, Asian pears are dormant during the winter months, so checking the soil is the best indicator for determining when to water. An easy way to check if you should water is when the top 2 inches of soil are dry. The most optimal time to water is early in the morning. This allows the soil to soak in the water with minimal evaporation. Avoiding stagnant water at night will also help prevent disease.

Soaker hoses and sprinklers can both be used to irrigate. Typically, it takes 200 minutes to apply an inch of water using a soaker hose. Sprinklers have much more variability, so a rain gauge should be used to determine the appropriate length of time. During cooler months, irrigation frequency should be scaled back to avoid overwatering.

Soil

Pear tree in garden
A sapling Asian pear tree can be a centerpiece for a garden. Source: alasam

Asian pears like well-drained loamy soils with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Trees will survive in nutrient-poor soils, but they will not produce as expected. Adding organic matter can help add nutrients and improve the soil structure. Trees will not survive in saturated or poorly drained soil conditions. Planting in a raised mound or bed is a good solution to overcoming drainage concerns.

Fertilizing

Young trees do not require very much fertilizer as long as they are planted in nutrient-rich soil. They typically will not require additional inputs until they are producing fruit. After trees become productive, they should be fertilized once a year in the spring after bud break using a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10.

Pruning

The best time to prune is during the winter when the tree is dormant. Asian pears like to have one central leader, so pruning should be done to promote one central leader and strong scaffold branches. Scaffold branches should be selected in an alternate pattern along the central trunk and should not overlap each other. When selecting scaffold branches, it’s important to consider the angle of the branch. Narrow angles are prone to splitting, so look for sturdy branches with a 65° angle from the central leader. Branches that grow vertically or towards the center of the tree should be removed. Branches growing in the center of the tree will cause shading to the scaffold branches which will reduce growth. 

Pruning is an excellent tool to maintain the desired size of the tree. Cutting back branches to the desired size may reduce the yield for one season, but it may be necessary to maintain a manageable tree. Pruning should also be used to remove dead and old non-producing growth. Removing dead growth will remove potentially infected material and promote new growth. Old fruit should never be left on the tree. Leaving old fruit allows for storing pathogens and introducing them into the next season.

Fruit develops on older growth. Luckily, it is easy to distinguish which branches contain fruiting buds and which contain growth buds. Fruiting buds look swollen and have fuzzy bud scales while growth buds are much smaller and inconspicuous.

Propagation

Pear trees are produced through grafting a cultivar onto a rootstock. Rootstock selection is based on the growing conditions and the preferred size. Rootstocks can provide characteristics such as disease tolerance, frost tolerance, and size control. Purchasing a grafted tree will also produce fruit years earlier than starting a tree from seed or cuttings. Check your USDA growing zone and select cultivars and rootstocks that are appropriate for your conditions. 

Asian pears can be germinated from seed. However, it takes significantly longer and the fruit characteristics are unpredictable. Germinating seeds is a long process and involves breaking seed dormancy, so this method is not recommended.

Propagation by cuttings is another option. This will produce a genetic clone of the mother plant, but the tree will be lacking the beneficial characteristics provided by rootstocks such as disease and frost tolerance. 

Harvesting and Storing

Cluster of Asian pears on tree
A cluster of pears sits high on this tree. Source: linoleum jet

Harvesting Asian pears is easy once you learn the perfect time to pick! Keep reading for proper harvesting and storage tips.

Harvesting

The first clue that the pears are ready to pick is fruit drop. When a couple of pieces have fallen from the tree, that’s a really good indicator that the pears are ripe. The second sign that the pears are ready to pick is the color. Depending on the cultivar, the color will be a golden russet color or a yellow-green color. If the color indicates that the fruits may be ready, the next step is to lift the fruit upwards. If the pear does not come off the branch easily, it is not ready. Ripe pears will break off the branch easily without pulling. After picking, handle with care because apple pears bruise easily.

Storing

Asian pears can be stored fresh at room temperature for about a week and 2-3 weeks in the crisper in the refrigerator.

For long term storage, there are quite a few options. Asian pears can be stored frozen or canned for later use in recipes. Pears should be cut into pieces leaving out the core before storing. They can also be dehydrated for easy sweet snacks.

Troubleshooting

Asian pear blossom
Delicate white blossoms herald the beginning of fruit development. Source: Rachelle

Growing Asian pears are extremely rewarding but occasionally presents its challenges. Check out the common issues below and how to overcome them.

Growing Problems

Inadequate cross-pollination can result in low fruit yields. This can be caused by a lack of pollinators or a lack of compatible trees for cross-pollination. If the issue is a lack of pollinators, consider planting additional plants in your garden that are attractive to bees. If cross-pollination is the issue, consider planting another pear variety within 50 feet to ensure cross-pollination. Before planting, confirm that the cultivars are compatible for cross-pollination.

Improper pruning can cause branches to break due to excessive weight during fruit production. Following proper pruning techniques and thinning fruits is tremendously important to maintaining the physical stability of a fruit tree.

Pests

There are a few different species of moth larvae that feed on Pyrus pyrifolia, like the larvae of the codling moth. Some feed on the fruits while others feed on the leaves. Signs of infestation include holes in the fruit, chew marks on leaves, and distorted or rolled leaves. For light infestations, larvae can be physically removed. For heavier infestations, chemical applications may be necessary for control. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and spinosad are two organic active ingredients that can be used for treatment.

Pear psyllas are small, winged insects with bright red eyes at all stages of growth excluding the egg stage. During most of their nymphal stages, they are yellow. During the last nymphal stage and as adults, they are dark green or brown. These insects are sap feeders, therefore they produce honeydew. The honeydew can cause secondary concerns with sooty mold covering the leaves preventing photosynthesis. In large numbers, pear psylla can defoliate a tree and cause fruit drop. Pear psylla is attracted to tender, young foliage. Over-fertilizing may cause an unnecessary flush in tender new growth, promoting an insect infestation. Typically natural enemies can control populations to a tolerable level. If intervention is necessary, horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps are proven to be effective.

Scale insects range in color from yellow to orange to brown. Scales can be found on younger branches and twigs. They typically do not cause significant damage. Some scales may produce honeydew which can lead to sooty mold. Natural enemies may keep populations under control naturally. If treatment is necessary, horticultural oils are proven to be effective.

Aphids are small soft-bodied insects that feed on the sap of tender plant tissue. They come in a variety of colors such as yellow, orange, green, and black. Aphids can cause some deformation in leaves. They also produce honeydew which can lead to other problems like sooty mold. Aphids are usually controlled by natural predators; however, populations can still become off-balanced and damaging. Aphids can be controlled by manually removing leaves with heavy infestations and by hosing them off with water. Horticultural oils and insecticidal soaps are also effective in controlling aphids.

Diseases

Fire blight is a bacterial disease that causes shoot tips and flowers to blacken and die. The disease is most prevalent when conditions are warm and wet. The best way to treat is by removing infected tissue. Remove twigs and branches 4-8 inches below the visible injury to ensure complete removal. Pruners must be disinfected after each cut to prevent further spread. It’s important to remove any remaining fruits, leaves, and deadwood during the fall and winter to prevent overwintering bacterial cells. If infected material is left on the tree, it can lead to entire branches becoming infected and requiring removal. 

Two main pathogens can cause root and crown rot; Armillaria mellea and Phytophthora spp. Both diseases favor persistently wet conditions, so overwatering or poor drainage can worsen and speed up the infection. Symptoms of infection include a general decline in vigor, wilting, and sudden death. Armillaria mellea can be identified by digging up some of the roots and looking for white mycelium. Phytophthora will need to be diagnosed by a laboratory, but digging up some roots and checking the root health is a good indicator. If the roots are dead and rotting, there’s a good chance the tree is suffering from a Phytophthora infection.

Frequently Asked Questions

Apple pears in orchard
Asian pear trees in an orchard setting. Source: linoleum jet

Q: How long does it take for an Asian pear tree to bear fruit?

A: If purchasing a grafted tree from a nursery, fruiting can occur after the first year. In general, it takes 3-4 years for a tree to bear its first fruit.

Q: Are Asian pear trees self-pollinating?

A: Asian pear trees are partially self-fertile. Trees that are not cross-pollinated will produce very little fruit, so it’s recommended to have two compatible cross-pollinating cultivars nearby. Confirm that bloom times overlap to ensure they will be cross-pollinating. 

Q: How big do Asian pear trees get?

A: Asian pear trees have the potential to grow around 20 feet tall. However, tree size can be managed by using dwarfing rootstocks and/or pruning.


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