We’ve had our pear tree for over a year now, and while it’s flowered, it hasn’t fruited yet. I was a bit concerned it wasn’t going to fruit again this year, so I did some more research. Here’s what I found about pear trees not fruiting (and how to fix it).
Pear trees won’t produce fruit if they’re too young or have improper pollination, watering, climate, and nutrients. Additionally, over-pruning, pests, and diseases can lead to little to no fruit. Ideally, grow pear trees in zones 4-9, only water when the soil is dry, and apply compost and mulch.
So, while pear trees won’t fruit for several reasons, how can we tell which issue is causing it, and how can we fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
How Long Do Pear Trees Take to Fruit?
It’s common for pear flowers and fruits to be underdeveloped or non-existent when the trees are younger than 3 years old. While some pear trees are capable of fruiting within 3 years, their fruit is often small and will likely drop before ripening.
Grafted vs Seed
The exact age that pear trees fruit depends on if the tree was grafted or grown from seed.
If your pear tree was grafted, expect it to mature and fruit within 3-5 years. But if you grew your pear tree from seed, allow up to 10-15 years to flower and fruit. Also, some pear trees grown from seed might not ever produce fruit (or have inedible fruit).
The reason why grafted trees grow so much faster (and more reliably produce fruit) than those grown from seed is that grafted trees are clones of another tree. As a result, their DNA is already developed and reached maturity. They just need to grow a canopy and root system to collect the necessary resources to provide fruit.
Alternatively, seeds start with brand new DNA (just like human children) and need to not only grow a canopy and root system but age properly.
Pro-tip: Pear trees purchased from nurseries are generally grafted. You can check by examining your tree for any signs of a graft scar, or contact the nursery.
While grafted trees have many advantages such as quicker growth, true to seed (the same fruits as the parent tree), and increased hardiness, trees grown from seeds also have their benefits.
|Seed Grown Advantages
|True to Seed
|More Vigorous and Larger
|Easy to Propagate
But what if your pear tree is old enough and it’s still not producing fruit? What do we consider next?
2. Lack of Pollination
Pear trees that don’t have sufficient pollination often get little to no fruits. Flowers need to be pollinated (fertilized) to turn into fruit. If they’re not, flowers usually drop from the tree. While self-pollinating pear trees can fruit, they do best if they’re cross-pollinated.
All varieties of apple trees require some cross-pollination for fruit set. Even though some varieties are listed as self-fruitful, they will set fruit more heavily and more regularly if they are cross-pollinated.Washington State University
Since apple and pear trees are related and in the same family (Rosaceae), it’s fair to assume that pear trees also fruit more if cross-pollinated.
Do You Need 2 Pear Trees to Get Fruit?
Pear trees do best when cross-pollinated, so having 2 or more trees is ideal. However, if your pear tree is self-pollinating, you don’t need a second tree. If cross-pollinating, ensure you’re pollinating trees of the same variety to maintain the same variety of fruit (unless you’d like hybrid fruits).
Tips to Improve Pear Tree Pollination
- Keep another pear tree nearby. Ideally, within 25 feet, and no more than 50 feet. Any more than 50 feet and pollinators have a reduced likelihood of visiting both pear trees.
- Plant companion plants (especially those that flower) within 50 feet of your pear tree. They’ll attract more pollinators including butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Check out these pear companion plants for starters.
- Manually brush your pear tree’s flowers to induce their fertilization. Use a new and clean q-tip, paintbrush, or toothbrush. This is especially helpful for indoor and potted pear trees as they’ll likely have limited access to pollinators.
- Start beekeeping.
3. Improper Watering
When pear trees are under-watered, they’ll often develop issues such as leaves drooping, curling, browning, and dropping (usually in that order). They can also get flower and fruit drop as there’s not enough water to support them.
The best way to water pear trees is to only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil is dry. You can check this by pushing a finger into the soil, under the tree’s canopy. The goal is to maintain soil moisture similar to a wrung-out sponge.
Additionally, provide 2 inches of compost and 4-12 inches of mulch.
Compost not only provides essential nutrients but encourages beneficial soil life and increases the soil’s richness. Every 1% increase in the soil’s richness or organic matter leads to an additional 20,000 gallons of water held per acre (source).
On the other hand, mulch reduces evaporation, regulates soil temperature, and prevents erosion. Some of the best mulches for pear trees are leaves, bark, straw, and pine needles.
Reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months.
The reason why these practices are so beneficial is that many fruit trees evolved as midstory plants in forests, and relied on taller trees to provide shade, compost, and mulch for them (in the form of fallen branches and leaves).
This is a stark contrast to how many of us have been taught to plant fruit trees—in the middle of a field with no shade, no compost, no mulch, and little water, expecting it to survive.
But what if the pear tree’s soil is staying sopping wet?
Over-watered pear trees often get issues such as leaves drooping, yellowing, and dropping. As the tree is stressed from its roots having a lack of oxygen, its fruit and flowers also drop. If left for too long, the stagnant water leads to root rot, causing further issues.
Most commonly, over-watering isn’t caused by using too much water, but by poor soil drainage.
Planted Pear Trees
The best way to tell if your planted pear tree has poor drainage is by doing a percolation test. To do this, dig a 1-foot by 1-foot hole nearby your pear tree and fill it with water. If the water drains slower than 2 inches per hour, it should be amended.
When digging the hole, make sure to dig outside of the tree’s drip-line or canopy to avoid damaging its shallow roots.
It’s difficult to get soil drainage exactly to 2 inches per hour, so treat this more as a guideline rather than a rule.
Funny enough, amending poor drainage and amending fast drainage share the same solution—increase the organic matter of the soil (aka compost). Organic matter not only breaks up the clumps of soil and promotes drainage but also retains the proper amount of water.
Apply 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months to amend poorly draining soils. Feel free to also add 2 inches of sand to speed this up.
Over time, these amendments work their way into the soil, which means you can avoid more extreme measures such as transplanting.
However, transplanting can be a good solution if your pear tree is still young and small. While transplant shock can cause the tree more stress (lasting up to 1 year), it can sometimes be helpful to relocate it if its existing soil is extremely waterlogged.
On the other hand, if you just got your pear tree and haven’t planted it yet, consider planting it on a mound of soil or raised bed to allow gravity to assist with the drainage.
For more information about dealing with clay soils and planting in mounds, check out my other post: Can Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil (& How To Plant Them)?
Potted Pear Trees
You can tell if your potted pear tree’s soil has poor drainage if its soil is staying sopping wet for over 1 day. Additionally, you can check by feeling the first few inches of soil or by the smell. If the soil smells like a swamp, it’s likely waterlogged and root rot has started.
The good news is that the soil of potted pear trees is easier to amend as you can repot it with fresh potting soil fairly easily.
Because the pot or container naturally confines the tree’s roots, the effects of transplant shock aren’t as great as it would be digging up a planted tree with widespread roots.
It’s best to repot a pear tree if its soil is:
- 3-5 years old
Since potted pear trees have a limited amount of soil to work with, they need to be repotted with fresh potting soil and a larger pot every 3-5 years to introduce more space and nutrients for its roots.
4. Climate Stress
Pear trees do best in USDA hardiness zones 4-9 (source). Typically, this means temperatures within -30ºF to 90ºF.
However, the ideal range for pear trees to flower and fruit is above 45ºF and below 80ºF.
This is because chill hours occur below 45ºF—causing the tree to enter dormancy and stopping flower and fruit production. On the other hand, temperatures above 80ºF can induce drought and heat stress, causing flowers and fruit to drop.
Fortunately, since pear trees are cold-hardy, it’s not common for their flower and fruits to drop from the cold. That is unless there’s a late frost in the spring.
Late frosts occur when temperatures start to warm in early spring, but then drop again from a frost event.
This is a problem for pear trees as they’ll start to “wake up” from dormancy when temperatures start to get above 45ºF, only to have their new plant growth (young leaves, flowers, and fruits) exposed to the frost. This causes damage and leads to many or all of them falling from the tree.
If the late frost is bad enough, pear trees might not flower or fruit again until the next season when it’s recovered.
Late frosts aren’t too common, but there’s not much you can do to prevent them. If you see the frost coming, you can cover your pear tree with a sheet to reduce wind chill and any ice buildup. Potted pear trees can simply be moved inside until the frost has passed.
Tips for Hot Weather
- Apply 2 inches of compost and 4-12 inches of mulch. Generally, if you can keep the pear tree’s roots moist, it’ll be able to send the appropriate amount of water to its leaves (unless the sun is hot enough to burn the tree’s leaves).
- Provide partial shade from the afternoon sun if possible. Again, we’re mimicking what the pear tree is used to—a forest. The afternoon (western) sun is much hotter than the morning (eastern) sun, so plant accordingly. You can provide shade with umbrellas, shade sails, or other trees such as oaks.
Tips for Cold Weather
- Plant the pear tree facing south for maximum sunlight and warmth (if you live in the southern hemisphere, this is north).
- Plant along a southern-facing wall to absorb and reflect even more sunlight and warmth onto the plant. The warmth even persists into the night.
- Cover the canopy with sheets or plastic tarps to reduce windchill and ice buildup.
- Insulate the tree’s roots by applying 1-2 feet of mulch.
While hot and cold weather are important for the proper fruiting of pear trees, it would be a miss on my part if I didn’t mention sunlight’s role.
Lack of Sunlight
Pear trees need full sun (at least 6+ hours of daily sunlight) which is important for fruit production and nutrients. Sunlight also helps fruit ripen and keep fungus and mold from taking over and damaging the tree. While some pear trees can thrive off of less sunlight, it‘s not as common.
Here are some tips to boost sunlight:
- Plant the tree facing south for maximum sunlight.
- Prune overlapping and clustered branches to allow for more sunlight and airflow to reach more of the branches. This also helps prevents pests and diseases from developing and spreading. The best time to prune pear trees is in the late winter (more on pruning later).
5. Improper Nutrients
Excess nutrients (over-fertilizing) chemically burn the pear tree’s roots, causing stress and leading to poor flowering and fruiting. Normally, fast-release chemical fertilizers are the cause of over-fertilization as compost isn’t potent enough.
Lack of Nutrients
|Entire leaf is pale or yellow
|Dark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing
|Broadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared
A lack of nutrients also causes the tree stress, leading to similar conditions such as stunted growth and little to no flowers and fruit. This is commonly caused by poor soils, leaching, and other conditions such as improper pH.
Nutrient leaching occurs when the nutrients seep too far down into the soil, out of reach of the plant’s roots (beyond about 2-3 feet). This normally occurs when soils have too much drainage or are over-watered. For example, sandy soils are notorious for their leaching.
Fortunately, most of these issues can be resolved by properly fertilizing pear trees.
The Best Way To Fertilize Pear Trees
The three main nutrients for pear trees (and most plants) are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (NPK). While nitrogen is by far the most important (vital for the root and canopy growth), phosphorus is essential for flowering and fruiting.
The two main ways to fertilize your pear tree are with fertilizer or compost. If you choose a store-bought fertilizer, aim for a balanced NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). For example, use a 10-10-10 NPK.
If you choose compost, select one with the highest quality and freshness if possible as its beneficial organisms will still be alive.
However, while chemical fertilizers have nutrients in quantity, they typically don’t have quality nutrients.
Even though chemical fertilizers might be sufficient over the short term, over the long term they often short-circuit the nutrient exchange between the tree and its beneficial soil life (such as mycorrhizal fungi). This leads to dry and dead soil (AKA dirt) and overall decreased plant health.
Mycorrhizal fungi promote many aspects of plant life, in particular improved nutrition, better growth, stress tolerance, and disease resistance.Department of Biology, University of Fribourg, Switzerland
On the other hand, compost provides more than sufficient nutrients, increases water retention, and promotes healthy soils. Many gardeners are even finding that compost is replacing their fertilizers.
Either one you choose—you can see my recommendations for both compost and fertilizer on my recommend fertilizer page.
Pear trees do best with a soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 (source).
While nutrients are important, they’re next to useless if the soil does not have a proper pH. This is because a slightly acidic pH is necessary to dissolve the nutrient solids in the soil and make them accessible for the plant’s finer roots.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, Instructional Support Specialist, Department of Forest and Natural Resources Management
Two good ways to check your soil’s pH are either by using a pH strip or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
If you find that your pear tree’s soil is too alkaline (above 6.5) you can add acidic amendments such as coffee grounds, sand, and peat moss. On the other hand, if your pear tree’s soil is too acidic (below 6.0), add alkaline materials such as wood ash, charcoal, or lime.
I wouldn’t stress too much about getting the soil pH exactly between 6.0-6.5 as pear trees will still do well in soils ranging from 5.0 to 7.5.
Additionally, cold and/or wet soils are not good at promoting nutrient uptake as the pear tree will either be dormant during the cold or too stressed in wet soils.
Over-pruning pear trees result in a lack of leaves necessary for photosynthesis. Because of this, the pear tree is unable to gather a proper amount of sugar to feed and develop its fruits, causing little to no flowering and fruiting. If severely over-pruned, the pear tree can die.
However, when done right, pruning can dramatically assist with fruit production.
Pruning is not a necessary practice, but it’s helpful to:
- Encourage more fruiting
- Promote more sunlight and airflow
- Managing pests and diseases
- Shaping the tree into a desired appearance
Many pear tree growers prune their tree’s overlapping and excess branches to promote more and heavier fruiting. This works incredibly well as the tree has fewer branches and leaves to feed and can feed its flowers and fruits instead.
Ideally, prune pear trees in the late winter as pests and diseases are inactive and are less likely to infect the open wounds from pruning.
To learn more about pruning fruit trees, check out this video by MIgardener.
7. Pests and Diseases
Pests and diseases such as aphids, mites, pear scab, and fire blight cause pear trees to have little to no fruit. Most pests can be repelled with water, oils, or sprays, while diseases can be treated with organic sprays or fungicides.
Some pests and diseases such as aphids and scab can even be deterred with companion plants like garlic.
Pear trees can be grown organically simply because they don’t require any sprays to keep them healthy and pest-free. Fireblight is the only disease that challenges pear trees, but this is easy to diagnose and manage.Emily E. Hoover, Extension horticulturalist; Emily S. Tepe, horticulture researcher, and Doug Foulk, University of Minnesota Extension
Generally, you can tell if your pear tree has a disease by inspecting the leaves for any brown or yellow spots or deformities.
You can also typically tell if pests are infecting the tree if you see them gathering on the underside of the leaves (like aphids) or holes in the tree (like borers).
For more information about pear tree pests, check out this resource by the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. And for pear tree diseases, try this resource by The Connecticut Agriculture Experiment Station.