I’ve been researching pear trees recently and a common issue I’ve seen is pear trees getting droopy leaves. This is a fairly typical issue with most other fruit trees, so I did some research to see if pear trees got drooping leaves for the same reasons. Here’s what I found.
Pear trees get drooping leaves from under and over-watering, heat stress, and transplant shock. Once you identify the source of stress and provide relief, your pear tree should recover. For best results, only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry, and avoid temperatures over 85ºF if possible.
So, while pear trees get drooping leaves from several causes, how can we tell which issue is causing it, and from there—what can we do to fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
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When pear trees lack water, they first develop drooping leaves followed by curling, drying, and browning. Pear tree leaves curl to conserve moisture, but if left without water for too long, its leaves begin to die and drop from the tree.
Here’s how to check if your pear tree’s drooping leaves are from under-watering, and how to fix it:
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 for the soil to have enough moisture to feel like a wrung-out sponge.
When watering, make sure your pear tree’s soil is thoroughly watered to about 2-feet deep as 90% of its roots are found within this depth.
Additionally, providing your tree with compost and mulch does wonders in helping it retain water and become more water independent (requiring little to no irrigation, especially when the tree has matured).
Compost provides quality nutrients, increases the soil’s richness, and promotes water retention. For example, every 1% increase in the soil’s richness (organic matter) leads to 20,000 more gallons of water absorbed per acre (source). Many gardeners are also finding that compost can replace (and outperform) fertilizers.
Mulch dramatically reduces evaporation, regulates soil temperature, and prevents soil erosion. Over time, mulch also turns into quality nutrients for the pear tree and is great at providing a medium for mycelium and mycorrhizal fungi. This leads to benefits such as improved soil aeration, nutrient availability, and disease resistance (source).
This is why mulch is the number 1 thing you can do for your fruit trees. Combine heavy mulching with companion planting and planting in density, and you create the ideal conditions to grow a food forest.
For best results, apply 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months and 4-12 inches of mulch every 3-6 months. Keep these materials at least 3 inches away from the pear tree’s trunk to avoid mold buildup.
But what If your pear tree’s soil is staying wet? Does this also lead to droopy leaves?
Pear trees that are over-watered or waterlogged become stressed and develop conditions such as leaves drooping, discoloring, and dropping. Over time, the pear tree can die. Sometimes the top of the soil might seem dry, but further down it could be waterlogged. This is even more likely if you have heavy clay soil.
You can tell if your pear tree is over-watered or has poor drainage if its soil is staying sopping wet for over 1 hour after watering, or is starting to smell swampy. As with under-watering, the best thing to do is to provide your pear tree with water only when the first 2-4 inches of soil is dry.
However, if your pear tree has soil with poor drainage, you’ll likely need to address this first. Ideally, simply waiting for the soil to dry out between waterings would be best, but what if the pear tree has little to no drainage and the soil is becoming waterlogged?
For potted pear trees with poor drainage, the best thing to do is to repot the tree with fresh potting soil. While this could create some transplant shock (more on this later), it’s usually necessary to amend the poorly draining soil.
For planted pear trees with poor drainage, there are not many options to amend it. It’s tricky to dig up a pear tree that you’ve already planted in your garden, especially if it’s become established and spread its roots outward. If you can transplant it, aim to plant it in a mound of soil if possible.
Otherwise, the best thing to do is water it minimally and provide 2 inches of compost under the tree’s canopy every 1-2 months until the soil is better amended.
For more tips on quickly drying soil, check out my recent post: The 7 Quickest Ways to Dry Out Garden Soil.
Pear trees do best in USDA hardiness zones 4-7, but there are some warmer and colder pear varieties that can grow outside this range (source). Generally, avoid temperatures above 85ºF if possible.
Extremely hot and dry weather cause pear tree leaves to droop. Combined with a lack of water, pear trees can lose much of their leaves within a single week or even one day if it’s bad enough. To help solve heat stress, it’s helpful to know what pear trees do to stay cool.
Pear trees cool themselves by sending moisture from their roots to their leaves, and through transpiration.
Much like humans, plants breathe and release moisture when hot. For plants, this is called transpiration. But when the climate is too hot and dry, transpiration and root moisture can’t effectively keep up to cool the plant and its leaves. As a result, the pear tree’s leaves droop or curl, and then dry, brown, and drop.
So, the hotter and drier the weather, the more energy the plant uses to transpire and survive, and the less energy it has to use to establish its root system and grow. This drain of resources can quickly stunt or kill the plant.
Hot Weather Tips
Here are some tips that will help your pear tree survive warmer weather and the occasional heat spell:
- Compost – apply 2 inches of compost to not only provide nutrients for your pear tree but hold more water in the soil and help prevent drought stress.
- Mulch – similar to compost, mulch goes a long way in water retention, but also offers other benefits such as shading and insulating the soil—regulating its temperature.
- Shade – shade further protects the tree’s leaves, roots, and soil from the heat. Some ideas to create shade for your pear trees are large umbrellas, shade sails, trellises, or other trees.
Many young fruit trees and other productive plants are sensitive and usually rely on the canopies of support species such as pine trees and other overstory trees to survive, at least until they are established themselves.
Because of this, provide young fruit trees with partial shade, especially from the hotter, afternoon, west-facing sun. Once the fruit trees mature and develop a larger canopy and root system, they’ll have a better chance of surviving on their own.
If you live in a drier climate and you’d like more information about the best drought-tolerant fruit trees, check out my other post: 30 Best Drought-Tolerant Fruit and Nut Trees (Ranked).
If your pear tree was recently planted or repotted, and it’s starting to die, it’s probably due to transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when the plant is exposed to a new environment and has to establish a new root system. Avoid transplanting unless necessary as it can take up to 1 year for recovery.
Like many plants, pear trees are vulnerable to transplant shock, which can take up to a year for them to recover and continue growing as normal. With too much stress, the pear tree can become stunted or die.
To help avoid transplant shock, I like to plant with the following steps in mind:
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the plant’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the plant’s stem and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the plant in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the stem as before
- Apply 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
Is Your Fruit Tree Beyond Saving?
Generally, you can tell if a fruit tree is still alive by either pruning or lightly scratching off some bark from a small branch. If there’s any green inside, the plant is still alive.
In the off chance it’s not alive, revisit what may have happened (ask yourself if it was the wrong climate, watering, nutrients, etc) and adjust as needed for any remaining plants.
If you’re looking to replace your fruit tree, or add more to your orchard, the best places to get them are your local nursery or an online nursery. For example, I got my Fuji apple, brown turkey figs, and bing cherry tree from Fast Growing Trees, and they were all delivered quick, neat, and healthy (see below).
Pear tree leaves most commonly droop from under-watering, over-watering, heat stress, and transplant shock. However, there are some pests and diseases that cause curling and drooping, such as pear rust.
To learn more about these pests and diseases, check out my other post: 5 Reasons Why Pear Tree Leaves Curl (& How to Fix It).
If you’d like more details on what conditions pear trees get in your specific region (and how to treat them), I recommend reaching out to your local nursery, professional orchard, or local extension service.