Maintenance pruning on pear trees

neptune24April 23, 2012

I have a couple of pear trees that are about 20 years old. I pruned them heavily at the beginning of March. They were a mess--I'm not sure they had ever been pruned before. I took a lot of branches off. Anyway, they look much better.

I've noticed that, now that the trees have leafed and fruited out, one of the branches is drooping down pretty severely. I thinned off some of the new pears, but it's still hanging down. Should I just let it hang down, or cut off part of the branch?

I've also noticed a lot of new shoots that are growing straight up. Can I pinch these off, or should I avoid all pruning when the tree is not dormant? I've noticed many small dead, black branches too (probably from the drought we've been having). Is it OK to remove these at any time?

Thanks for any info.

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IMHO, yes to pruning the dead ends, etc., during the growing season and cutting back the branch that is hanging too much.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 8:05AM
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I'd thin down to one pear per cluster, to one fruit every eight or so inches. You may have to remove all the pears in some clusters to achieve that. Pears will break, but they're not too fragile and the better reason for heavy thinning is to get superior fruit and to make it easier to care for the keepers.

The new shoots that are growing straight up are called water sprouts and should generally be removed right away, unless you need to bend one over as a replacement branch. Otherwise they'll just clog up the inside of the tree. Dead, diseased, damaged, and disoriented stuff should be fixed as soon as possible. You can do this any time.

In fact, it is common practice to summer prune many trees, especially once they are fully established, to reduce vigor and to control size and shape. No need to be afraid to do it.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2012 at 8:18AM
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Thanks for your very helpful responses, rdak and marknmt. I've been thinning out the new fruit, but if it's one pear every 8 inches, I may have to go even further. :) And since I accidentally pulled off half a dozen clusters while thinning today, now I don't feel so bad. ;)

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 2:16AM
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Oh, one more thing. The two pear trees are about 30 feet tall. With my ladder, I can't really do anything above 10 feet (and often even that's a stretch), but hopefully what I'm doing is good enough. :)

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 2:24AM
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Here in fireblight country, I avoid spring pruning of my pear trees. Summer, when it's dry is ok; & dormant pruning is fine too. I worry about fireblight entering cut branches in the spring, when we have fair amounts of rain.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 6:11AM
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Bhawkins raises an excellent point. But if your trees are thirty feet tall they have gone quite a while without dying from blight, and they may be somewhat resistant.

And speaking of thirty feet tall, you obviously now see why that's way too tall! I think twelve is plenty high, and I hope you get suggestions here from the more experienced.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 8:55AM
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Neptune - Ive just gotten into growing fruit trees last year, and found pruning on my 2 trees pretty simple: Until this year, when I just got a large Toka plum, which is in dire need of pruning. Needless to say, Ive aquired a good list of links regarding pruning many types of fruit trees. Here are a few: (pears can be pruned like apples) (a great resource! )

If i remember, they all give info on young trees (shaping during planting), the years after, and pruning neglected trees.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2012 at 9:44AM
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Thanks for mentioning the danger of fireblight, bhawkins. As marknmt said, though, hopefully my trees are somewhat resistant. And I agree they're way too tall--too bad they weren't maintained better! Actually, I have some apple trees that are even taller.

Tnank you for the very helpful links, canadianplant. They contain a lot of good information.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2012 at 7:20AM
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alan haigh

Pears are more difficult to bring down in height than apples but if you remove a few feet a year you will probably be fine.

I am constantly working on trees allowed to reach impractical heights and often take off 10' a year from apples, depending on relative health of lower branches.

I've always figured it was safer to prune pears in mid-summer to avoid FB season while also discouraging vigorous water sprouting which also encourages FB but I've never seen any research on the subject.

As far as thinning distance, you need to know the eventual size of the pear to know how much fruit to leave. Obviously if it's something like a Tyson or Seckel you'd leave much more fruit than a larger pear type.

Pruning does make a pear more vulnerable to FB so you can't be sure that health of pears isn't the result of that negligence.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2012 at 7:59AM
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Thanks for the helpful info, harvestman. I don't know what kind of pears I have, but they do tend to get pretty big, so I'll thin them out considerably. I do have a wild pear tree growing elsewhere on the property that has smaller pears, but they taste absolutely terrible. :)

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 6:57AM
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alan haigh

Graft that wild thing.

I wonder what variety of pear you have- when does it ripen and what is its texture? It sounds very promising for a southern pear- most of the older FB resistant varieties I know of tend to be small fruited.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 1:12PM
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