Why are you pruning your pear tree? Is it to shape a young tree, rejuvenate a mature one or tame an unruly bush? Either way, timing is everything.

In most cases, November to early March is the best time to prune a pear tree. There are exceptions, which we will look at later, but if you are looking to encourage a specific shape or improve fruiting in a standard-sized fruit tree, winter pruning is usually best.

In winter, your pear tree will be dormant. By pruning then, you won’t be interfering with the production of fruit and most regrowth will be delayed until bud burst in the spring.

So you’ve sterilised your secateurs, sharpened your pruning saw and pulled on your gardening gloves. What next?

Shaping young pear trees

Pruning young pear trees to shape them is known as formative pruning. You can afford to be fairly ruthless as you are prioritising shape rather than fruit production.

As with all pruning, first remove the ‘3Ds’ which means any branch that is dead, dying or diseased. A diseased branch will usually lack buds and look discoloured. 

In most cases, you will want your pear tree to grow into an open bowl shape so that the fruit gets maximum sunlight and air circulation. To achieve this, choose four or five evenly spaced shoots to be your main branches. Remove the others completely by pruning back to the trunk (a thinning cut).

For your chosen ‘framework’ branches, cut them back by about a third but make your cut just above a bud that faces upwards and outwards. This bud will then grow into a new branch in the spring. Lateral shoots will develop along these branches and your pears will grow from these, either from spurs or from the branch tips.

If your pear tree is spur-bearing (e.g. conference pear trees), pruning back to four or six fruit buds from the framework branch each year will encourage fruit to form close to the tree. You may want to thin these out in later years by removing whole spurs or portions.

Tidying and encouraging mature pear trees to fruit

If you have an older tree, you might want to consider asking Arborcure to carry out pruning, especially if the branches you want to remove are high up. After removing the 3Ds, look for branches which are crossing or rubbing as they can chafe and cause wounds which are hot spots for disease.

You will also want to remove suckers and watersprouts. These are the thin, upward-growing branches which the tree throws up, often in response to heavy-handed pruning. 

Other branches to remove are those that are very low, downward growing or almost vertical as they will never produce fruit. If the tree is crowded, cut back branches that are growing towards the centre.

In all cases, cut right back to the trunk or major branch. Cutting the top off branches (heading cuts) will cause rapid regrowth in lower buds, leading to more crowding. 

Limit your pruning to around a fifth of the branches each year to avoid dieback. For pruning large branches back to their origin, use the three-cut method to protect the tree from tearing. Make a small upwards cut just outside the raised collar where the branch joins. Next, move outside of the first cut and make a downward cut all the way through the branch to leave a stump. Finally, remove the stump by cutting through the branch just outside of the collar.

When to consider summer pruning

There are two situations where summer pruning is advisable. After their formative winter pruning, decorative pear trees grown as espaliers, cordons or fans will need to be pruned in July or August to ensure enough sunlight reaches the fruit. 

If your pear tree grows a little too vigorously after winter pruning, you can carry out summer pruning. This will deplete the tree of energy and calm it down. Don’t go overboard though or your fruit crop will suffer.

If you are daunted by the idea of pruning your pear tree or have health and safety concerns, please contact Arborcure. We can help keep your tree looking tidy while producing a healthy crop.