Asian pears have a crisp texture like apples, but the flavor of a spicy pear.
Pears are a tasty fruit that mature in late summer and fall in most parts of the country. While we all love 'Bartlett', 'Bosc', 'Clapp's Favorite', and many other European pear varieties, there's a whole group of other pears from Asia that are becoming more available and popular to grow and eat.
Often called apple pears, Asian pears have characteristics of both fruits. Most Asian pears have a round shape, with the crisp, firm, texture of apples. However, inside they have a juicy white flesh and flavor reminiscent of pears. The fruits can have yellow to carmel colored, smooth or rough skin and a flavor with hints of cinnamon, apricot, and butterscotch, depending on the variety. There are hundreds of varieties in China, Korea, and Japan where these trees are native, and now they are becoming more readily available to American gardeners, too.
The beauty of Asian pears is they grow in USDA zones 5 to 9 and many varieties only grow 8-to 15-feet tall, making them perfect for a small yard. They are partially self-fertile so you can get away with just growing one tree, although two trees will produce more fruit. Some varieties have excellent resistance to common pear diseases, such as fire blight and bacterial canker. So consider a new fruit tree for your yard next spring. Do some taste testing of different varieties at your local market to decide which has the best flavor and grow a few Asian pears as a new treat.
Asian pears are hardy in much of the country, but certain varieties perform better than others depending on the geographic location and soil conditions. Most are sold as grafted varieties. Select varieties with root stocks adapted to your climate. For example, Pyrus ussuriensis rootstock is hardy to -40 degrees F and is a good choice for cold climates.
Harvest Asian pears when the fruits are still firm and have ripened to a sweet taste on the tree.
Like European pears, the fruit ripens in fall and some varieties can keep for months in storage. However, Asian pears must be harvested at the peak of maturity. Unlike European pears, they will not ripen further off the tree. Select at least two different varieties that mature at different times to extend the harvest season. Fire blight is less of a problem in hot, dry areas of the West Coast, so the options for varieties is expanded. Otherwise, select disease resistant varieties to limit the amount of spraying and pruning needed.
Here are some varieties of Asian pears to try in your yard.
'Korean Giant' (Dan Bae) – This vigorous tree will bear fruit at a young age. The tree is widely adapted across America and produces crisp, juicy 1-pound fruits with a high sugar content. It has excellent resistance to fire blight.
'Ichiban'' – This brown-skinned fruit has butterscotch-like flavored flesh. The fruits ripen early on this moderately disease resistant tree.
'Nijisseiki' – Also know as '20th Century' this is perhaps the most widely grown Asian pear variety. The yellow-green skinned medium-sized fruits have a sweet, yet tart flavor. This vigorous tree ripens in late summer, but is susceptible to fireblight.
'Shinseiki' – This partially self-fertile tree produces an abundance of medium-sized, yellow fruits in late summer. It has moderate resistance to fire blight.
'Seuri' – The large, dark orange-colored fruits have a flesh with the flavor of apricots. This low-chill variety is especially good for hot climates. It has good resistance to fire blight.
'Yoinashi' – A large-fruited, brown-skinned variety with a butterscotch flavor. However, while trees are somewhat disease resistant, they are susceptible to fire blight.
Select fireblight disease resistant varieties of Asian pears if this deadly bacterial disease is present in your area.
Plant trees in late summer or fall in mild winter climates, or spring in colder climates. When planting leave the graft union 3 inches above the soil line. Asian pears grow best in full-sun on well-drained fertile soils with a slightly acidic pH. Like European pears, Asian pears have an upright growth habit, so they can be spaced as close as 10 feet apart. However, for ease of working around them, it's best to space trees 15 feet apart. Asian pears do respond well to espaliering on a wall or house if you are really tight for space.
Keep newly planted trees well watered. Once established Asian pears can be drought tolerant, but need moist soil conditions to get growing.
Water deeply at least once a week. Lack of water will result in smaller-sized fruits. Keep trees mulched and remove any grass or vegetation growing in the root zone. Fertilize in spring with compost and an organic tree fruit fertilizer. Don't fertilizer too heavily with nitrogen. If your trees make more than 2-feet of new growth each year cut back on the nitrogen fertilizer. Too much new growth makes the tree more susceptible to fire blight disease.
Asian pears tend to set more fruit than they can support. When fruits are the size of a cherry, thin to one fruit per cluster spaced 6-inches apart. Prune Asian pears as you would European pears. Most are pruned to a modified leader system to encourage an open center and keep the branches from crowding. Prune in late winter to shape the tree and remove dead, diseased, or broken branches any time of year.
Diseases such as fire blight are the most prevalent problem on Asian pear trees. If fire blight is a problem in your area, select disease resistant varieties. If your tree does get fireblight disease, use sterilized pruners to remove the infected branch 1-foot below any signs of infection.
Insects pests such as codling moth can be controlled with dormant oil sprays in late winter and proper cleaning of dropped fruits and thinning of young fruits.
Harvest Asian pears when the fruit is still firm, but the background skin color has changed to the mature color for that variety. Mature trees can yield a few hundred pounds of fruit per tree. The best test for ripeness is tasting a few fruits. When ripe, the fruits will easily pull off the tree. Fruits that require a yank are probably not yet ripe. The skin and flesh are tender, so be careful to not bruise them when picking.