How to Prune a Pear Tree

New to pruning and scared of hurting your tree? Don’t worry, pruning isn’t as hard as it seems and it’s much better to try than to leave your tree unpruned. Here is an all inclusive guide that will cover all you need to know about how to prune pear trees, including why, when, which, with what, and how in seven easy steps.

Why Prune Pear Trees

  • We prune pear trees for four main reasons.
    1. First, to make the tree easy to maintain and harvest by controlling the height and shape.
    2. Secondly, to maintain a healthy tree by removing dead, diseased or damaged wood.
    3. Thirdly, to improve air circulation which reduces pests and diseases.
    4. Fourthly, to let sunlight reach the fruits so they can grow healthy and large. 

pear trees

What to Prune Pear Trees With

  • The tools to use depends on which type of branch you are cutting. In all cases though, be sure to sterilize the tools with hot soapy water or disinfectant to prevent any damage or infection. Moreover make sure they are sharp so that the branches don’t get bruised.
    • For small branches and twigs, use hand pruners. 
    • For large branches about 1” thick, use loppers. These provide good leverage.
    • For branches about 3” thick and more, use a saw. 
Pruning apple tree tools

How to Prune Pear Trees in 7 Steps

Step 0: Know the Form You are Aiming For

  • Pear trees are best grown in a pyramidal, central leader form or modified central leader form. For simplicity, we will discuss the central leader form since this works as well as the modified central leader.

The central leader form has one central leader from which the other scaffold branches grow.

Pruning apple tree

It also has a pyramidal shape, which is wider at the base and narrower at the top.

Step 1: Prune With a Central Leader Training System

  • After planting
    • The form should have one vertical leader with about four evenly spaced scaffold branches around it.
    • If two scaffold branches are too close to one another, remove one.
    • However if there aren’t great scaffold branches, then you can stimulate their growth by cutting back to 30 inches and removing the lateral branches.
  • 1st growing season in late June-early July
    • You can train the branches so that they are 45-60 degrees from the leader. This could mean putting weights on the branches so they lean down if they are too upright.
  • 2nd growing season early spring
    • You can remove any competing leaders.
  • 3rd growing season early spring
    • Prune the branches into a pyramidal form.
  • When the tree is established, you can decrease the height by cutting back the central leader to a lateral branch.
how to orune pear tree

Step 2: Remove Any Dead, Diseased, or Damaged Limbs (3 D’s)

  • You know if a branch is dead if it’s brittle, breaks very easily, and has no leaves during the growing season.
  • You usually know if a branch is diseased if the wood is a different color than the other branches around it. 
  • You’ll see a damaged branch when it has partially broken from the weight of the fruits. Additionally, when two branches have crossed and rubbed against one another this can also damage the wood.
  • Once you have identified the branches with the 3 D’s, then cut the wood back to the nearest bud where the wood is still healthy. 
dead diseased wood

Step 3: Prune Suckers

What is a sucker?
  • Suckers are thin shoots or branches which grow near the base of the trunk. They grow because the tree is attempting to grow more branches possibly as a response to an injury.
  • Prune the suckers so that they don’t grow below the canopy of the tree.
prune suckers how to prune fruit tree

Step 4: Prune Downward, Upward, & Inward Growing Branches

  • First, identify the branches growing downward. Then prune them since they won’t be able to bear the weight of the fruit. Additionally upward growing branches may damage other branches so prune them as well.
  • Also prune any branches growing inward so that they don’t rub against other branches.
how to prune fruit trees

Step 5: Prune the Whorls

What are whorls?
  • Whorls are places where three or more small branches grow from the same location.
  • Once you identify the whorls then choose the healthier and strongest one, and prune the rest. After all, the branch won’t be able to support all of the small branches growing in this one location. 
prune whorls

Step 6: Prune Back All Branches

  • In general, it is good for the tree to have the branches cut back by 20% so that new growth is encouraged. The stems will become thicker and develop flowers.
  • However, make sure to make these cuts just above a bud that faces outward.
how to prune fruit trees

Step 7: Thin the Buds

  • Lastly, thin out the fruiting buds so that they are 4-6” apart. This will ensure that the branch bears just enough weight from the fruit. Additionally, if there are too many fruiting buds, then the fruit may not develop their high sugar levels.

When to Prune Pear Trees

  • It is best to prune a pear tree when it’s still dormant, this means early spring, about two weeks after the late frost. Not only are the buds easier to see and cut, but the cuts will also heal more quickly.  
  • If you prune in the fall, then new growth will start but will be damaged by the cold winter. If you prune in the early winter, then the open cut can be susceptible to diseases. 
  • If you see bull shoots, which are new shoots that grow in the middle of the trunk or at the top, remove them anytime. In fact, summer pruning after the harvest will help reduce these bull shoots.
  • Likewise, if you see dead, diseased, or damaged, wood, you should cut these off as soon as you notice, no matter the time in the year so that the tree isn’t damaged further.
  • Prune during a dry day with sterilized equipment to minimize the risk of the tree getting a disease.

Which Pear Trees to Prune

  • If you plant a very young tree, then prune immediately after you plant to train it into the central leader shape.
  • If you have a mature tree, wait to do the heavy pruning in the third year of growth after planting since this will allow the tree to establish itself. 
  • If your pear tree provides a lot of shade, then it needs to be pruned.
    • When there is a lot of pruning to do, then space out the pruning over several seasons. 
Learning how to prune pear trees is an important step in making friends with your tree and making sure it will stay healthy and bear delicious fruit. If you would like to discover our pear trees, explore our fruit tree catalog or shop page.
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