Don’t Try this at Home: How Not to Prune a Pear Tree

Our John is pouting. I have pruned his pear tree. Which was not even much use as a shade tree. Something had to be done. He has quite spoilt this tree over the years. In fact when he had his new shed put up he told the workmen in no uncertain terms that if they damaged his precious little pear there would be trouble. He always says things like this with a big grin and a laugh which frankly makes the warning scarier.   He loves his trees you see.  As the little paddocks have begun to sprout all about the place his tree has ended up in the Baby Meadow.

I took to it with secateurs a couple of years ago but there was so much weeping and gnashing of teeth from said husband that I quit. By my reckoning this tree must be about 6 years old now and has yet to fruit properly. This season we got about a dozen pears. Not good enough!  Daisy stood guard at the gate until the few pears were ready then I let her go in and she nabbed them. The tree is now dormant, I know it is a bit early to prune but soon it will be too cold for me to be out there.   So it is now or never.  I coerced Our John into bringing the chainsaw to visit the tree. NO, NO, Not to cut it down. Silly. You know I don’t cut down trees. But there were two branches that are just too high, just too big for loppers and growing vertically.  I drew a line where he was to cut. Then I shoved him up a ladder and made him head them back. I held the ladder and ducked in case a branch fell on my head. Then I sent him on his way to play with the chipper. I took  my loppers from their hiding place and pruned the rest of the tree hard. I prefer  a christmas tree shape. With no central leader I had to attempt a vase shape. So from directly above the tree, looking down it will look a little like a spindly snowflake. Verticals must go, anything growing downwards must go, the mess in the middle must go, branches rubbing on branches must go and dead wood has to go. Every cut needs to be to a nodule that will grow in the direction that I want the next branch. Of course it is much easier to start with a young tree and train it each year, avoiding radical cuts.

Our John has chosen to go out to his workshop to get over his fright. I know it looks bad, in fact I missed a few bits. Pears are forgiving though and next year it will grow in, then I will prune it lightly and the following year we will get fruit. By the third year it should be good to go OR it really WILL be a designated shade tree.  But hopefully a light prune each year will keep it fruiting. 

Poor pear. I have also pruned the grapes.  I have also  pruned and trained all  the young apples and pears and now I am casting my chopper happy eye, while the weather holds ,across the two old apple trees.  I keep them for the blossoms in the spring. The bees love them.  But I almost never get a mature apple off them, they are too old.  They are shade trees now.

This is not a tree so it is safe from my secateurs. 


66 Comments on “Don’t Try this at Home: How Not to Prune a Pear Tree

    • It is scary at the time, but usually they come back and that good fresh growth is the fruiting wood. I bet your husband is glad your tree survived( laugh). c

  1. I love this. We have a pear in France which we haven’t pruned in years. We got some decent pears from it this year all the same. Grand total: 6. I need to give it a haircut. I feel like your husband does though…as if some harm is being done.

    • Charlotte, HI!, Just get in there and take out anything that is growing straight up or down or in the crotch of two branches for a start, probably best to do it in late winter over there. Pears will not grow on a vertical branch. This will make quite a big difference and you can’t go wrong. I always cut to the second bud so the new shoots grow sideways. And the blossoms get light. Just do that for a start and your tree will reward you with a few more pears. Fingers crossed. c

    • Sometimes we just have to take the bull by the horns. I also prune my mother in laws roses while she wrings her hands and moans quietly next to me!! c

  2. Gisela5 rootstock apparently is the reason why English fruit growers are being brave again and growing fruit like pears and cherries. The trees stay small. Our six year old pear, a maiden or something, was supposed to be trained and never was, for the last two years has produced ridiculous fruit and we have had a go at pruning it this autumn. It is planted all wrong, too close to a fence in a tiny border but away it goes, fruiting madly pears hanging down to the ground. Makes up for the plum that died, the quince that got rust and so on…

    • If it is close to the fence and in a tiny border have you thought about training it espalier fashion, dwarf trees love it! And they fruit really well like that. Might be too late though, ah well maybe next time.. Good for you having a good fruiter though, you must be looking after it! c

  3. Poor John! But you sound like you knew what you were doing… 😉
    Me on the other hand almost kill an innocent tree a few years ago. His fine now.
    Have a nice weekend

    • Oh celia, well done YOU. It is years since I thought of Footrot Flats. I should give John one of those books for christmas he would laugh, especially now that i have got him wearing gumboots!! good for you! How could I have forgotton WAL! c

    • I used to work on an orchard in the dark days.. we had a guy who used to prune with loppers on stilts, he taught me everything I know. he was our king!! c

  4. I think your pruning is about right. All the men I have known have become serial murderers once they lay their hands on chainsaw, loppers and secateurs. They are mostly best kept well clear of pruning operations. Your chap seems to be the opposite! Hereabouts we usually prune for shape in the autumn and for fruit in the Spring – one bud above the bottom of last year’s growth (I think that’s the right way round, but I’m too lazy to go upstairs for The Fruit Expert book, from whence comes any expertise I might have.

    • All you have to know is what year wood the tree fruits on and then go one bud above.. perfect, you are exactly right.. c

  5. Brave. I too am loathe to prune my fruits and my roses. Once I let my rose garden go for 4 years. It got so bad that I couldn’t get in to weed! So, I grabbed the loppers and cut, cut, cut. My arms looked like I had been attacked by a wild cat… but the next spring they bloomed better than they ever had! By summer’s end your tree will only look better, and I know you should get good fruit too! 🙂

    • I once knew an old taxi driver who pruned his roses every year with a hedge trimmer, his blooms were amazing, i only know this because he was an old friend of my dads so every time he picked me up we had to go past his place to look at his roses.. so sweet.. and kind of weird.. c

  6. Great before and after shots, and not a job for the faint hearted! Earlier in the year I visited an orchard and they prune all their fruit trees right back, the trees were tiny. I take it John is still in recovery 🙂

  7. To be honest I don’t have any idea about trees so much, but I think you did what has to be done, dear Cecilia, next year it will be so nice, I know this, because when they pruned my lilac trees I felt like that but next year they were amazing, (but I am not sure are they same with this lovely tree),
    Your photographs amazing again, Thank you dear Cecilia, have a nice day, with my love, nia

  8. Honestly, I think most plants, trees included, take well to a lot more severe discipline than fearful gardeners think. Even my big lovely rhododendrons that were butchered hideously and almost to death by a kindly but virtually incompetent gardener one year came back. GRAD-U-AL-LY. But fully alive and blooming again when the time came. Needless to say, I took the shears out of her hands in a big hurry–she also dug up a beautiful Garry oak seedling I’d been nursing, before I caught her, because it had started in a wrong place. No concept that I could move it when it was big enough to survive, not even that I’d want to keep such a gem. Ah, well. It gave me an excuse to *not* renew a longtime contract I didn’t really want anyway. I rather like the sculptural aspect of healthy pruning.

    Happy pear growing!!!

    • What was that woman doing in YOUR garden.. I have all kinds of trees growing from seedlings that I have found .. though i would actually love to have a gardener, but maybe I would say only pull this weed.. point.. and this grass.. point.. and this bad thing.. point.. then after reading about your experience i would shadow her!! well maybe not! c

      • She “came with the house”. Sort of. Or with the guy, anyway. When Richard and I first got together he had a yard service lady/crew and a weekly housekeeper, both “leftovers” from his last back surgery recovery that he was too kindly to stop paying. We recovered eventually. 😉

  9. Hi Celi, You were very brave with your pruning (with your John being so protective) but I know that you were trained on how to do it properly. In New England we never prune in the fall. All fruit trees have to be pruned during the dormant season. If pruned now, they wounds would never have a chance to heal over and would be prone to damage from freezing. I can never start my pruning before February. Some years I can’t start my pruning before March or April simply because the snow is way to deep. Every part of the world has a different season for pruning of trees.

    • hence the header How Not to prune a pear tree, after doing everything by the book every year this tree is still reluctant, usually we do not get the really bad weather until feb, march .sometimes earlier. it is very inclement here. You guys get such rough weather.. and March April May I am lambing and calving. Just fingers crossed for this tree really.. c

  10. Hi Cecilia! I’m taking a Master Gardeners course, 5 full days of presentations and such. There were a couple of presentations on pruning. It seems some trees/shrubs should be pruned in the fall, and some in the spring. So much to learn and to get straight….which needs to be pruned when, and so forth. Looks like you know what you are doing, although the pruned tree looks a bit strange, and bare now. No doubt it will be beautiful and fruitful next summer!

    • it will come back, they always do for me, but I learnt everything in another hemisphere, so there is tons of hit and miss for me here.. It does look strange now, but this tree is my nemisis, all the others are growing beautifully.. c

  11. Great pruning job…wanna come out in March to help with my apple tree? One of us should be able to figure out the little chainsaw…
    What variety are you using to pollinate?

      • Ah…if you want to increase your harvest, plant a different variety to cross-pollinate, something like a bosc that will bloom at the same time. One in the middle should do nicely. Like apples, pears pollinate better with a second strain.
        When I moved in with Hubby, he had a bosc that had never set much fruit at all. Then – not on purpose – he let the Bartlett rootstock send up a sprout. It flowered, cross-pollinated the bosc…and now we get lots of BOTH!

        • Clever. I knew that we needed multiples but did not even think of having another variety. John has no idea what variety his one is. I am planting three more pears next year so i will be sure to get something else. Good tip. I do this with the hazelnuts already too! c

  12. Hmm, my Pete had a go at the fig tree yesterday and a few other trees lining our driveway – I nearly passed out and am still extremely traumatised and irritated by the whole event! At least you went at it with purpose C.
    🙂 Mandy

    • Oh dear, Mandy, I have had this experience before too with my first husband, That fig is quite young isn’t it? Is that the one you planted a few months ago. You will have pruned it when you planted it i am sure, look at what is left and decide which of those branches you want fruit from, then BAN Pete from touching them, Figs grow on quite old wood and quite young wood so you should be OK.. But aren’t you in your spring now?.. I am dying to plant figs next year.. I must get on and order them.. c

  13. I’ve a feeling that you were once barber to your kids — until they were old enough to pay for a haircut on their own. Now, with no more locks to shear, you’ve turned your attention to the trees. Say, didn’t Edward Scissorhands eventually turn to topiary?

    • Oh how did you know? I always cut their hair until the day I inadvertantly cut Third Sons ear! Blood everywhere. From then on they politely declined and went shaggy headed! c

  14. My mum and dad have a small garden with maybe 10 trees and each year around pruning season they get into heated discussions about how to or how not to prune a tree. Glad they are not the only ones 🙂

    • John got over it quickly, he has seen me do this to other trees to ‘reclaim’ them and so he knows it works..I would rather gently prune properly each year. Nice that your parents have so many trees though. c

  15. Poor John! I know it’s for the tree’s own good, but they always do look so horrible when they’re shorn. We have no fruit trees (yet), but when our maples and conifers need pruning Mike has to do it. I can’t look!

    • Don’t let him prune the conifers unless he only does the tippy tips often, they only grow from the ends of their branches .. tricky things conifers.. hopefully they will not need much pruning at all. c

      • The lodgepole pine in our front yard needed a heavy pruning after a Pitch Twig Moth infestation. And the blue spruce and Manitoba maple in our back yard grow right beside our above-ground power and media lines (we live in a very old neighbourhood), so we need to prune the branches back away from the lines every few years. I would much rather just leave them alone!

  16. Hi Cecilia. I hope your arms have stopped aching! Must have taken ages. You have managed a great shape. It will soon grow back and hopefully have lots of lovely fruit.
    Regards Florence x

    • I hope so, it will need a year then another prune then after that i hope it will fruit.. i have more going in next year too.. c

  17. I had a radical prune of my white Adriatic fig last winter; reduced it’s height by 2 metres!
    It must have thought it was going to die, and has set so much fruit for the autumn.
    It will be a race to see who gets the fruit first, the fruit bats, the fig birds or the ravenous possum!

    • Hi Elaine and welcome. You have bats?, and fig birds .. sounds like you are living somewhere exotic! Sometimes a tree is rejuvenated by a serious prune, I know I am!

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