I was first turned on to growing Asian pears by a friend of ours who grew a wide range of uncommon fruit. A member of the North American Fruit Explorers, he had a yard that was full of berries, apples, plums, pears, apricots, kiwi, persimmons, peaches, and more but he said that the Asian pears were by far his favorites.
Asian Pear Varieties
We planted ‘Chojuro’ which has a butterscotch rum flavor and a late-season one called ‘Hardy Giant’ which has a mild, sweet taste. Both have rough, russeted skin but there are plenty of varieties with smooth yellow skin that look even more like an apple.
‘Hardy Giant’ lives up to its name, producing many huge fruits.
Asian Pears Versus European Pears
Unlike European pears that get a gritty texture inside if left to ripen on the tree, Asian pears need to be tree-ripened to develop the best flavor and lessen grittiness. They won’t continue to ripen once picked. This is the last fruit we harvest in the fall since they ripen so late. To judge when to pick them we taste test almost daily and keep an eye on the skin color. They are good keepers, lasting almost 2 weeks at room temperature and up to 5 months in the refrigerator.
Asian Pear Origins
Asian pears were brought to this country over 160 years ago by immigrants wanting to bring a familiar food to their new home but the fruit did not become widely popular here until the 1980’s. Because they are round they are often called “apple pears” and sometimes are referred to as “water pears” because they are so juicy.
Even though they feel firm when ripe they bruise easily which is why the ones in the store often appear wrapped in a cozy mesh koozie. They are excellent eaten raw or can be baked into a pie or pear crisp or steamed and drizzled with honey for a traditional Chinese treat. In Japan, slices of peeled pears are often served after dinner.
Growing Asian Pears
If you are considering adding Asian pears to your edible landscape these dwarf trees can be a nice ornamental bearing pure white blossoms in the spring. There are many varieties to choose from so do some taste testing of the fruit before you decide. The flavors are subtle and vary from butterscotch to honey to banana to floral to cinnamon but all are crisp and juicy.
- They are not reliable self-pollinators so they will produce better if planted with another Asian variety that blooms at the same time. A European pear such as ‘Bartlett’ can also serve as a pollinator. If you are cramped for space look for a 3-in-1 or 4-in-1 multi-budded plant. These trees will have 3 or 4 different varieties grafted onto a single rootstock.
- Like European pears they are cold-hardy and need to chill out in winter, requiring at least 50 to 70 days of temperatures below 45 degrees so they do best in zones 5 to 8.
- They can take some shade and tolerate a wide range of soil types but prefer full sun with well-drained, slightly acidic soil.
- Pest- and disease-resistant, there is little that troubles these trees. I am used to animals raiding my fruit before I can pick it but nothing bothers the Asian pears. Codling moth is the most common pest and fire blight the most common disease but neither one has given us any trouble.
- When planting, position the graft 3 inches above the soil line.
- Since the tree’s shape is naturally upright you can plant them 10 to 15 feet apart but they could also be grown as espaliers on a fence or trellis. If you choose a standard-sized tree be forewarned; it can grow to be fifty feet tall!
- They develop many fruiting spurs all along the branches so to encourage bigger pears, thin to one fruit every six inches.
Go out on a limb! Asian pears may sound like an exotic fruit but they are actually easy to grow and quite delicious.