If I tell you that the oldest living cultivated fruit tree in America is nearly 400 years old, would you believe me? Well, it’s true. And not only that, it’s a pear tree! Who knew?
According to the New England Historical Society, William Endicott planted the specimen sometime between 1630 and 1649 on his farm in Massachusetts.
This mighty pear tree has survived almost 400 years of drought, vandalism, and changes in land use and ownership. And, it still stands today.
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I planted my own Pyrus saplings in 2018, and I’ll be honest – I wasn’t thinking about how long they might live.
I was thinking more about how long it might take them to produce the sweet, succulent fruit I craved.
But now, after learning about the Endicott pear tree, I’m wondering if my own specimens might still be standing in 400 years. Wouldn’t that just be cool?
And let’s be honest, planting fruit trees can be considered an investment – a long-term investment in some cases – and a longer life means a better return on that investment.
We all want our pear trees to live as long as possible, don’t we?
To give mine their best chance of longevity, I’ve done some research, and I’d love to share it with you. Here’s what I’ll be covering in this article:
What You’ll Learn
If you’re thinking about planting a pear tree, or you’ve already planted or inherited one, you’re probably curious to learn more. Let’s go!
How Fast Do Pear Trees Grow?
If there were only one kind of pear in existence, this would be a straightforward, simple answer.
But because there are more than 3,000 varieties grown worldwide, the best I can do is give you an approximate idea of their life expectancy.
Before I define the range, here’s some background to give context to the conversation.
Cultivars are bred from parent plants to encourage certain desirable traits, like making them more resilient to survive in different climates, or USDA Hardiness Zones.
That breeding process, which changes how each cultivar behaves – paired with the conditions it is subjected to – can affect growth rate and production. These and other factors also determine how long a tree will live.
Long story short, some varieties grow very slowly, and some grow quickly. It depends on your Zone, and the particular variety in question.
One example is the ‘Bartlett’ pear, which can grow at a fast rate – up to 24 inches per year!
But wait! It’s not all about genetics and geographic location. There are outside factors that can affect growth rate as well.
You’ll be happy to learn that you can take steps to influence how fast your specimen grows.
You can control things like care and maintenance, pruning, soil conditions, and irrigation. I’ll explain more about these later. Read on.
When Will They Produce Fruit?
I don’t want you to think I’m just repeating myself, but maybe I am repeating myself.
As above, the answer to this question is dependent on factors I’ve already mentioned. It can take anywhere between three and 10 years for your trees to begin flowering and producing fruit.
Speaking of flowers, I will add one important factor here. If you want your pear tree to produce fruit, you need to understand the pollination process. Some varieties will self-pollinate and some need a mate.
Since this article discusses pears and how they age, I won’t be covering details about pollination here.
How Long Do Pear Trees Live?
There is no doubt about it – the Endicott pear in Massachusetts is special. Not all pear trees can survive 400 incredible trips around the sun.
Some care guides for different cultivars, like the ‘Bradford,’ will project a lifespan as short as 15 to 25 years. However, the flowering ‘Bradford’ isn’t really cultivated for fruit production, but rather, for ornamental landscaping purposes.
If a fruiting type doesn’t begin producing fruit until it’s three to 10 years old, that wouldn’t be a lot of time to reap all the reward from the years of hard work you put into its care.
Thankfully, fruiting varieties usually live longer. It’s not uncommon to find trees as old as 50 years that are still producing fruit.
If rigorous care is taken, and growing conditions are ideal, they can live a full and glorious life of up to 200 years.
This means if you choose the variety wisely, and take great care of it, your tree can realistically provide fruit and enjoyment in the landscape for several future generations.
What Can Impact the Lifespan of a Pear Tree?
You can take steps to influence the lifespan of your pear tree.
By doing so, you’ll not only leave a legacy for future generations to enjoy, you’ll also benefit from higher productivity with a bountiful harvest.
Threats such as disease, drought stress, nutrient imbalance, and winter damage can all be identified and addressed. Ready to learn more? Let’s review.
Infectious Disease Control
Pear trees can usually be grown with little need for fungicides or insecticides.
But sometimes they’re prone to different infectious fungal and bacterial diseases that can completely defoliate your tree if left untreated, leading to death.
Fireblight is probably the most common and worrisome of all potential diseases.
This bacterial infection usually occurs in warm, humid regions, and can be avoided by choosing varieties that are more resistant, and treating immediately upon diagnosis.
If you want to grow healthy specimens, you should learn to recognize fireblight. Although it can appear any time during the season, it will usually begin during the bloom period.
Tissue will appear water-soaked then wither and blacken quickly. The disease will creep down the branch from the original point of infection, killing leaves and flowers as it spreads. The infected areas can ooze a milky fluid that becomes reddish-brown as it dries.
Once you detect fireblight, cut out and burn the diseased portions. Spray will not control the disease in infected branches.
If your trees haven’t been infected but you’re concerned about it, you can take preventative steps by implementing a spray program beginning at bloom and continuing through the summer.
Other diseases to look out for are scab, black rot, bitter rot, and pear leaf spot.
Don’t let these nasty invaders intimidate you, though. The good news is most diseases can be easily treated. You can find helpful advice in our fruit tree care guides.
Hardiness: Match Cultivars with Your Zone
Fluctuating temperature changes and prolonged exposure to extreme cold can easily shock the life out of a pear tree. But don’t let that stop you from planting one!
With so many varieties to choose from, you should be able to find a few that will thrive in your Zone. Here in 5b, I’ve got access to several interesting cultivars of different shapes and sizes.
What we’re most concerned with when talking about hardiness is extreme temperature changes.
If you experience lower winter temps in your Zone, this limits the number of species or varieties that are bred for success.
Some varieties can tolerate winters in Zone 4, but even fewer can withstand the bitter winters of Zone 3. ‘Summercrisp,’ available from FastGrowingTrees.com, is a good choice.
If you live in Zone 3, check with your local nursery for additional options.
Your growing Zone also has a unique season length. For example, for me in Zone 5, certain species are able to capitalize better on the short window of time they have to move through their growth and fruiting cycles.
If you’re shopping for a pear tree, check out FastGrowingTrees.com. They have quite an extensive collection!
I’ll admit, sometimes I’m jealous of you folks who live in warm regions with long summers.
Although my Scandinavian blood is genetically coded for happy hibernation, sometimes I think it would be so luxurious to have a few more fruit tree options to choose from.
Pests come in two forms: insects and animals. And both can do enough damage to stunt growth and even kill a tree.
Select disease-resistant varieties, prune during dormancy, and destroy infested fruit to promote health and vitality.
Encourage natural predators like ladybugs. Try natural orchard sprays during dormancy. And if all else fails, get serious with pesticides.
Just be sure to check your local health and safety guidelines, and read instructions for application carefully.
Yes, our furry garden friends are cute. But some will destroy your pear trees.
Voles and rabbits have no shame in munching away at young branches and trunks. And believe me, they work fast!
One of my young specimens was almost completely girdled by a bunny in less than an hour.
Don’t fret. There are a few options to deter rodents.
Pick up some plastic tree guards and wrap the trunks of young specimens. Push the guard down into the soil an inch or two to block the little voles.
I’ve tried a few different kinds of guards, and I really like the spiral kind like this one from Amazon because they’re easy to take on and off, and they expand if the trunk grows quickly.
Hardware cloth (wire) cages work well also. Cut a length from the wire mesh roll, like this one from Amazon.
Form into a circle to fit around the base of your tree, and push the bottom down into the ground a few inches. Secure the cage with a garden stake.
Some experts will suggest that most pest damage like this occurs in the winter when animals are more hungry and foraging for food, and that it’s okay to remove protection for the summer.
Although this is probably true for older specimens, please don’t risk this on your young trees, which are tasty and attractive to critters at all times.
I’ve got a lot of wildlife in my city neighborhood and on my urban farm. Don’t even get me started on squirrels!
So, after my devastating experience, and almost losing one of my trees, I doubled up on my pest control.
I take this very seriously. I use guards AND cages, together at the same time!
Tab’s tip: Leave the pointy bits exposed when you cut the wire for your protective cages. It seems sinister, but it does keep those little soft paws and noses off your territory.
Site Selection, Soil, and Pruning
Although Pyrus species can tolerate clay soils, they will grow the best and attain greater longevity when planted in deep, well-drained soils.
When choosing a planting site, aim for some elevation and good airflow.
This can decrease the probability of frost damage, and allows leaves to dry quicker, reducing humidity that can lead to disease.
Also consider spacing between trees. Successful pollination requires a minimum distance between plantings, but if they are planted too close together, your specimens can age much faster, sending them to an early demise.
Pruning your specimen will increase vigor and prolong its life, making it happier and healthier in general. Check out our guide for more information about how and when to prune pears.
Pear trees are pretty darn tough. They can handle some drought. But watering once a week will aid in their growth and survival.
Drip irrigation or a soaker hose are the easiest, most efficient ways to water.
In my mini orchard, I created a swale that captures rain and feeds the roots, but summers here in Ontario have been a little dry the last few years.
I’m in the process of installing drip irrigation right now, and I think it will add years to the lives of all my plants.
Irrigation is like the fountain of youth for pear trees, but be careful not to overwater. It can be just as damaging if the roots become too waterlogged!
Leave a Legacy of Pears for Future Generations
The pear tree is an ancient Chinese symbol of immortality because of its longevity and prosperity.
Add this symbol to your own garden, and set it up for success by taking a few careful steps to nurture its health.
Select the best planting site, source the hardiest variety for your Zone, protect it from disease and pests, and feed with plenty of nutrients and regular watering.
If you want to make your mark on this world and leave a legacy for future generations to enjoy, like the Endicott pear tree in Massachusetts, plant a pear today!
How old are your specimens? I’d love to know which varieties you have growing on your property! Please share your success stories, or lessons learned, with me in the comments below.
If you found this guide helpful, you’ll be interested in these guides to growing and caring for pear trees next: