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How to Tell When Pears are Ready to Harvest

by Stark Bro's on 07/10/2012
Mature Pears on Branch

“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

While the quote above may be an exaggeration, it does serve to highlight the fact that many growers struggle to figure out the proper ripening and eating times for pears. In this post, we will teach you everything you need to know for picking, ripening, and enjoying homegrown pears.

The Nature of Pears

Did you know pears don’t ripen on the tree?

While most types of fruit reach their peak on the branch or vine, pears need to be picked before ripening. If left on the tree, pears ripen from the inside out and, by the time they seem to be at the ripe stage, they are beyond it — usually mushy with a mealy texture beneath the skin.

To avoid such results, you must pick pears when they are mature but not yet fully ripened. Figuring out the answer to “when are pears ripe?” can be difficult. When in season, a mature pear will still be firm to the touch, so feel won’t be a strong indicator. You can’t really go by sight either; a mature pear could be a variation of colors, like green, yellow, or even blush, depending on the variety.

Mature Pears Harvested

The best way to tell if a pear is ready to harvest is by taking the fruit in your hand and tilting it horizontally. The mature fruit will easily come away from the branch at this angle (as opposed to its natural vertical hanging position). If it is not yet ready for picking, it will hold on to the branch.

Once harvested, most pears will require about a week to ripen at room temperature (about 65-72ºF). If you store the fruit in a paper bag, you can speed up this process so that it will ripen in just a few days. You may also choose to store your harvested pears with an apple or banana — fruits that are more prone to releasing ethylene gas, which accelerates the ripening process.

Pear season is coming! In a typical year, it starts in August for those of us in zones 5 and 6. If you are growing your own, make sure you are prepared!

The information above applies to European Pears. Asian Pears tend to ripen just fine on the tree. To learn more about ripening and other differences between these two kinds of pears, check out our article, Growing & Preserving Pears.

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Topics → Planting & Growing, Tips

41 Comments

  1. Darryl Hattenhauer permalink

    My bareroot Asian hybrid pear I got from you is doing very well.

    • That’s wonderful, Darryl! Do you know which Asian Pear it is? We’d love to see any photos you have of your fruit trees any time. :)

  2. debbie permalink

    hi, stark bros.!
    i planted a honeysweet pear this spring and she is doing wonderfully! thank you so much!
    totally love the information in your articles. from the ones on proper planting, to growing, training and pruning (still a scary thing to me), and now this one, when to harvest. will definitely bookmark this article to be ready for the first wee pears that arrive…four to six years from now (as stated in *another* entry!). yay! :D
    i must remember that patience is a virtue. :)
    the wish list for next season has already been started…thanks again!!

    • I am so glad to hear things are growing well for you, Debbie! Thank YOU for sharing with us. :D We will do our best to keep this information coming so that your growing success continues. Time flies when you grow your own, and the fruits of your labor are worth the wait. ;)

  3. Peggy Beauvais permalink

    I was just wondering about the pears on our tree today and opened my computer to find this article….thank you so much.

    • Thanks for reading, Peggy. :) What types of pears do you have growing? We’d love it if you shared photos of your harvest when they’re ready!

  4. Don permalink

    Unfortunately for those of us in the state of Michigan we have little if any fruit to pick this year. In our case nothing survived out of the thirty four trees we have not one piece of fruit, do to the early bloom, late freeze in our area we lost everything except for those pesky Black Walnuts.
    Nice information on the pears though and we do enjoy your articles.

    • That sounds an awful lot like most of our fruit here in Missouri this season, Don. If the late frost didn’t get it, the birds and squirrels (and other pests) are seeking fruit as a water source. Thank you for leaving your thoughts — we hope this information is useful to Michigan fruit-growers in future seasons. ;)

  5. Les Sperling permalink

    I have Sickel Pears in my yard Are these European or Asian, please?

    • Good question, Les! Seckel variety pears (as well as Bartlett, Bosc, Comice, d’Anjou, and other common names) are in the European Pear category. Asian pears, often called “apple pears” because of their round shape and crunchy texture, are a bit different as you can see here. :)

  6. Marcy permalink

    I have a pear tree that my parents planted over 40 years ago. The tree is in bad shape and I would love to plant another one, but I don’t know what it is.

    The fruit stays firm when ripe, and even though everything says pears don’t ripen on the tree, this one does. In fact most of the pears are harvested by picking them up off the ground. They are firm, smooth textured, with exceptional taste! They don’t keep real long after picking them up though. But are firm enough to can if done right away. Also there is only one tree, but it has pears every year, with a heavier crop on every other year. And the fruit can be quite large. Greenish rust type color, that tinges to yellow. Any idea what kind of tree this is? Everyone that tastes these pears comments on how wonderful they taste. But this tree is on it’s last leg. And the the pleated woodpecker has added some more holes up the trunk. We have had some real cold winters (zone 4) and it still produces. Even with late frost. Thru all my searching online I haven’t found it.
    It is taller than was expected was supposed to be a semi dwarf but tree is taller than our power lines.
    Any ideas? Also if I cut it down in the spring, will it sprout again?

    Edit: Jul 17, 2012

    I’m a little confused about Kiefer pears. I have seen several different descriptions of this pear as well as many different pictures. So I’m not sure what is right. Most of what I have seen though doesn’t sound like my pear. Or look right. Again I find kieffer pear descriptions a little confusing. But I don’t think that’s what this is.
    Thanks for the input though :)

    • That does sound like an excellent tree, Marcy! If you happen to have any, please send us photos of this tree and its fruit to info@starkbros.com so we can get an idea of what it might be.

      Another thing to do would be to contact your local county extension office because they might have an idea of the varieties that grow well there, now and 40 years ago. If they have, or if they can direct you to, someone who can graft/propagate your tree for you, it may be able to be replicated! That way you can have the same fruit and production characteristics you’d been enjoying all these years because, chances are if you cut the tree down, it may not sprout again.

    • Mike permalink

      Marcy, it sounds like a pear I had in my yard for years. It may be a Kiefer pear.

    • David Kehr permalink

      You could try to propagate your tree with cuttings from it. They can be rooted and planted. that would give you a full sized tree. If you want a dwarf or semi dward tree, your new tree would need to be grafted onto the proper root stock.
      Dave

    • chris permalink

      thank you for the articles.My parents have a pear tree that the fruit ripens on it or when they pick them up from the ground its supposed to be a Bartlett.I thought wrongely then that pears ripen on the tree and wasted last years harvest of the unknown pear trees I have acquired through the purchase of this place last year.after reading this I picked most of the pears off one tree as they came off easily in the horizontal position so hoping to have better luck this year I shoud know in about a week I guess. thanks again for the informational articles. chris

      • Great! Keep us posted on your pear harvest, Chris :)

        • chris permalink

          Sarah the pear harvest went great following the tips you gave here thanks for this article. chris

  7. SO happy to find this! We inherited a pear tree when we moved into my grandparents home and every year the 100s of pears go to waste. I always pick to late or to early. I’m going to go grab a bag full tomorrow and try letting them sit on the counter to ripen. I’m hoping to make preserves and to freeze some for winter snacking.

    • That sounds great, Nicole! I’m new to canning, personally, but I’ve found a lot of useful videos, like Patti Moreno’s here, on YouTube. I wish you the best of luck! :)

  8. Anna permalink

    We have a wonderful old pear tree on our property that has been there since we moved in over twenty years ago! We have found that drying the fruit was our favorite way of preserving the pears :) They are sooo sweet it’s like eating candy so it is a perfect snack but you can also make pies and deserts using the dried fruit.

    • Growing fruit trees benefits current residents of a home as well as future residents. It truly does increase property value, and not just in dollar amount. I am so glad that someone decided to plant that pear tree so that you may enjoy its fruit all these many years later, Anna. :)

  9. Carl C permalink

    I have several different pear trees that I have ordered from you guys. This year, one of my pear trees has been putting flowers on extremely delayed times. For instance, some flowers just came on and fell off a week ago, mid July in zone 4 in Minnesota. Any thoughts?

    • This happens every once in a while, Carl. We saw a lot of this occurrence last year during the intense drought. Trees were not growing for so long, due to the heat and dryness, that once the weather cooled toward the fall, the trees thought they were waking up from dormancy and that it was spring! Trees can get a little confused, either due to extreme weather or some other form of shock, so they flower when they normally wouldn’t.

      Odds are, the flowers won’t develop into fruit but, if they do, you should pick off the fruit before it gets very big. This will avoid stress to the tree and help avoid damage in the winter. The pears won’t have enough time to ripen and leaving it on may offset your tree’s timing for preparing itself for winter.

  10. angie permalink

    Hello, I have two bartlett pear trees that have a hard moss like stuff growing on the bark. I have scrubbed it off using those rough plastic onion bags. My pears don’t look like the ones in the photos, they have to be scrubbed to get a black dirt like substance off of them before I can eat or can them. Any ideas?

    What I mean by big butts, like big human butts, with a crack. I attributed the small size to the soil they are planted in, which is pretty much clay. I have added nitrogen, magnesium and potasium – recommened by the extension service after I had the soil tested.

    • From your description, the growth on the tree’s bark is most likely lichens — composed of a fungus and an algae — and these growths aren’t dangerous to the tree. They practically sustain one another and only use a tree as a location to grow. You can do an image search for lichens and see if this is what you are seeing on your pear trees.

      As for the fruit issues… the black stuff could be a number of things. It would be easier to tell what it might be if you have photos of your fruit with the black dirt-like substance on them. If it just rubs off and there is no issue with the fruit, it may be a type of mold — especially if it tends to be rainy and wet where the trees and fruit are growing. You can control molds with certain fungicides intended for use on fruiting pear trees (like this Garden Disease Control), but the fungicide might also kill the lichens on the tree.

      I’m curious if you have any other types of pear trees growing nearby. You mentioned your fruit not resembling the ones in the photos, but Bartlett pear trees are not typically self-pollinating and two true Bartlett pear trees won’t pollinate one another to produce fruit.

      • angie permalink

        wow! Good to know about the lichens not being harmful. There are no other pear trees known in my area. The trees have produced pears that when they are ripe they taste like they were laced with sugar, but some look like they have big butts and they don’t get as big as a standard bartlett.

  11. bethany pilcher permalink

    I have a tree in my yard we just bought this house and its august now and I started to see fruit I waited awhile I figured its a pear tree and I not for sure what to do with it do u half to bring it in a room 60 70F ? im not for sure :)

    • Now is the time of year when some pear trees are ready to start being harvested. As mentioned in the article above, a pear that is ready to be picked from the tree will let go of the branch when held in your hand and tilted horizontally. Pears will not ripen on the tree, they will become soft and mealy.

      The pears that come off in your hand are the ones that are ready to be harvested, but these will need to be ripened indoors at room temperature for several days. Storing the fruit in paper bags with other fruit (apples, bananas, etc.) can help to speed up the process.

      This video from Edible Landscaping might help as a visual example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4sZka7ZH2TA

  12. Bonnie permalink

    We have a Bartlett Pear Tree just loaded with pears. When is it time to harvest them?
    Thank you very much.

    • Bartlett pears usually ripen around late August, give or take a week or two (depending on the weather and where you are located). You should be able to enjoy harvesting your Bartlett pears in a few weeks! :)

  13. Mariah Kimble permalink

    Another great tip is to bag and sock your fruit. Through trail and error I have found first bagging the fruit when small with sealable sandwich bags that have had the corners cut off keeps the pests out then when weather starts getting warm slip socks on over the bagged fruit. This will keep the fruit from getting sunburned.

  14. Wendi permalink

    I have a pear tree that is full of fruit. When I cut open a pear there is black grainy stuff all around the core, even though it does not appear to have any invasion by insects. What is that? Does it spread to all the pears?

    • Without seeing the issue you’re describing, two things come to mind:
      1. Plum curculio damage. If this is the culprit, you’ll notice a small crescent-shaped mark on the surface of the fruit and you might even find the small curculio beetle’s grub in the fruit, or a tunnel where the grub may have emerged.

      2. Pear core breakdown. This is thought to be a weather-related condition that affects certain varieties more than others. It is also thought to occur when fruit is left to ripen on the tree, since pears are one of a few fruits that are harvested before they’re “ripe” and allowed to ripen off the tree, as mentioned in this article. You can read more about pear core breakdown here.

  15. Vickie permalink

    My parents had 2 pear trees on their small farm. These trees always had the BEST tasting pears. One died off about 10 years ago and we were afraid that would be it, but the other tree continues to bear every year. My mother, who recently passed away at the age of 89, remembers these trees being on the farm and bearing fruit as a young girl. How can I find out what type of pear tree this is before we loose the second one too, and is there a way to ensure this line doesn’t die out? This tree has to be at least 85+ years old.

    • All living things, including trees, have a natural lifespan so, unfortunately, there isn’t a way to keep old trees from the circle of life. The good news is, you might be able to seek the skill of a (local) expert in grafting who can cut scions from the old pear tree and graft them onto a compatible rootstock. This would be a way to perpetuate the same old variety, albeit on a new tree.

      Finding out which variety it is might be a trickier task. If you have any photos of the whole tree, and some up close of the bark/leaves/fruit and/or the blossoms, it may help us (or your local experts) possibly identify the variety. It does help to know the tree sounds like it is self-pollinating (since you seem to get fruit even though the other pear tree died) although that might be due to where they are located.

  16. Sarah M. permalink

    I bought a 2-n-1 pear tree a couple of years ago, and I bought a Stark Supreme type. Do you have any pruning tips for this tree? I am not certain where the grafts are located. Thank you!

    • Our 2-N-1 Pear tree is what we call a “top graft”. This means one variety is located on the lower part of the trunk and the second variety is the top portion of the tree. The varieties develop branches from these two areas, so, fortunately, it’s difficult to completely remove one variety without topping the tree. (Topping a tree involves completely pruning off the top of the tree, which is not recommended anyway except for extreme cases where the top has already died.)

      As long as you make your goal for pruning your pear tree’s branches to keep the tree open to light and air circulation (remove any branches growing in toward the center of the tree) and prune off any dead, damaged, and diseased branches, you should be fine!

      • Sarah M. permalink

        Thank you! One more question – is there a maximum height for my 2-N-1 tree? In other words, will it get to be 15 feet or more?

        • The 2-N-1 Pear tree is a semi-dwarf tree so it will be about 12-15 feet tall at maturity, but you can maintain the overall height with selective pruning each year. Just trim everything back a little bit – it’s easier than having to cut a lot off later! :)

  17. Louise A. Manwaring permalink

    My seckel pears turn black, hard and cracked. This has happened the last two years. Before that, I had a large crop of beautiful sweet pears. What could be happening.

    • Have you noticed any discoloration in the tree’s leaves as well? My first instinct when I hear about black, cracked fruit in a pear tree is to think the tree may have an issue with fireblight, which commonly enters the tree through its flowers when it’s blooming. If the infection doesn’t kill the flowers first, it can spread to the fruit.

      I’m not sure where you’re located, but your local county extension should have advice on what to do about fireblight in your trees there. We offer a fireblight spray for use during bloom time in the spring, however there are other options to consider as well. Careful pruning and cleaning your clippers in between each cut is said to be one of the best ways to prevent fireblight from spreading.

      Here’s one example from West Virginia about fireblight and how to manage it:
      http://www.caf.wvu.edu/kearneysville/disease_descriptions/ompearfb.html

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