Pruning Jesuit Pear Trees


We have a couple of Jesuit pear trees that we grew from seedlings. They are now around 8 years old. We haven’t done anything for the most part because they took a long time to establish.

They look like they could use a pruning now. Should we?
If so, how and when? Do we treat them much like our apple trees?

Thank you!


Thank you for your question about pruning your young pear trees. Jesuit pears have an interesting link to Canada’s early history because the trees are long lived and mature trees are likely to mark early settlement locations.

Trees in general, and fruit trees specifically, may be pruned for a variety of reasons: to remove dead or diseased branches; to control shape; to establish a strong branch structure; to enhance fruit bearing; or to rejuvenate an older tree. In the case of young fruit trees, establishing a strong branch structure is one of the key reasons to prune.

This is called structural pruning and is similar for apple and pear trees. Structural pruning is undertaken to ensure that the young tree has strong well spaced branches, a vigorous central leader, and a balanced appearance. The general steps in structural pruning are as follows:

  • Remove any dead, damaged or diseased branches.
  • Identify the leader branch, or tallest upward growing branch.
  • Remove any branches that are competing with the leader, that look weak, or grow at a very close angle to the trunk.
  • Select 4 or 5 of the remaining branches to be the scaffold branches, those that will be the primary limbs as the tree grows. The scaffold branches should be spaced, approximately 12 inches apart, angled at approximately 60°to the trunk, and evenly spaced around the tree.
  • Cut back the leader branch to about 12 inches above the scaffold branches.
  • In subsequent years, continue to remove and dead, damaged or diseased branches as needed.
  • After 2 to 3 years identify a second set of scaffold branches approximately 12 to 24 inches above the first set and prune as outlined above.

The result should be a roughly conical tree that allows light to filter through the canopy from top to bottom to ripen the fruit, and strong scaffold branches that can support the weight of secondary branches and fruit.

Young fruit trees are not typically pruned until they are well established.  Literature suggests beginning pruning in the second or third year. Your question notes that your pear seedlings took a long time to get established, and Jesuit pears are slow growing trees. Given these two factors, beginning pruning at this point, though later than suggested, may well be appropriate. A word of caution however: if it appears that significant pruning is required to establish a healthy limb structure, it might be best to spread out the structural pruning over a couple of years. This is because heavy pruning is likely to stress the tree and may result in delayed fruit bearing.

Structural pruning is best undertaken in late winter or early spring. There are several reasons for this. First, it is easy to see the branch structure when the trees are bare; and second, the trees are dormant but will break dormancy and begin healing the pruning relatively quickly.

Best wishes with your structural pruning. The time spent when young will position you Jesuit pears well for a long, healthy, and productive future.

If you are interested in further reading, the following sources might be of interest: