The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Disease-resistant pear varieties

Bag of pearsThe fifth chapter of The Holistic Orchard is about pome fruits --- apples, pears, and quinces.  Of these, quinces seem to be very prone to fire blight damage, and I've posted about disease-resistant apple varieties previously, so I thought I'd sum up Phillips' (and Lee Reich's) tips on choosing resistant pears.

Although they're both called pears, European pears (Pyrus communis) and Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia, Pyrus ussuriensis, plus other crosses) are different beasts.  Asian pears can fruit in year 3 (versus year 8 to 10 for most European pears), but European pears come into their own as prime keeping fruits, some of which can last all winter in your root cellar.  Most relevantly, though, Asian pears are much less resistant to fire blight (the worst disease to affect pears in the U.S.), with the only semi-resistant varieties I've heard about being:

  • Korean Giant (aka Olympic) --- ripens in late October and keeps four months
  • Shinko --- the most blight-resistant Asian pear, ripening in September to October
  • Yoinashi --- an early (August-ripening), somewhat blight-resistant pear

Pear flowerAmong European pears, you have a much greater selection of blight-resistant varieties.  In the table below, I've summed up the ones that look most promising here in zone 6, with a focus on flavor.  As you can see, if you focus on harvest and storage times, you could be eating homegrown pears from August through December (or later).

Ripening time
Atlantic Queen
5 to 8
deals well with adverse conditions
6 to 8
early August
partially self-pollinating
Blake's Pride
4 to 8
bears young; good pollinator; stores 4 months
6 to 8
Harrow Delight
4 to 8
mid August

Harvest Queen


4 to 8
mid September

5 to 9
early September
flavor is reputed to be excellent; althogh leaves and flowers are resistant, trunk is susceptible to fire blight; slow to bear; needs pollinizer; keeps 4 months
4 to 8
mid September
aka Starking Delicious
5 to 8
early August
bears early; keeps 4 months
5 to 9
late September
slow to bear; Anjou-type pear
5 to 8
flavor is reputed to be excellent; semi-dwarf (8 to 10 feet tall); keeps 3 months; can get blight, although somewhat resistant

mid to late September
more acidic than an average pear; stores 4 months
5 to 8
late August
tastes like Seckel
5 to 8
late August
low yields and needs pollinator; stores 4 months

I'd love to hear some firsthand data from our readers.  Which pear varieties have you planted?  Have they lived up to your expectations?

Next Wednesday, we'll be discussing chapter 6, which sums up all of the luscious stone fruit (peaches, apricots, etc.)  If you're new to the book club, you might also want to check out previous posts on beginning a holistic orchard, techniques for designing a holistic orchard, orchard soil health, and managing fungi in the orchard.  And be sure to chime in on yesterday's post about the future of the book club.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I’ve got a 4-way (fruit salad) European pear from Raintree nursery in Washington. The 4 varieties I have are Harrow Delight, Highland, Rescue and Orcas. Some are early, others later, a couple are to be keepers. I’ve had the tree two years. I’m not sure if it would have bloomed this year, but in Michigan this year we had a very warm Jan and Feb (into the 80s!) followed by a freeze down to 23F (with lots of wind). Even though I had everything covered, my peach (Redhaven) lost all its blossoms.

At a previous home, I had two dwarf apples (also from Raintree), but fighting off pests wasn’t worth the effort of repeating at the new home. I’ve heard it is difficult to grow organic apples except in large blocks where any pests stop at the outside rows. It is extremely difficult if there are old neglected apples (such as in a subdivision like I am) providing breeding grounds for new pests. I had some luck covering individual apples with small paper bags, but eventually accepted some maggots, and just ate them with a paring knife.

Thanks for the book series. I’ve been reading along (although often after your posts).

Comment by Jim Wed Oct 31 12:31:17 2012

You are in a similar climate to me (Arkansas Ozarks, zone 6b/7), though you are slightly wetter and cooler it seems, and it always makes your posts so relevant! Our fruit trees have only been in the ground a year so I don't have personal experience to add. However, our local orchardist has been growing apples and pears for more than 20 years and also works for NCAT (National Center for Appropriate Technology) as a Horticulture Specialist. He sells at our farmer's market and is a blast to talk to, so dynamic and dapper. His recommendations for our climactic challenges are here:

Comment by sweetgum Wed Oct 31 21:08:19 2012

I know I have tried some of those varieties you have listed, not sure which ones without my notes, but seckle made the cut.

Seckle is actually very resistant to fireblight. :) A very tasty pear, like eating flowers. It was my first pear.

I grow a few pears, and they all seem to be more or less resistant to FB. Orient Floridahome LeConte Keiffer Southern Barlett Are all the ones I have, but they are not all keepers. I'm working out the less desirable ones.

Comment by T Thu Nov 1 02:28:56 2012
We have three Asian pear trees, two Korean Giants and one Yoinashi (sp?), and all three started showing symptoms of blight a couple of weeks ago. Maybe not a whole lot of varieties are resistant to disease in humid subtropical climates? (like ours in southeast Oklahoma) Hoping that the organic spray I just ordered will keep trees alive, if not save what was going to be our first harvest.
Comment by emily Sun Apr 29 18:57:20 2018

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