How to Grow a Callery Pear Tree

Brown and golden leaves on a branch with small round brown fruits
The Callery Pear Tree in autumn is a sight of colorful rustic beauty.

 Lorianne DiSabato / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This tree was named for Joseph-Marie Callery, who first sent specimens from China to Europe in the 1800s. The Callery pear was introduced to the US in the mid 1900s and later in the 1960s, was promoted as a desirable tree for planting due to being inexpensive and fast-growing. While not a true pear tree in the sense of producing edible fruits (like a common pear tree), the Callery pear (Prunus calleryana) does produce small fruits in autumn. It also has glossy green leaves that turn multiple colors in the fall, including shades of yellow, gold, orange, pink, red and brown, making it a perfect accent tree for seasonal color. If there is an early frost, however, the tree may drop its leaves before they turn color. The Callery pear is native to Vietnam, Korea and China, and is in the Rosaceae family.

The common cultivar is "Bradford" which was commonly planted in the United States as an urban landscape tree, but is these days regarded as an undesirable and even invasive species. The Callery pear is very resistant to disease, and generally sturdy, but the "Bradford" cultivar is susceptible to damage from stormy weather. This is due in part to their rapid rate of growth, which was also one of the characteristics that made them a desirable urban tree, until their various problems became evident. This includes spring blossoms that give off a faint but rather unpleasant carrion-like odor; if there is a whole row of these on one street he fragrance in spring can be quite overpowering, and not in a good way.

Ironically, their showy and profuse blossoms were one of the qualities mentioned when this tree was being eagerly promoted for widespread planting. One sees many Bradford pear trees that still remain in cities across the United States, but where possible some cities have replaced them with heartier trees that remain healthier and more attractive over time.

However, if you can obtain a different cultivar, this can be a nice inexpensive and easy-to-grow spring-blossoming tree with autumn fruits that, after frost, will soften and attract birds. Other cultivars such as "Autumn Blaze," "Chanticleer," or "White House" may still prove to be somewhat invasive; the seeds are mainly spread via bird droppings after they consume the fruit.

Botanical Name Prunus calleryana
Common Name Callery pear
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 30 to 50 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Moist, well-drained, tolerant of most soils
Soil pH Slightly acidic 6.0-7.0
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4 to 9
Native Area China, Vietnam
white blossoms on fruit tree branch with trees in background
The Bradford cultivar of Callery pear has showy white blossoms with dark speckles in spring. Oakland County CISMA / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Planting the Callery Pear

Choosing a site for this tree should allow for its mature height of at least thirty feet tall and twenty feet wide. The canopy tends to grow in a upright narrow shape, and can get quite cluttered unless pruned regularly, so avoid planting near electrical wiring or too close to a structure. It is also susceptible to ice damage, so avoid planting near drainage pipes or other spots, such as next to eaves, roofs or gutters, where water run off could be an issue. Despite having been wildly popular for several decades as an urban landscape specimen, many cities now discourage planting this tree in highly-visible areas. Some orchardists use this tree as grafting stock for edible pear varieties such as Bosc or Comice pears, so it can be an inexpensive option for starting a small pear orchard if you have some grafts of pear trees available.

Soil and Sun

The Callery pear is tolerant of most soil conditions, including alkaline or clay soils. Ideally it should have slightly acidic, well-drained soil, but its tolerant nature means it may be planted in difficult areas where other trees are hard to grow. This tree does not tolerate salty soils well, so should not be planted by street or road edges where salt use in winter is common.

This tree needs at least six hours of full sun per day to thrive and bear blossoms and fruit. Seedlings may spring up in shadier areas.

Water

The Callery pear is tolerant of drought, but regular rainfall or watering are best to keep it healthy. Mulching the base can help preserve moisture in a dry season.

Pruning and Maintenance

Due to its vulnerability to limb loss, couples with its fast growth rate, this tree can sometimes become asymmetrical in form, making it less desirable as a landscape tree. Careful and regular pruning in the first few years after planting can help to control the shape and form of this tree and make it less susceptible to damage or disfigurement from storm or wind damage. The life span of the Callery pear is often less than twenty-five years unless it is cared for in ways that address its particular weaknesses, namely its tendency to grow vertically and without forming well-angled limbs.