ripe apples on a tree
Updated: May 2, 2024

About apple and pear trees

Apples and pears, collectively known as pome fruits, have a central core containing seeds surrounded by edible flesh. Apples and pears can be grown with a minimal amount of pesticide sprays if disease-resistant cultivars are selected and trees are kept to a minimum height with dwarfing rootstocks, training, and pruning. It is also important that trees are given close attention and the right growing conditions.

Cultivar selection

Strains: Some apple cultivars are available in various strains. A strain is a mutation of a cultivar that has been selected and propagated for an improved characteristic. A strain may differ in fruit characteristics, growth characteristics, or both. For example, There are many strains of some of the popular commercial cultivars like Fuj, Gala, and Honeycrisp.

Spurs: The most common strain difference is between spur strains and non-spur strains. Spurs are short, stubby, slow-growing, modified stems arising from the branches that support multiple fruit blossoms and may remain fruitful for 7 to 10 years or more. Spurs are common on apple, pear, and cherry trees. Spur-strain trees, because of their compact form of growth (60% to 70% as large as the non-spur types), are ideally suited for home gardeners with limited space. Fruit spurs and leaf buds are spaced closer together on spur than on non-spur trees.

Some apple and pear cultivars are more likely to produce fruits with russeting-- discolored, slightly rough patches of the fruit skin. It does not affect eating quality. Many Asian pear cultivars have russeted skin.

European pear cultivars may develop stone or grit cells when fruits are allowed to ripen on the tree. Pick pears when they are mature (full-size), not ripe, and allow them to ripen indoors.

Apple cultivars

Recommended Apple Cultivars (Malus sylvestris domestica)
Cultivar Comments
Antietam Blush Bred by UMD researchers for hot, wet mid-Atlantic summers. Fruit has red skin with a  green-yellow background and crisp flesh with a nice sweet/tart balance. Has Cripps Pink and Gala parentage.
Bonita* Fruit has pink to bright red color over a yellow-green background. Slightly acidic, juicy, crunchy bite. Resistant to apple scab. Parentage: Cripps Pink and Topaz.
Cordera* Crimson and rose fruit color. Crisp texture; sweet and flavorful. Resistant to apple scab. Has Honeycrisp parentage.
Crimson Crisp* Medium-size apple has attractive, deep red fruit with crisp, coarse-grained texture. Tree has a broad growing habit. Resistant to apple scab.
Crimson Topaz* Medium to large size fruit with thin, red and yellow striped skin. Crisp texture and sweet/tart flavor. Resistant to apple scab and powdery mildew.
Empire Dark red skin. Excellent quality. Good keeper; very vigorous, early-bearing. McIntosh and Red Delicious parentage.
Enterprise* Medium-to-large, red, crisp fruit. Late-blooming, moderately vigorous tree; keeps well. Descendant of Rome, McIntosh, and Golden Delicious.
Florina* Dark red, large-size fruit has a sweet/tart flavor and ripens in October. Resistant to fireblight, powdery mildew, and scab, but somewhat susceptible to cedar-apple rust.
Galarina* Medium-size fruit with orange-red skin on a yellow background. Crisp flesh with flavor like Gala. High tolerance to apple scab and powdery mildew.
Goldrush* Deep yellow, crisp, firm fruit.Upright, semi-spur tree. Stores well.
MacFree* Large fruit with 90% red blush over tough, green skin. Flavor similar to McIntosh.
Redfree* Earliest scab and rust-resistant apple; some fire-blight resistance. Red with creamy flesh. Excellent flavor; ripens mid-late Aug.
*Cultivars with some resistance to fire blight, apple scab, cedar-apple rust, and/or powdery mildew


Apple Variety Identification | Pomiferous Apple Database

Disease Susceptibility Ranking of Apples  | Cornell University Database of Apple Diseases

Pear cultivars

Recommended Asian Pear Cultivars (Pyrus pyrifolia)
Cultivar Comments
20th Century (Nijisekki) Medium-sized tree with drooping branchinghabit. Yellow-skinned, high-quality fruit. Fruit must be thinned (see Fruit Plant Care section).
Daisui Li Medium-large size fruit. Late-season fruiting. Combines the crunch of Asian pears with the flavor of European pears.
Hosui Vigorous, broad tree with very sweet, russeted fruit. Self-pollinating.
Olympic Large, upright tree with very large, russeted fruit that stores well. Fire blight resistant.
Raja Hardy tree; golden brown skin color. Purported to have good fire blight resistance.
Shinko Medium-large size fruit. Late-season fruiting. Tolerant to fireblight.
Shinseiki (New Century) Large, vigorous tree. Fruit is medium to large, with little russeting. Partially self-pollinating.
Recommended European Pear Cultivars (Pyrus communis)
Cultivar Comments
Bell Large yellow fruit with a splash of red. Excellent flavor and fire blight resistance.
Blake’s Pride Medium-size fruit; yellow skin with tan russeting; excellent flavor. Resistant to fire blight and pear scab.
Cold Snap Large, roundish, fine-textured fruit with excellent flavor and fire blight resistance.
Harrow Crisp Medium-size yellow fruit with a splash of red. Excellent flavor. Resistant to fire blight.
Harrow Delight Juicy, medium-sized fruits. Smooth flesh. Productive trees.
Harvest Queen Hardier and earlier-ripening, but very similar to Bartlett.
Honeysweet Firm fruit with cream-colored flesh; very similar to Seckel. Self-pollinating and resistant to fire blight. Seedling of Seckel.
Kieffer Well-adapted; tolerates drought and flooding. Fire blight resistant. Self-pollinatiing but will produce larger fruits and crops with a seconnd pollenizer cultivar.
Magness Medium-sized, excellent quality. Pollen-sterile: 2 other cultivars are needed. Keep cold for 1 month before eating to fully develop sweetness.
Moonglow Medium to large, dull green fruits with pink blush. Smooth, fine flesh; excellent quality. Resistant to fire blight.
Potomac Medium-size, fine-grained, aromatic fruit. Trees are moderately vigorous and precocious (bears well at a young age). Resistant to fire blight.
Seckel Unlike other European pears that are picked when mature (full-size and hard), Seckel can be nearly tree-ripened. Very sweet, small fruits. Referred to as the “sugar pear.” Relatively small tree. Excellent fire blight resistance.
Shenandoah Large-size, late-season fruit. Stores well. Resistant to fire blight.


Pollinizers are the sources of pollen that the pollinators (insects in this case, especially bees) move from one flower to another.

  • Most apple cultivars require a second cultivar (pollenizer) to cross-pollinate the flowers and fertilize the ovary (undeveloped apple) to produce a full-size fruit.
  • Some cultivars are known to be self-fertile or partially self-fertile, meaning that one tree will produce fruit by itself. Examples include Grimes Golden, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith. However, these cultivars will produce more abundant and larger fruit if an appropriate pollenizer is planted that has an overlapping bloom period.
  • Plant genetics plays an important role in pollen compatibility.
    • Triploid cultivars have 3 sets of chromosomes (3n = 51 chromosomes) rather than 2 sets (2n = 34 chromosomes), and thus are sterile. A pollenizer is needed to pollinate a triploid cultivar. A third cultivar is needed to pollinate that second cultivar (unless it’s self fertile) since the triploid’s pollen is sterile. 
  • Triploid fruit trees generally roduce larger fruit than diploid cultivars. Examples include Baldwin, Creston, Gravenstein, Jonagold, Boskoop, Mutsu, Crispin, Rhode Island Greening,  Stayman, and Winesap. 
  • Plant two different cultivars of Asian or European pears to ensure a good fruit set. European and Asian pear cultivars can cross-pollinate as long as their bloom times overlap.

Apple rootstocks

The two principal influences on tree size are the rootstock (understock to which the desired cultivar, or scion, is grafted) and the type of strain used (spur or non-spur). Tree size is also influenced by the cultivar, tree care and pruning, and growing conditions like soil type.

Rootstocks influence not only the mature size of the tree, but also the age of bearing, winter hardiness, and susceptibility to some diseases. Apples are the only fruit trees for which a wide range of rootstocks exists. There are few dwarfing rootstocks for other types of tree fruits available to home gardeners. Fruit tree suppliers usually categorize their trees as dwarf, semi-dwarf, or full-size and typically do not list the  specific understocks. Check with nurseries to learn about available rootstocks.

Benefits of dwarfing rootstocks 

  • Earlier bearing (starts fruiting at a younger age)
  • Harvest is easier to reach
  • Less pesticide used for a smaller canopy; better pesticide coverage as sprays are easier to apply
  • Improved cold hardiness and disease and pest resistance (for example, the OHxF 97 pear understock is resistant to fireblight)
  • Less pruning required to maintain tree size
  • Improved air circulation
  • Easier to fit into small yards (requires less space)


All About Apple Rootstocks | University of Maryland Extension

(PDF) Geneva® Apple Rootstocks Comparison Chart | Cornell University

Fruit Cultivars and Rootstocks | Penn State University

Rootstock Information | Adams County Nursery

Apple Tree Rootstocks and Tree Sizes | Orange Pippin Trees

Grafting Fruit Trees Video Series | University of New Hampshire

Note: Links to commercial sites is for informational purposes only and not intended as an endorsement.

Planting and plant care

  • For planting instructions, refer to Starting a Home Fruit Garden.
  • Spacing distance between trees is determined by the cultivar, rootstock, and training system. The distance between apple and pear trees should be at least the tree height at maturity.  

    • Dwarf trees- 6 to 8 feet between trees; 12-15 ft. between rows

    • Semi-dwarf trees- 8 to 12 feet between trees; 15-20 ft. between rows 

    • Semi-standard trees- 15-18 ft. between trees; 20-25 ft. between rows

  • Fruit Plant Care

Training and pruning

Pruning tips 

  • Prune trees every year in late winter (February or March). Young trees should never be pruned during or after bloom. Older trees can tolerate a later pruning.
  • Avoid excessive pruning, which encourages excessive shoot growth, delays fruiting, and reduces the fruit quality on young trees.
  • Prune with the goal of “opening the canopy.” This is important to increase light interception and to improve air circulation (reducing disease problems) and spray coverage.
  • Remove sucker growth annually from the interior of the tree and around the base of the trunk.
  • Increase flower bud production on apples by thinning branches (removing entire limbs or shoots). Make thinning cuts just outside the branch collar (the raised circle of bark where branches grow from limbs); do not leave stubs. Encourage shoot growth by heading-back branches (shortening the ends).
  • Summer pruning should only be done to increase light penetration. Apple spurs and fruits need sunlight!
  • Remove and dispose of pruning debris from the orchard area. Dead wood will harbor disease organisms that can spread back to the tree.

Pruning in years 1-3

  • The purpose of pruning a tree in the first 3 to 4 years after planting is to control its shape by developing a strong, well-balanced framework consisting of a central leader with scaffold branches. Apple trees are trained and pruned to a Christmas tree shape with a central leader (main trunk) and scaffold branches positioned nearly horizontal to the ground (the lowest scaffold branches having the widest spread.)
  • A one-year-old bare-root whip is ideal to plant. Cut it back to around 30 inches tall to help reestablish the plant’s previous shoot-to-root ratio. This will force buds below the cut to produce shoots that will become the first set of scaffold branches.
  • Occasionally a tree does not grow as well as it should during the first year. If this happens, prune the tree back to a whip and start over. You will delay fruiting by a year, but you will have a more manageable tree.
  • For the first tier, select 4 to 5 evenly-spaced scaffold branches the season after planting.
  • Reduce branches left on the tree by up to one-half their length.
  • Head back the central leader so that it is 6 to 10 inches above the first tier. Select a second group of scaffold branches in the second year that is 2 to 3 feet above the first tier. It is very important to force these scaffold branches to grow at a 45°-60° angle from the trunk to create a Christmas tree shape.
  • Limb spreaders can aid in earlier fruit production, improved tree shape, sturdy crotch angles, and better fruit color.  Spreaders can be either short pieces of wood with sharpened nails driven into each end, wooden spring-type clothespins, or sharpened metal rods. The spreaders will need to remain in place for 1 to 2 years until the branch “stiffens up.”
  • Remove poorly-spaced and narrow-angled branches. Remove unwanted branches when they are small to avoid the risk of making large pruning cuts in later years.
illustration of pruning out apple tree branches
Initial pruning for a one-year-old apple tree 


illustration of pruning an apple tree and using spacers to make the branches grow more horizontally
Pruning and training a two-year-old apple tree.

Pruning in years 4-10 

  • Continue to head back (prune the tips off of) the new terminal growth by one-fourth each year, making cuts just past a bud facing away from the canopy. (This encourages branching out into sunlight instead of crowding and shading the canopy.) 
  • Remove any upright shoots or branches, especially in the canopy interior. Prune trees lightly, though any broken, diseased, crossing, or interior upright shoots and small branches should be removed.
  • Always maintain the central leader as the highest point on the tree. The ends of the primary and secondary scaffolds should be kept below the top of the tree.
  • 15 to 20 inches of shoot growth per year is desirable. On “spur-type” cultivars, 12 inches is desirable. Excessive shoot growth may be caused by over-fertilization and should be cut back.
  • Fruit weight may bend limbs downward. If a limb bends past horizontal, it weakens and will grow little. Prevent a permanent bend from occurring in the branch by thinning more fruits near the end of the limb; fruits closer to the trunk won’t weigh-down the branch as much. 

Pruning older apple trees

  • Continue to head back all of the new terminal growth by one-fourth each year.
  • Remove broken or diseased limbs, shoots, and limbs growing vertically, plus suckers at the base of the trunk or water sprouts on branches.
  • Always maintain the central leader as the highest point on the tree. The ends of the primary and secondary scaffolds should be kept below the top of the tree.
  • Remove any large branch, arising from a scaffold branch, growing closer than 12 inches to the trunk.
  • Where two branches on a scaffold grow nearly parallel to each other at the same height in a very narrow “V” formation, remove one of the pair.
  • If two branches are growing closely parallel one above the other, remove the lower branch.
  • Older trees (25 years and older) will produce higher-quality fruit following vigorous pruning.
  • Tall, unmanageable trees will require the removal of large limbs. Stagger drastic renovation pruning over a 2- to 3-year period to reduce stress on the tree. Severe pruning will lead to the growth of many vigorous water sprouts, which should be removed.
  • Remove and replace overgrown, neglected trees that cannot be maintained.
apple tree with the top leader branches pruned out
Pruning an old, neglected tree. One or more large limbs may be removed from excessively tall trees. Reduce the crown by no more than ⅓ in one year. Do not coat pruning wounds.
fruit growing along a fence using espallier technique
Apple trees pruned as an espalier, where branching is kept flat against a surface. Photo: Miri Talabac, UME
apples grown using espallier technique
Fruits on an apple tree trained to an espalier. Photo: Miri Talabac, UME

Pruning pear trees

Pear trees are trained and pruned similarly to apple trees.

  • In general, the same pruning and training principles used for apple should be followed for pear. However, pear trees have a more upright growth habit and require less overall pruning after the initial pruning and branch selection. 
  • Wide crotch angles are not essential, because pear trees have tougher wood that is less apt to split. Nevertheless, using spreaders encourages flowering and fruiting in young trees.

Fruit thinning: Refer to our Fruit Plant Care section.


(Video) Pruning and Training Apple Trees | Penn State University

(Video) Intro to Fruit Tree Pruning | University of Illinois Webinar

(Video) How to Prune and Train Apple Trees | NC State University 

(Video) Pruning Apple Trees | Seeds of Change 

Plant and pest problems

Apple trees are vulnerable to many diseases and insect and mite pests. These include fire blight, rust, apple scab, summer rots, sooty blotch and flyspeck, aphids, plum curculio, and codling moth.

See the resources below for detailed pest identification and management information. For pesticide selection and timing, refer to Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Pest Management Guide (select the Home Fruit chapter). UME recommends this guide for Maryland’s home fruit gardeners.

Problems not caused by insects/mites or diseases (environmental causes)

Problems on limbs or trunk

  • Frost/freeze cracks and sunscald—cracks usually occur on the south or west side of a tree. They are caused partly by differential freezing and thawing of water in trees. Consider painting the trunks and large scaffold branches of young trees with white latex paint. Late summer or early fall pruning or fertilizing makes trees more vulnerable to frost cracks and sunscald injury.  
  • Trunk bark/wood is gouged or scarred - lawnmower and string trimmer injury, embedded wires or collars from tree support apparatus. Mulch to within 6 inches of the trunk. If tree support is necessary due to slope, high wind, or type of dwarfing rootstock, be sure to use a soft collar and adjust annually to allow for tree growth.
  • Water sprouts/suckers - removal of large branches and limbs causes prolific growth of water sprouts directly below the pruning cut. In all cases, promptly pull or cut all suckers and water sprouts at the point of attachment, unless selecting one to train as a scaffold branch.
  • Dark, raised circles on the trunk with rough texture - burr knots caused by the progressive formation of aerial roots. Occurs frequently with some dwarfing rootstocks. Burr knots can weaken a tree structurally if present in large numbers.
  • Bulging of the trunk at the graft union- normal on grafted trees where the scion wood and rootstock meet. Remove all suckers that arise below the graft union. 

Flower buds or flowers turn brown or drop; failure to fruit

  • Winter-kill of buds from extended periods of very cold temperatures. Young trees, flowers, and buds at the ends of branches and facing upwards are more vulnerable. Avoid planting very early blooming cultivars. 
  • Spring frost/freezes damage buds and flowers and young fruits. Open blooms are more cold-sensitive. Cover espaliered or short-stature trees with tarps or quilts to prevent freeze damage.
  • Misuse of dormant oil or pesticide sprays, including spraying when blooms are open or temperatures are below 40°F. Incorrect spraying dormant oil, lime-sulfur, and other fungicides and insecticides may damage buds and blooms. Follow label directions.
  • Lack of pollinizer trees - almost all apple and pear cultivars are self-infertile.
  • Poor pollination/fertilization - bee activity is low during cool, wet weather.
  • Stressful conditions - drought, wind, low temperatures.
  • Low light conditions (excessive shade). Follow proper thinning and pruning guidelines. Select planting sites with optimum light exposure.
  • Severe pruning will reduce the number of blooms. Do not prune out fruit-bearing wood during the dormant season.
  • Biennial bearing pattern due to failure to thin fruit (varies by cultivar).
  • Over-use of nitrogen fertilizers before bloom period.

Fruit problems

  • Small fruits due to failure to thin fruits or low soil fertility.
  • Spots caused by pesticide burn. Captan®, sulfur, and oil sprays may produce russeting on sensitive varieties.
  • Hail causes small, roughened areas on fruit. Cosmetic damage.
  • Mechanical damage from contact with branches or rough handling.
  • Sunscald - white, tan, or brown sunken areas on exposed fruit surfaces. May alter fruit flavor. Remove and discard the affected fruit.


Pest Management Guide (select the Home Fruit chapter) | Virginia Cooperative Extension
UME recommends this guide for Maryland’s home fruit gardeners.

(PDF) Fire Blight | University of Kentucky

(PDF) Apple Aphids | University of Kentucky

(PDF) Disease Management in Home Apple Plantings | Ohio State University

(PDF) Apple Scab | University of Kentucky

Managing Pests in Home Fruit Plantings | Purdue University

Codling Moth | University of Wisconsin

Fruit Pathology Lab | Ohio State University

Fruit Tree Pests | University of Maine

Pest-Mating Disruption | Northeast IPM Center

Disease and Insect Control Programs for Homegrown Fruit in Kentucky - Including Organic Alternatives | University of Kentucky

Apple Disease - Marssonina Blotch | Penn State University

Growth Stages in Fruit Trees: From Dormant to Fruit Set | Cornell University

Organic Apple Production | University of Vermont

Author: Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist. Reviewed by Miri Talabac, Lead Horticulture Consultant. 4/2024

Still have a question? Contact us at Ask Extension.