Only a few commercial pear selections that produce quality fruit are hardy in the prairies. Most hardy pears are the result of interspecific crosses between Manchurian pear (Pyrus ussuriensis) and European pear (Pyrus communis). Manchurian pears are extremely cold hardy but the fruit is inedible, while European pears such as ‘Bartlett’ are much less hardy with superior fruit quality. At the U of S we have also been adding Asian pear (Pyrus pyrifolia) genetics to the mix in an attempt to further improve fruit quality as well as storability.
Pear breeding has been going on at the U of S for the last 80 years starting with the Apostle series bred by Dr. Patterson and Art Coutts prior to the Second World War. Rick Sawatzky then started doing pear crosses again in the mid 1980s and believes that we are getting very close to coming up with some hardy, good quality pears.
Of the commercially available cultivars, ‘Ure’ pear is perhaps the tastiest but also slightly less hardy (zone 3). It produces an abundance of small pears that are sweet, juicy, and excellent both fresh and for cooking. Other hardier cultivars worth mentioning are ‘Thomas’, ‘David’ and ‘John’ which are part of the U of S Apostle series.
It is recommended to have at least 2 pear cultivars for cross pollination as this results in larger fruit, however, many pears will set fruit on their own.