Exposing the truth about standard versus dwarf fruit tree rootstock

I’m going to focus on pears for my purposes , feel free to use the link for your own purposes. There are many reasons standard trees make more sense to me in my situation. Deer can’t reach the top of a standard tree, standard trees produce more in the same amount of space, standard trees tend to live much longer, etc. .

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I think there’s plenty of reasons to debate that question. Standard trees do have their place. Like for you. And for Alan’s business. But he spends all winter pruning. And has customers loaded with money and looking for elegant trees not squished in rows.

Commercially dwarf trees are overwhelmingly the choice. They do produce more per acre. They pay out establishment and growing costs much sooner. Fruit quality is more uniform. Labor costs are less.

And for a home grower all that fruit above easily picked height mostly goes to the birds.



When i view things in a certain way it is based on my own personal experience as related to my orchard or those nearby. You are no doubt correct overall for many people. In California, all they plant usually are dwarfs. In my soil trees are very slow to come into production at times in addition to other things stated. Planting an orchard is a lot of work which i only want to do once. Naturally i respect your opinion as well. Short lived trees are a very poor choice for me. Dont want to plant new trees when i’m retired. Naturally i’m looking at this through the perspective of a pear farmer. Pears for your heirs is not always just a saying. A peach or nectarine farmer knows they can plant dwarfs and harvest fruit in 2 or 3 years instead of 5-12 years for pears.

“Dwarf trees will live for a maximum of about 20 years – but in our experience they don’t even survive that long. They will often need to be replaced much earlier due to problems with disease, poor health or poor production.”

“full-sized apple trees on standard rootstock will live for about 100 years on average, sometimes even more. (The apple tree that is thought to have been the oldest in North America died in 2020 at the age of 194!)”

Standard-sized vs dwarf rootstock | Hardy Fruit Tree Nursery.


Look at the yields listed.

A bushel (about 58 pounds) of pears arriving in the space of 10 days to two weeks is plenty for any family that isn’t a survivalist.

Adjusting the rootstock vigor upwards in response to a weak-growing cultivar or difficult growing conditions makes sense, I agree.



Love pears! The one thing everyone asks of the good ones is do i have more?


The truth is I hope my pear trees survive here a few years, not even counting on 20 years. After 8 years, I finally have eaten 2 tiny fruit. Maybe I get something this year. I finally have 6 trees now.


The truth about any tree I grow on my 5~6 month season, zone 4, glacial silt soil, is that anything I put down will become a dwarf. Well that’s not entirely true; if you take an ungodly amount of time to dig a giant hole and then fill it with actual good soil it helps, but they still grow a lot slower than in places with longer seasons.


At the expense of topic drift, I agree. My pear trees look about as good as any ornamental only they bear fruit.

The difference between in taste between home-grown and store bought pears is worthwhile.

Harrow seems to select their releases for precocity so its not absolutely necessary to wait years before bearing.

Pollination is a problem, but you don’t have to buy the pollinator the same season; you can wait until the first tree makes it.

The chronic pollination issues and the lack of precociousness at least is some protection against premature cropping and stunting out, although I admit that that is more a psychological issue with the grower.


Standard tree’s definitely live much longer!
But dwarf pear tree’s can be quite long lived.

I think the economical life expectancy of dwarf pear tree’s here is 25 years. With a longer technical life expectancy. (the 25 years is where it makes economical sense to replace in intensive cultivation. Not necessarily when the tree dies. It’s just that with our high land price a small decrease in yield (think 5-10%) quickly makes sense to replace the tree. For a hobbyist it would not be reason enough to replace)
These are even pears on quince rootstock that preform for 25+ years.
But that can be highly climate dependent. I admit that where i live it’s a lot easier to grow pears.

I do however disagree with the higher yields per surface area claim.

High density dwarf tree’s massively outperform standard tree’s in yield per hectare. In intensively managed (commercial) cultivation that is.



In my experience, 6 bushels of pears from a 30-foot tree 8x15x30 feet may be right beside an 8’ x15’x 10’ dwarf which produces 3 bushels. If you think about double the height, if all else is equal, how can the dwarf produce the same amount of fruit? They claim dwarfs out produce per acre, though it has not been my experience. Imagine the time and money put into espalier trees per acre! The frequent pruning would be a huge time burner! The dwarf pears can have some benefits. Not all dwarfs are espalier trees, they are very popular.


Standard size trees produce more per tree and will be more drought tolerant thus requiring less work for the home gardener. The commercial gardeners plant dwarf because they are paying people per hour to pick and the liability insurance. For homeowners this is less important. Homeowners may have an issue with amount of land to plants though. Something I have learned is standard rootstock tends to sucker more than dwarfs. This means you have to stay on top of the suckers and know to do so. I have seen many people post on Facebook groups and Reddit with a dead tree but a thriving sucker. That being said I think it is best to have a mix. I think if you are not too attached to the organized factor you can get a standard size tree and get a dwarf tree to grow under that standard size tree almost like a forest would have. That in my eyes will maximize yields the most and will allow for the most diversity.


clarkinks. I’m having an hard time interpreting your measurements in your example.
I can find conversion charts for bushel to liters. But that’s volume… I’m more used to fruits on weight base not volume.

without solving the conversion puzzle.

I think you discount the fact that the super tall tree, trows more shade than the dwarf tree. And thus even though the footprint of the tal pear tree is small. The surface area of shade (where other tree’s won’t produce) is quite large. And thus if you where to plant an acre of those full size tree’s and plant an acre of dwarf tree’s. The dwarf tree’s acre would yield more.

This can be climate and growing system dependent though.
In my country it is well documented that the yield per acre more than dubbled with the switch to dwarf rootstocks and high intensity planting (1200 apple trees per acre.(3000/ha) or 800- 1000 pear trees per acre (2000-2500/ha)
And there are still some standard tree plantings. But they lag behind in yield/surface area.



As an example espalier trees can produce very well though expenses can be prohibitive Taking yields to the limit | Good Fruit Grower

A bushel is

  1. US

a measure of capacity equal to 64 US pints (equivalent to 35.2 liters), used for dry goods.


a measure of capacity equal to 8 imperial gallons (equivalent to 36.4 liters), used for dry goods and liquids.

Pears bushel 48 to 50 pds
lug 21 to 24 pds
peck 12 to 14 pds

This is one of my bushel baskets of douglas pears.


I have found there is more than one type of shade when growing trees or plants at least where I live. I have found that my trees will grow the same as another tree under a spruce tree but kept behind a fence the fence will prohibit the growing as fast. Under a fence and a spruce the tree will die.


you posted the link i was just looking up.

I think another way to look at it is.

To maximize production per surface area.
You have to efficiently use the solar energy that falls down on that surface area by
-Little to no self shading.
-Little sunlight hitting the ground instead of tree leaves.

Generally these things are easier to do with rows of dwarf apples tree’s than with full sized trees.

The multi leader. Or 2D fruiting wall concepts take these things (and thus yield) to the extreme.
They have practically no self shading. And Let very little sunlight hit the ground instead of the trees.

Another thing is, full size tree’s tend to produce more weight in wood/twigs than dwarfs. Thus not needing support. The energy needed for that wood can’t be spend on fruit. Such as dwarf trees do. (but those do need support)

I’m still not used to pears in volume (liters) How many kg is in 1 liter or gallon of pears? (or bushel)



That is correct not all trees have heavy foliage that blocks light to the next row.

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All good points and we know commercial growers frequently remove leaves and branches to get ripening fruit more light. Many maintain open centers for my light. Pruning is a full time management job for many orchards. This is great information When Pruning Pears theres a lot to learn - Brindilla, Tira savia, Chicken Paw to name a few terms

Lets go back to the home orchardist for a minute. They have a 8 feet area 40 feet long to plant pears. Think it would be safe to say standards in that situation will always yield more. They need to go up not out! The neighbors might not like the shade being cast on them in that example. Here is an example of a row of my standard pear trees. Kansas has lots of sun so keep in mind it is not Europe where the skies are overcast frequently. It is drier here than some places with about 34" annual rainfall. Spring rains and fall rains are most of that moisture.


even though i wish full sized roots(tock) where the future. For environmental reasons. (larger rootsystem needs less fertilizations and irrigation and thus better environmental impact)

i think dwarf or semi dwarf tree’s will become standard more and more. because of
-faster yield (less years till fruit production from planting)
-easier/cheaper picking/pruning (no ladders etc)
-easier to maximise light interception/minimize shading
-easier to mechanize (Most experimental apple picking machines are tested on 2D fruit wall orchards)
-easier to colour fruit (less self shading is also less shading of fruit)
-easier to adapt to market. If a new variety starts to produce a full harvest after 5 years (dwarf) instead of first fruit after 8 years (full size) you can more easily maximise profit.
Regrafting a tree to a new variety to production goes faster for dwarfs than full sized tree’s.
-short term vs long term risk in investment. Dwarf tree’s that start paying back the investment after a few years are more short term than standard tree’s that need investment for 8+ years before any returns. Even though their unproductive years compared to productive years are more favorable at full age (thus after 80-100 years)

that’s not to say that full sized tree’s don’t have advantages. Like
-no need for support
-larger rootsystem, and less need for fertilizations and irrigation
-longer lifespans
-more resilient

it’s just that those advantages don’t weigh as much as the dwarf advantages in most commercial operations. For backyard growers or people with limited irrigation or harsh growing conditions that might be completely different.



This thread gives an idea of the luxury of owning standard trees A windfall of windfalls! .The wealth of fruit is enormous. There are even enough for deer. These trees were picked until noone wanted more! The animals eat good here. 6 bushels of fruit per tree is not an exaggeration. Another trick is to face some rows east west instead of north south. Some rows face north and south. The sun rises in the east sets in the west. In this way rows are not ever really shading other rows completely.


Good for you and everyone else including the deer. I’ll bet you’ve even got a few fat mice from all that bounty. But I doubt they appreciate you like we do.

Funny and unfortunate thing is pears are the hardest fruit for me to digest. But I still grow a few because along with apples they are the only large fruits that make a crop most years.