Pear varieties and planting | Training pear trees | Pruning and feeding | Thinning and picking | Weeds, pests and diseases |
Pear varieties and planting
Pears need a good site to succeed. They flower earlier than apples and so they are more vulnerable to frost. Fruit quality, too, is better in a warm situation. Pears will not be a success if there is too much exposure to wind. The best results are got by growing pear trees on a wall facing south, or west, to provide shelter and extra warmth.
Ideally, the soil should be deep, free-draining, moisture-retentive and fertile. Pears tolerate heavy soil better than apples and dislike dry conditions at the roots. If the soil is poor, for wall trees it is worthwhile removing the top 50 centimetres of soil over an area of one square metre, and replacing it with good soil mixed with well-rotted manure, compost or peat.
November to March is the planting period and November is the best month. Remove, or spray off, the existing grass or weeds and dig the soil over a square metre or so. Incorporate a couple of bucketfuls of well-rotted manure or compost at the site for each tree.
Buy the trees and soak the roots before planting. Dig holes 45 centimetres wide and 30 centimetres deep. Drive a stake in each hole to support the young trees. Trim any damaged roots. Test the tree in the hole for depth, and plant at the same depth as the soil mark on the stem. Fill in and firm gently. Tie each tree to its stake.
Space cordon trees about 150 centimetres apart; fan, espaliers and spindle bushes about 240 centimetres apart; and free-standing pyramid trees about 4 metres apart.
Wild pear trees can be large, fifteen metres or so, and cultivated varieties are grafted onto dwarfing quince rootstocks. Quince is related to pear and can be grafted onto it. Quince A is a moderately dwarfing rootstock and Quince C is more dwarfing. Most varieties are offered on Quince C, often double-grafted to get over the problem of incompatibility of some varieties with the quince rootstock.
Pear trees are usually three or four years old when they are offered for sale and already of fairly good size, and, very often, they can be brought into fruiting within a year or two of planting. The varieties of pear on sale are mostly the traditional three kinds, ‘Williams Bon Chretien', ‘Conference' and ‘Doyenné du Comice'. The first is a fairly early sort and the other two are midseason. Late varieties often run out of growing season and fail to mature. All three varieties are compatible for cross-pollination as there is an adequate overlap of flowering. ‘Concorde' is a newer variety but has not surpassed the older ‘Conference'. ‘Packham's Triumph' is also quite a good variety. ‘Beurre Hardy' is reputed to have some resistance to scab disease but can be slow to begin cropping. It is essential to plant at least two of these as none is self-fertile, although ‘Conference' will sometimes make seedless fruits, elonagated and narrow. Place a soild stake with each tree because the quince rootstock does not provide good anchorage and it is common for trees to lean over if inadequately supported.
Training pear trees
Fan-trained pear tree on a sunny wall
The restricted shapes - cordon, fan and espalier - suit pear trees well. They can be trained as cordons on wires, or as espaliers or fans on a wall or fence. Train them to shape, tying in young shoots in the correct position and removing surplus.
As free-standing bushes, pears quite naturally take on a pyramidal shape. Tie in a central stem to the stake and allow side branches to develop to form the pyramidal shape. Remove badly placed branches. Pears can be slow to bear fruit and often take between three and seven years to begin. Much depends on the site and soil conditions and the size of the tree when planted.
Pruning and feeding
Pear trees carry most of their fruit on short spurs on older branches. Once pears settle down to fruiting they need very little pruning; just remove dead, damaged or diseased branches, and an old branch here and there if there is crowding or the tree is getting too big. Remove some of the old fruiting spurs on restricted trees to improve fruit size.
However, if a pear tree does not carry a crop, its vigour goes into producing branches instead. Summer prune the surplus strong young growth by removing about half of the number of shoots and shortening the remainder to about 10 centimetres during late summer. Wall-trained trees are most likely to need this treatment.
Pear trees should be given 70 grams of general fertiliser per square metre in March if they are carrying a good crop. If the trees are over-vigorous, apple sulphate of potash at a rate of 30 grams per square metre instead. A mulch of rotted compost every few years is beneficial by conserving moisture in summer, but should not be applied to over-vigorous trees. Feed and mulch old trees to get them growing again.
Thinning and picking
Thinning is not usually necessary, but sometimes the variety ‘Conference’ produces too many fruits. Reduce the fruit to one per spur, or two if many of the spurs have no fruit. Early July is the time to thin.
Pears do not ripen on the tree. They mature, then fall off and ripen on the ground. Pick the fruit when it looks mature, and put it in a cool place, indoors. Pears will soften for eating within a few days or a few weeks, depending on variety, but do not continue to store them once they have softened.
September-ripening kinds, such as ‘William’s Bon Chretien’ ripen after a week or so off the tree. ‘Conference’ matures later and can take a few weeks to soften. If pears are picked too soon, they tend to simply dry up and wither without softening. If they are picked too late, the fruit softens quite quickly but soon develops brown mushy flesh at the centre.
Weeds, pests and diseases
Keep the ground free of weeds by hoeing. A mulch will help to keep down weeds. Pear trees crop better when not grown in grass, even when established.
Greenflies may attack, and may need to be controlled. Pear midge is a little fly whose maggots bore within the fruit, hollowing it out and causing it to fall early. Though not very common, this pest can be troublesome. Destroy all the early fallen pears. Birds may attack both fruit and buds.
Pear scab is the most common disease and causes black spots and cracking on the fruit. Though it is not as widespread as apple scab, precautions may be necessary in wet seasons and in wet, cool localities. Cracking can also be caused by sudden changes in the weather or by drought.