|Home gardeners can grow high-quality pear varieties
available that aren't available in grocery stores, making pear trees a
good choice for the home orchard.
About This Plant
Choose fire blight-resistant varieties and rootstocks, especially in areas outside dry western regions. Most varieties will start to bear significant harvests after 5 to 6 years. Plant at least two different, but compatible, varieties for cross-pollination.
Choose a site with full sun, moderate fertility, and good air circulation and water drainage. Pears will do well in a wide range of soil types.
Set bare-root trees atop a small mound of soil in the center of the planting hole, and spread the roots down and away without unduly bending them. Identify original planting depth by finding color change from dark to light as you move down the trunk towards the roots. If the tree is grafted, position the inside of the curve of the graft union away from the afternoon sun. For container-grown trees, remove the plant from its pot and eliminate circling roots by laying the root ball on its side and cutting through the roots with shears. Don't cover the top of the root-ball with backfill because it could prevent water from entering. Space standard-size trees 20 to 25 feet apart; space dwarf trees 12 to 15 feet apart.
Pears do best with a small amount of fertilizer early in the year. Heavy doses of nitrogen will make the tree more vulnerable to fire blight. Use limb spreaders to encourage horizontal branching and earlier fruiting spurs. Pears are susceptible to a number of different disease and insect pests, depending on region. Contact your Cooperative Extension office for information on managing pests in your area.
Pears should be harvested when they are mature, but still hard, and ripened off the tree for the best eating and canning quality. If you're going to keep some pears in cool storage for eating a month or two in the future, pick them when they are full size but still quite hard. Even though the skin is firm, handle them gently; they bruise easily.
"Pears should not be allowed to ripen on the trees. They should be picked while still firm and allowed to ripen after harvest," said Ward Upham, horticulturist with K-State Research and Extension. "Tree-ripened fruit are of poor quality because of the development of grit cells and the browning and softening of the inner flesh."
Commercial growers determine the best time to harvest pears by measuring the decrease in the fruit's firmness as it matures, Upham said. This varies with growing conditions and variety.
Upham provided tips for home gardeners to help determine pear maturity:
Ripen small amounts as needed by moving them to a warmer location and holding them at 60 to 65 degrees F, Upham said. Storing at too high a temperature (75 degrees or higher) will result in the fruit breaking down without ripening.
Hardiness Zone: 8a
The best way to rejuvenate any type of old fruit trees is through pruning, increasing soil fertility and controlling diseases and insect damage.
Pruning: First remove any broken and dead or diseased branches and then prune the tree to the proper shape and size. Remove any suckers and crossing branches to create an overall shape that radiates out from the center. This will allow plenty of sunlight and air circulation into the canopy. Pruning should be done in the late winter or early spring. Because no more of 25% to 30% of the total canopy should be removed in one season, if you haven't been pruning regularly, you may need to shape the tree over a period of 2 to 3 years before resuming a lighter annual pruning schedule.
Soil Fertility: Aerating and amending the soil around your tree with organic nutrients is the best way to increase your soil's fertility. Spring is a good time to apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer as well as removing any competing grass and weeds from underneath the tree.
Disease & Insects: Inspect your tree for insect and disease problems. There are several good books and Internet resources dedicated to the identification and control of fruit tree pests and diseases.
Hardiness Zone: 5a
Are your pears splitting and rotting right on the tree? Do the fruits or leaves have velvety olive-brown spots on them? If so, your tree could be suffering from a disease called pear scab. With scab, as the pears mature the spots turn into "corky" lesions and the fruit usually cracks (or is malformed) and drops off the tree prematurely. Scab is a fungus that over-winters in leaves and twigs that have fallen from the tree. In the spring, the spores are carried by the wind to the newly developing fruit causing an infection. Once this infection occurs, a new "summer" spore is formed, which can last throughout the season and keep the annual cycle going. To control scab, you'll need to clean up leaf debris each spring and fall, and get on a schedule for spraying an organic fungicide. Before doing anything, I would get an expert out for an onsite opinion to confirm your tree's problem.