Guide to Growing Pear Trees
Pears make spurs more readily than apples and as the tree gets older the spurs may become crowded. When this happens, spur pruning is beneficial; prune the oldest and least fruitful ones back to their base. Any spurs which are too long can be shortened by about half. All spur pruning is best done in winter.
Pears tend to produce a great deal of blossom; if all was allowed to produce fruit it would exhaust the tree. Judicious fruit thinning is usually necessary although pears need less thinning than apples. Thin first in late spring, when the young fruitlets are about 2.5 cm (1”) long. Remove and burn all mis-shapen ones first, as they probably contain pear midge larvae. A second thinning, after the natural fruit fall in early summer, should be done in mid-summer. There should be a final spacing of 12.5 cm (5”) between fruit. This varies slightly according to the age, health and variety of the tree; vigorous mature trees can carry heavier crops than very young or weak-growing ones.
Pears, more so than apples, need to be picked and eaten at exactly the right moment, as most varieties are at their best for a short while only. Very early varieties, which are ready mid- to late summer, can be picked straight off the tree and eaten at once. As soon as the base skin colour begins to yellow or pale, is about the right stage. Early varieties, like Williams Bon Chretien, should be picked before they are fully ripe.
This will mean picking them when the skin at the stalk end of the fruit starts to change colour. If left on the tree for longer, they will become too mature, and although the outside may appear just right, the centre will have started to rot.
Mid-season varieties, ie early to mid-autumn kinds, are picked, and then kept in a cool place for about a week or so before eating. To tell if a pear is ripe, lift the fruit and twist it slightly; ripe pears should part quite easily from the tree. If pears are picked too soon for storing, they will become ‘sleepy’, when the outer flesh becomes soft but does not develop its flavour, and the inner remains hard. The best criterion for picking for store is the ground colour of the skin; when this begins to change, the fruit can be picked. When harvesting, handle the pears carefully as they bruise easily, particularly at the stalk end. Try to pick the fruit in dry weather, as pears rapidly deteriorate if left wet for any length of time.
Unfortunately, pears do not keep as well as apples, so if you want a steady supply, it is best to plant several varieties of trees with fruit which ripen in succession. Early and mid-season varieties do not keep for any length of time; it is not worth arranging long-term storage, as you will more than likely be disappointed. Late varieties need to be picked when slightly unripe and stored until they reach their full flavour. If a sharp tug is needed to get the fruit off, they are not ready for storing. Leave them for a couple of days and try again. Be guided also by the change in the ground colour, especially near the stalk end; when this begins to change, the fruit is ready for storing. Pick the fruit when dry, with the stalk intact. Store only sound, unblemished fruit; any damaged pears will quickly rot and the rot will spread.
Do not wrap them, but lay them in a single layer on slatted trays in cool 4-7°C (40-45°F) conditions. An empty room or shed will do, as long as there are no severe fluctuations in temperature. They are better in some humidity, and shrivel quickly in a dry store. Inspect them frequently for approaching maturity, which is indicated by a softening of the flesh close to the stalk. Then bring them into a warm room for a couple of days, to finish off the ripening process.
During the first winter, check the trees after hard ground frost and firm any which have lifted. Pears, particularly young trees, are very sensitive to water shortage. In dry weather, water thoroughly. Watering in late spring or early summer tends to encourage shoot growth, while watering in mid- and late summer aids in fruit swelling. Trees planted against walls are particularly vulnerable to drought, asnear foundations dries out very quickly.
Pears respond more than any other fruit tree to applications of bulky. For the the first three springs after planting, give an annual mulch of well-rotted manure, 5 cm (2”) thick in late spring; spread it over an area equivalent to that covered by the tree’s branches. Keep the manure at least 15 cm (6”) away from the trunk. Supplement this with an annual dressing of 30 g (1 oz) sulphate of ammonia and 15 g (½ oz) of sulphate of potash per sq m (sq yd) applied in late winter or early spring.
Pears are very nitrogen greedy; for this reason they should not be grassed down. There is one exception, however. If you wish to retard the growth of over-vigourous cordons or dwarf pyramids, then grassing down is a good method. Trees competing with grass for moisture and nutrients will be slower than those in cultivated ground.
Pears for exhibition are divided into two categories: cooking and dessert. The methods of preparation and presentation are the same for both. In both categories the judges will look for large fruits with eyes and stalks intact. The skins should be clear and unblemished, and the colour appropriate to the variety. Six is the usual number shown of the same variety, and they should be as uniform as possible. Do not include one or two enormous pears, which would make ‘”e remaining fruit seem small by comparison, and spoil the exhibit. Never display over-ripe pears, small, misshapen fruits, or fruits with blemishes.
To get the best pears, thin the crop while the fruits are still small. As the selected pears ripen, expose them gradually to more and more sunshine, by carefully removing the leaves closest to them and tying back the overhanging foliage. Pick more pears than the actual number needed, so that you have a reserve supply when you are setting up the exhibit.
Pears shaped like apples are usually staged with eyes uppermost, and stalk end downwards; place one fruit in the centre and the remaining fruit around it. You can raise the central fruit slightly by placing white tissue paper underneath it.
Pests and Diseases
Pears suffer from the same trouble as apples, but generally to a lesser degree. Natural predators and good cultivation, including regular feeding, should reduce the risk of damage considerably. If you have had serious trouble in the past, an annual spraying programme should be carried out, to control the damage done by a particular pest or disease; otherwise follow a system of ‘spot’ spraying. A tar oil wash applied in mid to late winter will control the eggs of aphids and leaf suckers, but is best applied only once every three or four years, as it also kills many beneficial insect predators. In early spring, at the green cluster stage, spray with captan against scab. In mid-spring, at the early white bud stage, spray with malathion to control aphids, caterpillars and pear midge and apply captan again for scab. Lastly, in mid to late spring, at petal fall when nearly all the blossom is off, apply captan against scab. Never spray fully open flowers, because of the danger to bees and other pollinating insects. Not all pesticides and fungicides are compatible, so follow manufacturer’s instructions before applying them together. And remember that these substances can also be dangerous to pets and children, so be sure they are properly stored.
Aphids: these sometimes infest young growth, causing the leaves and shoot tips to curl and the new shoots to be stunted, sometimes severely. The leaves may also become sticky. The insects are small, green, grey or dark brown in colour, and are usually found on the underside of the leaves. The most serious is the pear bedstraw species, which is a mealy-covered, pink aphid; in severe attacks the whole tree may be smothered. Remove and destroy aphid-infested shoots as soon as they appear and spray the tree with derris or malathion; the winter tar-oil wash will kill most of the overwintering eggs.
Pear sucker: in recent years this has been causing a good deal of trouble. It is a small, flat, pale green, sucking insect which feeds on the undersides of the leaves, and the flower trusses, in bud and open. Three generations can occur in a season. Leaves have pale green patches on them, flowers do not develop, and sticky ‘honeydew’ with black mould on it, covers the leaves and shoots. The winter tar-oil wash will deal with the eggs, or derris or malathion can be used in spring.
Pear midge: if the young fruitlets on your tree do not develop, but become badly mis-shapen, turn black and fall off the tree, then pear midge is the probable cause. The tiny, white maggots, live in the young fruit, and later move to the soil where they overwinter.
Thorough cultivation under the trees will expose the maggots to insect-eating birds, the weather and physical damage from hoeing. Remove and burn all infested fruitlets, before the larvae have a chance to get to the soil. If this pest has caused considerable damage in the past, spray with gamma HCH at the white bud stage, but not during flowering. Pear leaf blister mite: this microscopic insect spends winters beneath the bud scales and during the summer lives inside the leaves. Infested leaves will have numerous yellowish green or red dish pustules on them, from mid-spring onwards. The pustules eventually turn brown to black by mid-summer, and the leaves fall early. If the attack is a mild one, pick off and burn all infested leaves. In general, this is usually all that is needed in the private garden. However, if you have had serious trouble in the past, spray with lime sulphur in early spring as the buds start to open. Do not spray Doyenne du Cornice with lime sulphur, as it is sulphur shy.
Caterpillars: there are several varieties of caterpillar which may attack pear trees, including the fruit tree tortrix moth, the vapourer, lackey and winter moths. The treatment is the same for all types of caterpillars: hand-pick the caterpillars in the case of mild infestations, or spray with trichlorphon in severe attacks.
Fireblight: this is a very serious bacterial infection which enters the tree through the flowers, and moves from the spurs into the main branches. Dieback occurs and leaves turn brown and black but remain on the tree. It is seen mostly on new shoots which look as though they have been scorched by flame. Cankers develop beneath infected tissues, which ooze a sticky liquid in spring. This liquid contains bacteria, which are then carried by rain or insects to other trees.
If you suspect fireblight, you must notify your local representative of the Ministry of Agriculture, who will then give you instructions about treatment.
Pear scab: this fungal infection appears as blackish scabs on the fruit, or dark brown blotches on the leaves. Occasionally shoots are infected and they will appear blistery and scabby. Remove and destroy all diseased leaves; do not leave them on the ground, or the infection will spread rapidly. Spray with captan (except for fruit to be preserved) as indicated. For fruit for preserving, use benomyi at bud burst, and at three-weekly intervals as long as necessary. In winter, be very careful to prune off all infested shoots, as the spores overwinter on them and can remain viable for at least three years. The scab lesions also provide a means of entry for the fungus disease canker.
Pear stony pit virus: if the pears are mis-shapen and pitted, and have small, hard areas in the flesh, then the tree is infected with stony pit virus. In severe cases, the fruit will be completely inedible. At first, fruit on single branches will be affected, but eventually the virus spreads through the whole tree, and the whole harvest from that tree becomes useless. Old trees are most susceptible. There is no cure; dig up and burn any infected tree.
Canker: this fungus disease also attacks apple trees, and the symptoms and damage are the same. The bark of branches becomes sunken and cracked; if the canker girdles a stem, it will die above the infection. Cut out all infected parts and paint large wounds with a tree wound-sealing compound.
Varieties of Pear Tree to Grow
Although Conference and William’s Bon Chretien are the most popular, there are many other fine flavoured varieties which should be planted more often. Remember that the more varieties you plant, the better crops you will have from each.
Beurre Bedford: large, pale yellow fruit, relatively resistant to scab; fruit ripens late summer or early autumn; erect and compact growth; mid-season flowering.
Doyenne d’Ete: small, yellow, conical fruit; one of the first to ripen in mid to late summer; juicy and pleasant flavour; tree has weak but spreading growth; flowers early to mid-season; not very good for restricted training.
Jargonelle: very old variety but still popular; long, greenish-yellow, tapering fruit; relatively scab resistant; heavy cropper; will do well in the north of England or on north-facing wall; flowers mid-season; tree large, spreading growth, tip-bearing; must have two pollinators, Beurre Superfin is suitable.
Early to mid-autumn pears
Gorham: long, pale yellow pear with heavy russeting; good flavour; fills the gap between William’s and Conference; scab resistant; tree of hardy and upright growth; late flowering.
Dr Jules Guyot: self-fertile variety; better flavour than Conference; yellow fruit, black dotted skin, often flushed scarlet; tree fertile and hardy, upright growth; flowers late in season. Fertility Improved: sweet, juicy, crisp pear; heavy cropper, often needs thinning; disease resistant; self-fertile; fruit small, yellow, but heavily russeted; tree tall and upright in growth with red autumn foliage; flowers late in season.
Marguerite Marillat: self-fertile pear, although it will not pollinate other varieties; crops well; yellow flesh, skin flushed with bright scarlet; upright, small tree with scarlet autumn leaves; flowers early, so avoid a frost pocket.
William’s Bon Chretien: best known and most widely grown of all pears, also called Bartlett; irregular, roundish, pale yellow fruit with red flush; moderate flavour, juicy flesh; very susceptible to scab; upright tree, suitable for training against north wall; needs double working; flowers mid-season.
Merlon Pride: green pear of good size; very good flavour; heavy cropper; tree upright in growth; flowers mid-season.
Mid to late autumn pears
Beurre’ Hardy: large, round, conical, coppery russeted fruit with red flush; very good flavour; fertile; relatively resistant to scab; tree vigorous, full and spreading; prune lightly; leaves scarlet in autumn; flowers late in season; fruits best picked a little before they part readily from the tree; keep two or three weeks before eating.
Beurre Superfin: long, golden yellow fruit patched with russet; less vigorous pear good for; makes good cordons; fruit does not keep well, pick late in early autumn; mid-season flowering.
Conference: most reliable of all pears; long, pale green fruit with silvery russet; prolific cropper; pick late in early autumn and keep one to three weeks before eating; self-fertile but will do better if cross-pollinated; vulnerable to wind damage and scab; moderate flavour; flowers mid-season.
Doyenne du Cornice: large, roundish, golden fruit with light russetting and red flush; superb flavour; not entirely reliable in bad years or bad locations; needs several varieties to pollinate, to ensure regularly good crops; very susceptible to scab and sulphur-shy; vigorous upright growth; good against wall or as cordon; flowers late in season; pick late in early autumn or early in mid-autumn and keep a few weeks. Louise Bonne of Jersey: greenish-yellow fruit, flushed red; flesh white and delicious; fertile; tree hardy and vigorous; upright in growth; regular cropper; exceptionally beautiful blossom; flowers early in the season.
Durondeau: fruits long, tapering, red russet; good flavour; stores well; tree small, suitable for small gardens; spurs well and is good in restricted forms; red autumn foliage; crops heavily in suitable soil; flowers mid-season.
Packham’s Triumph: fruits broad, squat, bright green changing to bright yellow; juicy, very sweet; crops well, and ripens 10 days before Co mice’, moderate sized, tip-bearing tree; flowers mid-season.
Early and mid-winter pears
Glou Morceau: green pears, turning yellow when ripe; sweet flavour, keeps well; does best on sunny wall or in sheltered garden; flowers late in season.
Josephine de Malines: small, green fruit, yellow when ripe with a russet patch; flesh pink, with delicious scent and sweet flavour; best of all winter pears; stores well; fruit ripens unevenly in store, so inspect regularly; fertile and reliable cropper, especially in warm gardens; tip-bearing and tending to droop; flowers mid-season.
Winter Nelis: juicy, sweet, smallish pear, best eaten while still yellowish green; fertility good and useful for pollinating Cornice; ripens over a month or more; tree has slender, arching growth; scab resistant; flowers late in season.
Santa Claus: excellent type to choose if growing on a sheltered wall; may not be successful in harsh climates; heavy cropper of well-flavoured brownish-red russet fruits; vigorous, upright growth; very attractive in autumn when foliage turns crimson and purple.
Late cooking pears
Catillac: large, green, cooking pear remaining hard until mid-spring; scab resistant; tree spreading with broad leaves and large flowers; vigorous cropper but needs two other trees to pollinate it; blossoms late in season.