How to Grow Pears at Home
Manuring and planting
Prepare thethoroughly well in advance by breaking up the sub-soil and incorporating large quantities of farmyard manure or rotted garden . Pears may occupy the same piece of ground for thirty years or so and it makes sense to give them a good start.
The pH level should be corrected if below 6, and a fertilizer containing potash and magnesium worked in before planting because these nutrients are slow to move in the soil. Drive in a stake as for an apple tree and arrange the tree in relation to the stake.
Spread out the roots carefully so that they occupy the maximum amount of soil from which to draw water and nutrients, and firm the soil over the roots. If the soil texture is unkind it is wise to use old potting soil as the immediate covering for the roots, to ensure a good start.
Finally, tie the tree to the stake, allowing room for the expansion of the trunk, and spread a thick mulch of rotted garden compost or similar moisture-retaining material over the rooting zone. Mulching material should not be piled around the stem of the young tree because of the risk of mice chewing the bark while resting snugly in theof the mulch.
It should be stressed that the pear res-ponds more than any other fruit to bulky—if you can get it—in the form of farmyard manure, rotted compost or peat, applied both as incorporated materials on planting and as surface mulches thereafter. The secret of success with pears is to ensure plenty of summer moisture and high levels of nitrogen.
These bulky organic manures will go a long way to provide the required nutrients, but for the very best results they should be supplemented with fertilizers, and many gardeners will have to rely entirely on fertilizers to obtain the best results. The manuring needs can be met by the application in March each year of a general fertilizer, such as Growmore, at 100g per m2 (3ozs per sq yd). Once the tree is in full bearing, say from the eighth year onwards, the application in late August of a quick-acting nitrogenous fertilizer such as nitrate of soda can work wonders in maintaining full cropping without excessive vigour. In cases of poor growth sprays of proprietary foliar feeds, say three at fortnightly intervals beginning at petal fall in mid-May, can be a great help, but they are not necessary as an annual measure on properly manured soil.
If the soil is extraordinarily fertile and the trees are still too vigorous then throw caution to the winds and sow grass seeds to provide a competitive but mown lawn. Both pruning and manuring should be adjusted accordingly, concentrating on summer pruning and the application of late summer nitrogen.
The trees should be planted early in the dormant season, preferably as soon as the leaves have dropped and while the soil is still warm. One-year-old trees are the cheapest, and transplant most readily, but the new gardener may prefer to leave the initial pruning and training to the skilled nurseryman and buy his trees with the heads already formed, usually as open-centre bushes not more than three-years old. If you want special forms, such as the espalier or fan shapes on pruning and training, ask the nurseryman. The really keen gardener will, however, want to train his own trees, even espaliers, assuming he is young enough, and will start with the un-pruned one-year tree or maiden.
Open-centre bush trees should be spaced at about 3m (10ft). Pyramids and spindle bushes can be set closer at 2m (6ft 6in). Espaliers need about 4m (13ft).
All these forms can be planted along the edges of paths, in a gentle curve if necessary, to form an attractive and fruitful boundary between one part of the garden and another.
Pruning and training
Books on fruit growing written in the early years of the twentieth century show pear trees grown in a wide variety of shapes and forms, including vases, goblets, winged pyramids, multiple cordons, fans and espaliers. Any gardener owning healthy trees grown painfully in these forms should cherish them, but the new planter is well advised to restrict his choice to open centre or central-leader bushes, or pyramids, or spindle bushes.
The training of trees in these shapes is described in the separate section on this site on pruning and training. If in doubt the best advice is to stick to the most easily managed form, the open-centre bush tree.
In forming the open centre bush it should be remembered that the pear is neater in its habit than the apple and therefore more branches can be built in. Some varieties, and particularly Conference, tend to form slender branches and the leaders should be pruned for the first eight years or so to ensure that the branches are strong enough to carry heavy crops.
In some years, following a frost-free spring, pears may set too many fruits. This is not usually the case but if in July the fruits have begun to turn over and there are still obviously too many remove the surplus to allow the survivors to stand about 15cm (6in) apart. Allowing the trees to carry too large a crop can mean not only small fruits but also the risk of exhaustion affecting next year’s crop.
Pests, diseases and birds
It is sad to record that in some districts the most serious pest of pears—and of many another fruit tree and bush—is the bullfinch. Beginning usually at the turn of the year, bullfinches feed voraciously on the buds of a range of trees, and the fruit buds of most varieties of pears are particularly favoured. Oddly, the buds of Cornice are not as attractive as those of Conference. The effects of the bud stripping, when severe, are obviously the loss of crop and the not so obvious loss of leaves and growing points, which may adversely affect the general and longer term performance. A special note on bird damage is contained elsewhere and will not be repeated here, other than to point to the essential need to protect the trees in districts where bullfinches are numerous. In some gardens one can see polythene bags which have been slipped over choice maturing fruits in the autumn to protect them against damage by tits and wasps.
The fungus disease known as pear scab can be troublesome in wet districts, and both aphids and the related pear sucker can, in some years, cause serious damage to shoots, leaves and buds.
Two sprayings during the growing season will control these troubles to a satisfactory-degree. A start should be made just before the blossoms show colour, and well before they open, using a mixture of malathion and captan (or benlate) and this should be repeated as soon as the last flower has gone.
An extra spray some three weeks later may be necessary if the summer is wet, and especially if Cornice and William’s, both susceptible to scab, are being grown.
Once pears begin to ripen the process is rapid and difficult to slow down. It is particularly important to pick the early varieties at the right time and to ensure that fruits in store do not mature undetected, because there is nothing more frustrating than to lose precious and hard-won fruits because of the sudden onset of ripening and the rapid decline into that sadly useless condition so aptly described as ‘sleepiness’.
The optimum picking date is determined by the variety, the locality and the season. A good guide is to follow the physiological response of the tree. When the appropriate time comes for tree and fruit to part company a layer of cutting-off cells begins to form. If, therefore, near to the anticipated time of picking, the fruits part readily from the tree when lifted gently to the horizontal position, then the time for picking is about to dawn.
Speaking in very general terms, William’s is usually ready during the first week of September, Conference about the third week of that month, while the splendid Cornice is ready for picking in mid-October. The fruits should be handled carefully to avoid bruising. William’s and Merton Pride will not keep for more than a short while after picking, and should be consumed or preserved speedily to avoid wastage. Pears can be frozen but only for use in fruit salads.
Bottling, however, is a very successful method of preserving pears. The remaining varieties in our select list will keep to provide fruit from October to January, if the right conditions are provided. Storage
The commercial grower controls the temperature, and sometimes the atmosphere, of his store very precisely. Aim to keep the fruits in a cool, moist place, storing them in single layers in trays or similar containers so that the fruits can be inspected readily.
It is well worth experimenting with polythene bags, which provide miniature controlled atmosphere stores and retain moisture. In any case the storage area, be it garden shed or garage, should be kept moist by an occasional damping down with a watering can equipped with a fine rose.
The first signs of ripening are a yellowing of the skin and a softening of the neck. To bring out the full incomparable flavour of the best pears a period of 48 hours or so in a warm living room is often necessary. This is known in the trade as ‘conditioning’ and should be practised with purchased pears as well as those grown at home.
It is clear that the owner of even acan be independent of shop pears from September to Christmas, and thereby enjoy the unrivalled pleasure of eating a well-grown, beautifully flavoured pear, lovingly produced, with some assistance from nature, by his own endeavours.