step-by-step growing guide to Pears
One of the most delectable tree fruits, the best pears are home grown. This is because, like tomatoes, pears grown commercially must be tough-skinned to travel well without bruising, and remain firm fleshed for a relatively long period of time. The popular commercial varieties, such as Williams and Conference., are most often seen in shops because they meet these requirements, and not because they are particularly tasty. There are numerous dessert varieties which have sweeter, juicier and more succulent flesh; these are rarely seen in the markets because they are more easily bruised and are at their best for a short time only. These varieties, when picked fully ripe and warm from the sun, are a real luxury, and one which is available only to the home grower.
Pear trees used to have the reputation of being slow to crop; the old saying, “Plant pears for your heirs”, was often quoted. Although this was true when pears were grown on pear rootstock, it no longer applies. Today pear trees are commonly grafted onto quince rootstock which makes them come into crop much earlier. In one sense, however, the old saying still applies: pear trees are very long lived, and a healthy specimen may live for two hundred years or more. You can often see ancient pear trees in country gardens, still producing good-sized crops.
Another drawback which has largely been corrected is the problem of size. Wild pear trees (Pyrus communis), found in hedgerows and copses over much of Europe, are large trees, growing 15m (50’) or more in height. Cultivated pears are descended from Pyrus communis and, like them, make lofty trees, much too large to prune, spray and harvest easily, and much too large for today’s. Growing pears on quince rootstock has a considerable dwarfing effect, and bush, cordon, pyramid and espalier trained trees can easily be accommodated in a .
Pears grown commercially are mostly open centred bushes, and this is probably the best method for the amateur and gives the highest yield in suitable conditions. However, most pears can be trained very easily and there are many other forms available. The dwarf pyramid, or central leader tree, follows the natural shape of the pear, which is upright; it is space saving and convenient for picking. In cool areas, or whereis required, it is worthwhile training an espalier against a wall.
Besides producing delicious crops, pear trees make very attractive features in the garden. In early to mid-spring they are covered with masses of white blossom, followed by leaves with a silvery sheen. The foliage of many varieties gives a rich display of autumn colour.
Pears can be divided into three groups according to use. Cooking pears are hard textured, and less juicy and flavourful than dessert varieties; slow cooking with plenty of sugar improves them. They are prolific croppers, however, and tend to keep better than dessert varieties. In the north of England and in cool, exposed sites they are more likely to succeed.
The second category is made up of pears having a very high tannin content. These perry pears are very bitter and are not eaten. They are pressed for their juice, which is then fermented and made into perry, an alcoholic beverage. The varieties planted for perry are not usually available to the amateur grower, although there are commercial perry orchards in southwest England.
Lastly, and probably the best category for the amateur grower, are the dessert pears. These are softer in texture, and often have a sweet aroma. Dessert pears appreciate a warm, sheltered site; in cooler areas these varieties do best when trained as an espalier cordon, or fan, and grown against a wall. Dessert varieties will cook and bottle well if picked before they are slightly ripe; they are the best choice for the small garden.