Tips for growing pear trees
Because pears are Mediterranean in origin, they thrive in warmer conditions than apples. Pears are therefore more successfully grown in the south of England than the north. It is possible to grow dessert pears in cold areas if they are given wall protection; otherwise select a late cooking variety for growing in the open.
Pears blossom about four weeks earlier in the season than apples, so they are more vulnerable to damage from spring frosts. Avoid low-lying ground or frost pockets. Exposure to strong winds at flowering time can cause considerable damage, as well; insects are discouraged from visiting the blossom, and tender young leaves will be torn or even stripped off the tree. Autumnal winds can dessicate older leaves and cause premature fruit fall. Wind-bruised pear leaves always turn black. Try to site pear trees in as warm and sheltered a position as possible.
Pears will tolerate less well drainedconditions than apples, but will not survive dry root conditions. The ideal soil for pears is a deep heavy loam which is slightly acid. Extremely alkaline soils may lead to chlorosis (yellowing) of the leaves. Whatever the soil type, there should be at least 60 cm (2’) of rooting depth.
Buying a pear tree
There are several factors to consider when selecting a pear tree, or trees, if you have room for more than one. Choose wisely because the chances are you will be living with the tree for a long time. It is an expensive and time-consuming proposition to replace unsatisfactory trees with more suitable varieties two or three years later, and much time will be wasted unnecessarily.
There are many named varieties from which to choose; this is further complicated by the fact that these will be grafted on one of several possible rootstocks, each with its own growth pattern. Lastly, pears are available as maidens or in a variety of trained shapes: standards, half-standards, bushes, cordons, espaliers, pyramids and fans.
The main determining factor is the size of your garden; if it is fairly small select a self-pollinating variety, such as Dr Jules Guyot or Marguerite Marillat trained in bush or pyramid form. Although some pear varieties are self-fertile, most require a second variety to ensure fertilization, and even self-fertile varieties bear heavier crops when there is a suitable pear tree nearby. Some have exceptionally poor pollen, and need two different varieties for satisfactory fertilization, but fortunately there are not many of these. Jargonelle is one. For successful pollination, trees must flower at the same time; however, certain varieties will not cross-pollinate each other and some varieties will not pollinate any others, so check with your local nurseryman.
Pears are either grafted onto quince or pear rootstocks. Mailing Quince A is probably the most popular quince rootstock; it produces trees of moderate vigour and high fruit production. Quince C rootstock has a dwarfing effect, producing bushes rather than trees; ideal for the. Pears on Quince C come into fruit earlier than on Quince A. Some popular varieties, such as Williams bon Cretien, do not unite properly with quince when grafted; they are said to be incompatible. These varieties are double grafted by the nursery, using an intervening compatible variety to prevent a future break at the union; this is why some varieties are more expensive to buy.
Pear rootstocks are used to make large standard trees of vigorous growth. These are not suitable for thebecause they grow too big to prune and harvest easily; trees on pear rootstock also take much longer to come into crop.
Buy maidens or two or three-year-old trees, if possible. They will settle down more quickly than a four or five-year-old and you can train them exactly as you wish from the beginning.
Planting a pear tree
Prepare the soil well in advance by breaking up the subsoil and incorporating plenty of well-rotted manure. Correct the pH level if it is below 6.0 by liming, allowing at least two months to elapse between manuring and liming. About two weeks before planting, work in a general compound fertilizer at the rate of 60 g per sq m (2 oz per sq yd).
Autumn-planted trees establish themselves quickest; try to plant them as soon as possible after leaf fall. If the soil is frozen or very wet, heel the trees in until conditions improve. Plant, stake, and mulch as for apple. Spread out the roots so they occupy the maximum amount of soil from which to draw water and nutrients.
Take care to keep the union of the scion and the rootstock at least 7.5 cm (3”) above soil level. If the scion roots, the named variety will quickly dominate the rootstock and an over-vigorous, unfruitful tree will result.
Bush trees should be spaced 3-3.7 m (10-12’) apart; pyramids can be as close as 1.8 m (6’). Pears growing against a wall should be allowed a minimum of 2.1m (8’) height and a spread of 3.6 m (12’).
Pruning an open-centred bush
The initial pruning to shape an open centred bush is the same as that for apples with two important differences. Most varieties of pear, if correctly pruned, carry their fruit on spurs close to the main branches and therefore more main branches can be allowed for each tree, say twelve, where eight would be more suitable for apples. Secondly, pear branches in the young tree are naturally slender and have a tendency to droop. To counteract this, continue to prune the leading shoots on the main branches by one third to one half of the new growth, according to vigour, until the trees approach their allotted height and spread. This will be when they are about eight years old, when leader pruning should cease.
Leaders are pruned back for four reasons: to strengthen the branch, to encourage more side growth, to remove deformed or diseased wood and to remove a branch growing in an undesirable direction. If none of these apply, then leader pruning should cease.
Some pears are tip-bearers, which means that instead of producing fruit on short spurs, these are formed on the end of branches. Josephine de Malines and Jargonelle are tip-bearers; they should be pruned very lightly, and for this reason are not really good for restricted training. They are also better with a longer trunk than is usual in bush forms, up to as much as 30 cm (12”) longer.