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Pear Trees - Planting and Care Guide

Pear Trees Planting and Care

A perfect joy of fresh fruit, especially pears, is being able to bite into a juicy, sweet, home grown pear - especially one that was from your own garden.  There are many different types of pears, but they mainly fall into two categories dessert pears for eating and cookers, for cooking!

Planting

The ideal position for a pear tree is sunny, a bit sheltered, and away from frost pockets.  Avoid poorly drained or shallow soils.  Bareroot plants should be planted from late autumn until early spring; containerised plants can be planted at any time of the year.

Planting a tree in your garden should be put in a hole that is dug no deeper than the roots of the plants, but up to three times the diameter of the root system (spread out the roots on the ground before digging the hole).  If the sides or base of the planting hole are really hard, break the soil up with a fork before planting.  Place the plant in the planting hole and carefully refill, placing soil between and around all the roots to eliminate air pockets. Firm the soil gently by stepping on it.

For the garden, rootstock Quince A is the most common and can be used for espaliers or bush trees.

Planting a pear tree in a container is not a difficult task.  Container pear trees should have rootstock Quince C.  Choose a container that is about 45-50cm diameter.  Use a good quality compost or multi-purpose compost mixed with one third by volume of grit.

The First Year for Your Fruit Tree

Fruit trees will always appear to be strong, healthy plants when first planted, but we must remember how important it is to make sure that its new environment is a healthy one.  During the first year after planting, the tree can easily die from not getting enough water or nutrients.  The tree is particularly susceptible to environmental stress until the root system is at least as large as the tree it supports.

The tree must be kept well watered during the first year or two, especially during dry, hot weather.  A good soaking once or twice a week is much better than surface watering daily.  It is also vital to keep the area around the tree completely free of weeds and grass as they will compete with the young tree.  The use of mulch mats is a very effective way to keep a nice and tidy area around the tree.

Finally, the urge to have the tree fruit is often very tempting, but the blossoms forming during the first year should be removed as they will put more stress on the tree as it establishes - and sacrificing the first year's fruit will result in a much healthier tree and better harvest in years to come.

Harvesting

Harvest pears just before they're fully ripened.  They should be firm and swollen, with subtle colour change to their skin.  Test early varieties by tasting one of the fruit for sweetness, yet firmness.  Pears benefit from storage or a period of ripening before eating.  Early varieties usually need a week or so until they become softer.

Which Pear Tree

The factors involved in choosing a pear tree are size (controlled by rootstock), taste and pollination.

Rootstock

1    Decide on how big you want your tree to grow. The eventual size of the pear tree will depend on the rootstock. Pears are 'grafted' onto rootstock, which means the lower trunk of the tree is from a different tree to that of the top part of the tree

2    The reason this is done is because a pear tree grown on its own trunk and roots would be too large for most gardens

There are two rootstocks, Quince A and Quince C. 

Quince A – most common and will enable you to grow a par tree at maturity between 3m to 6m (9ft to 19ft). Regular pruning can keep the tree to a reasonable size. Very fertile soils will produce a larger and quicker tree compared to less fertile soils. Fruit will appear after 5 years

Quince C – is less common but still available. At maturity the tree will be 3m – 5m (9ft – 16ft) not a great deal of difference from Quince A rootstock. Pears on Quince C are slightly quicker to produce fruit but much will depend on the pear tree variety. In general fruit will appear after 4-5 years

Variety of Pear Tree

The variety of tree that you choose is a matter of personal taste. Factors to consider are the site where the Pear Tree is to be situated as some varieties tolerate colder and windy conditions better than others.  Taste is also personal as some pears are juicer or taste better than others. All these factors need to be considered when growing pear trees.

Conference Pear – Most commonly grown pear because it withstands unfavourable conditions, has good disease resistance. Conference is partially self-fertile but will crop better if other pear trees are nearby. Blossom is produced in mid-season, with pears ready to pick towards end of September. Store for 3-4 weeks before eating

Doyenne Du Comice – Considered to have the best texture and taste of all pear trees. The fruit is real juicy. This pear prefers a protected and warm position. Blossoms appear late in the season and fruit ready to pick in October. Store for 2 weeks before eating

William's Bon Chretien – Well known variety that stands cold better than most other varieties. Regular cropper which flowers mid-season with fruit ready to harvest mid-September and should be eaten immediately

 

Identifying Tip or Spur Bearing Trees

Before pruning apple trees it is essential to identify fruit buds.  There is an added complication with apples, as cultivars fall into three broad groups according to where the fruit bud is produced and the fruit carried; spur bearers, tip bearers and partial tip bearers.

Spur bearers produce fruit buds on two year old wood and as spurs (short, branched shoots) on the older wood.  This habit gives spur bearers a tidy and compact appearance.  Spur bearers are the largest group and include cultivars such as Beurre Hardy, Concorde, Conference, Doyenne du Comice, Sensation and Williams Bon Chretien 

  • Pruning Spur bearers is by shortening the previous year's growth on each main branch by about one third to a bud facing in the required direction to encourage the development of new branches and spurs.  Cut back any laterals (side shoots) growing from the main framework to five or six buds if there is not enough space to allow them to grow as secondary branches.  Remove any badly placed shoots.  On older trees remove any spur systems that have become overcrowded.

Tip bearers produce very few spurs.  They are relatively uncommon.  Fruit buds are found at the tips of long shoots produced the previous year.  The overall appearance of the tree is more untidy than spur bearers and the branches look sparse without spurs.  

  • Pruning the previous year's growth on each main branch and the most vigorous latereals (side-shoots) to the first strong bud.  Leave unpruned laterals less than 30cm (1ft) long.  Cut back a proportion of older fruited wood to a young shoot or leaf bud to reduce congestion.

Partial tip bearers produce fruit on the tips of the previous year's shoots and also on some spur.  Cultivars include Josephine de Malines

NOTE:  Any form of pruning that involves shortening shoot tips will reduce the yield of tip bearing apples and to a lesser extent, partial tip bearers.  These should be subject to less rigorous pruning than spur bearing cultivars and are best avoided when restricted forms such as cordons or espaliers are required.