Locating and Planting Pears
Most types of pear trees like full sun, especially those with silvery foliage. They are not terribly demanding about soil type, as long as it is reasonably fertile. Pears trees prefer a slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 6.5). Because frost can damage the flowers and reduce yields, try to locate pears on a slope for better air circulation and drainage, or on the north side of a building to delay flower development. While many catalogs advertise pear trees that are self-pollinating, it is best to have at least two trees in proximity to one another to be sure of getting the best harvest of fruit. Almost any two varieties are compatible for pollination, with the exception of combinations of Magness, Waite, Bartlett and/or Seckel. For these find other varieties as a match.
Plant pear trees as ornamental specimens around the yard. They are quite attractive, so do not relegate them to the food garden area or the back. Planted in rows, dwarf types can serve as screens. Pear trees are also well adapted to espalier training along a south facing wall. They are a good choice of fruit tree for small gardens. Dwarf pear tree varieties can also be grown in containers.
Pears trees can usually be grown wherever apples are successful, though they are somewhat less resistant than apples to extremes of heat and cold. Common pear is comfortable as far north as the Great Lakes and northern New York, as well as along the Atlantic Coast into Maine (zone 4). Properly cared for, it can withstand winter temperatures as low as –10°F.
Most types of pear trees, especially those with silvery foliage, like full sun. They are not terribly demanding about soil type, as long as it is reasonably fertile. They prefer a slightly acidic soil (pH 6.0 to 6.5). Because frost can damage flowers and reduce yields, try to locate pears on a slope for better air circulation and drainage, or on the north side of a building to delay flower development. While many catalogs advertise pear trees that are self-pollinating, it is best to have at least two trees in proximity to one another to ensure the best harvest of fruit. Almost any two varieties are compatible for pollination, with the exception of any combination of Magness, Waite, Bartlett and Seckel. If you want one of these, make sure to choose a second tree not in this group.
Plant pear trees in the early spring while they are still dormant. Space dwarf trees from 12 to 15 feet apart. Standard trees should be spaced from 20 to 25 feet apart. The best planting height for either containerized or bare rooted trees is from 5 to 8 feet. If you are planting in a container, use one that is a minimum of 24 inches in diameter and at least as deep. All types of pear trees are weakly rooted, especially when young, so extra care must be taken in preparing the soil at the planting site. Add peat, compost if it is available, or other organic material to the loosened soil in the hole to facilitate root development when the tree is planted. Dig the hole large enough to accommodate the roots when they are spread out. Its depth depends to some extent on the rootstock: The tree should sit in its hole so that the graft point, the bulging part of the trunk, is from just above to 1 inch above the soil line. Fill the hole with soil and tamp it down firmly. Insert a stake in the ground at this time, making sure that it is sturdy enough to support the young tree for a year or two at least. Water generously and frequently at planting time over the next few weeks to help the young tree to become established.
Dwarf and semidwarf pear tree varieties can be grown in containers. Use a container that is a minimum of 24 inches in diameter and at least as deep. Some dwarf varieties include Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, Clapp, Dana Hovey, Duchess, Favorite, Howell, Seckel, Sheldon, Winter Nelis, and Worden Seckel.
Caring For Pears
A preventive spray program may be advisable if scab, psyllids, apple maggots, curculios, aphids, or codling moths are a persistent problem (See insects and diseases below). A general preventive spray program in this situation will result in more fruit, cleaner fruit, and healthier trees. The general spray program that follows can be tailored to specific insects and diseases. Unfortunately, fire blight cannot be dealt with by a preventive spray program.
Necessary supplies are: a sprayer device (with at least 1-gallon capacity), dormant oil spray, lime sulfur fungicide, commercial insecticidal soap, seaweed extract, Bacillus thuringiensis (BT) insecticide, flowable sulfur fungicide, Bordeaux mixture fungicide, and a surfactant (sticker) to help the other materials stick to the leaves.
1. In late winter, at least 3 weeks before the leaf buds begin to show, spray the entire tree with dormant oil (2 1/2 ounces for each gallon of water) to suffocate overwintering pests such as aphids, mites and scale. Do not spray when the temperatures are below 40 F.
2. In spring, when the buds show green tissue, spray lime sulfur (2 ounces for each gallon of water) to prevent fungal diseases. (Do not apply lime sulfur within 3 weeks of a dormant oil spray on the same tree, or when the tree is in blossom). At this same time spray the tree with insecticidal soap (3 ounces for each gallon of water) to control aphids and scale. Also spray with seaweed extract (1/2 ounce for each gallon of water) to stimulate growth; in fact, always use liquid seaweed at this concentration.
3. Seven days later, before pink buds begin to show (called tight cluster) spray with lime sulfur (1 ounce for each gallon of water) to prevent apple scab. If it rains and temperatures are above 60<198>F., apply lime sulfur at a concentration of 2 ounces per gallon of water as soon as possible. At the same time, apply insecticidal soap (3 ounces for each gallon of water) to control aphids, scale, and mites, and spray with BT (1 tablespoon for each gallon of water) to kill caterpillars. Do not mix lime sulfur with BT.
4. Seven days later, when blossoms begin to show pink (called open cluster), apply flowable sulfur spray (1 ounce for each gallon of water). Use a surfactant or insecticidal soap (3 ounces per gallon of water) with the flowable sulfur spray to make it stick better. In addition, spray foliage with BT (1 tablespoon per gallon of water) to kill caterpillars. Do not mix flowable sulfur with BT.
5. Seven days later, during pink to early bloom, repeat Step 4.
6. During the bloom period, you normally do not spray pear trees with a fungicide, but if it rains and temperatures are warmer than 60<198>F., apply a flowable sulfur spray at a concentration of 1/2 ounce per gallon of water. Consider spraying BT (2 ounces per gallon of water) at this time to control tent caterpillars. Use a surfactant with the sulfur but do not mix BT in with the sulfur spray.
7. At petal fall (7 days after full bloom), spray trees with flowable sulfur (1 ounce per gallon of water). Apply BT (2 ounces per gallon of water) for tent caterpillars and leafrollers. Use insecticidal soap only if there is an observable infestation of aphids, scale, or mites. Use ryania or rotenone if other insect pests are spotted.
8. Seven days after petal fall (at first cover), repeat Step 7; repeat again 7 days later (at second cover).
9. Midseason cover sprays are then made 10 to 14 days apart, using flowable sulfur spray (1 ounce per gallon of water) or a Bordeaux mixture (2 ounces per gallon of water) to control scab, black rot, and other fungal problems.
10. Halt all spraying 30 days before harvest.
Pear trees grow well if they get approximately 1 inch of water every week from rain or by watering. Even mature trees will need watering during drought. When rainfall is scarce, run a drip system or hose, every week or 10 days to soak the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches. Later in the season, consistent watering is important for good bud set for next year's crop.
Anti-desiccants are spray products that coat tree leaves and branches with an air permeable coating that reduces its water evaporation rate. They are becoming popular among pear growers to reduce watering needs and disease problems. A single application in early July of a spray-on polymeric anti-desiccant coating, WiltPruf(TM) or ForEverGreen(TM), reduces water use by pear trees. On average, the water savings for the whole season can be about 30 percent. No major alterations in tree growth or fruiting are caused by this technique. Use this step if drought is a common phenomenon in your area.
In the pear tree's second year, and each year thereafter, apply a slow-acting general-purpose fertilizer in spring. Either sprinkle a granular fertilizer on the soil under the tree out to the dripline, or use commericially available fertilizer spikes designed for fruit trees. Hammer these into the soil out at the dripline so as they gradually dissolve they deliver fertilizer to the tree. Consult the package label to determine how many to use for each tree.
When feeding pear trees, beware of using too much nitrogen. Excessive nitrogen makes pear trees much more vulnerable to fire blight, their most serious disease. It is best to use ammonium nitrate at about 1/8 pound per tree. Use less if the soil is already very fertile. A spray of liquid seaweed extract on pear foliage two or three times during the growing season improves their disease and drought resistance. Pear trees need boron, which is provided by the seaweed extract. An indicator of a healthy tree is the length of new growth each year. On a dwarf tree, a season's growth of 8 to 12 inches indicates that the tree is receiving adequate but not excessive nitrogen. On a standard tree, a season's growth of 12 to 18 inches is good.
Mulching and Weed Control
Studies show that lawn grass turf over their roots suppresses the growth of pear trees. Surround the trunks of young trees instead with a 2 inch thick organic mulch spread out to the drip line. Use wood chips, chopped leaves, shredded bark or a similar material. This layer of mulch will discourage weeds, conserve soil moisture and protect the tree from injury from mechanical yard care equipment. If, as the tree matures, it is growing too fast, making it vulnerable to fireblight, allow the turf to grow under the tree again. This will slow its growth without harming the tree.
Annual light pruning for your pear tree in the late winter is good for it. Cut away any dead branches and any branches rubbing against each other. Remove enough wood to induce new shoot growth. Cut out any shoots that are shooting up vertically, parallel to the trunk. Make clean cuts with sharp pruners or saw. Do not leave any stubs where branches were cut off.
Consult a book on pruning for more details on how to prune a pear tree to what is called a "central leader" form for the first few years, then prune to a "modified leader" form. Pear trees are generally planted as one-year-old whips, which are already pruned back to 30 inches. At the end of the first summer, remove all except three evenly spaced branches. Each year, these are cut back moderately and three or four shoots are left to make secondary branches. Once the tree comes into bearing, only minor pruning is necessary.
Many pear varieties tend to set more pears than the trees can handle. Several weeks after the trees bloom, thin the foliage of young pear trees to about 6 to 8 inches apart on the branches. Try to achieve a ratio of leaves to fruit of about 50 leaves for each pear. This provides enough leaves to produce the carbohydrates needed for pears to mature to a full size. In some cases then, there may be enough leaves to support fruit closer than the 6 to 8 inch guideline.
Only minimal winter protection is necessary for hardy pear trees. Young tree trunks should be wrapped to discourage mice and rabbits. Lay down winter mulch only after the ground has frozen to deny them a cozy winter nest.
Harvest and Storage
The harvest season for pears generally runs from early August through September, depending on the type. Harvest pears when they are green, about 2 weeks before they are ripe, and allow them to ripen in a cool room (70<198> to 75<198>F.) for 5 to 10 days. Tree-ripened pears do not have the quality of flavor and texture as do those ripened indoors.
After harvesting, keep pears at temperatures just above freezing for a month, then keep them at room temperature to ripen; they will last for about 3 months. Pears can be canned or pickled and will keep for more than a year. Dried pears will keep for up to 6 months.