Four to a branch will hopefully become a typical sight when you're growing pears.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/VIER REIFE BIRNEN am BIRNBAUM
Pears, like peaches, need to be winter-chilled. In general, they can be grown in the same regions as apples and peaches. They are hardier than peaches, but they flower earlier than apple trees, so watch for chills. Areas of consistent zero-degree winters are about the northern-most limit for pear trees, and with such temperatures winter-killing of the buds may occur.
Pear trees do well on poorer soil as long as it's well drained. In fact, very rich soil will produce overly lush growth, which in turn will encourage fire blight. Like Cassius, they should have a lean and hungry look.
Pear Tree Stock
Self-sterile for the most part, pear trees are best ordered in different varieties if you want to be on the safe side, in which case they'll also need to be same-time bloomers. Buy one year old grafted whips around five feet tall. These should be about one-half- to three-quarters-inch thick, with smooth, even bark. Plant in early spring, on a northern slope where possible to protect them from premature flowering and a too-hot summer sun. Prune back about 25 percent on planting and don't use a fertilizer rich in nitrogen . . . this is one tree you don't want to grow very fast.
Pruning Pear Trees
A minimum-pruning tree. After the initial planting trim, help shape it and remove root suckers when they form, but never give it a heavy pruning to boost growth. It would respond too well, and fire blight would follow only too often. Also very rapid growth makes the tree literally jump out of its skin . . . the bark splits, inviting borers and a multitude of other nuisances.
Tree Problems and Solutions
The main thing you have to worry about with pear trees is fire blight, and it may be hard to avoid in the healthiest of trees. Fire blight derives its name from the fact that the affected parts look as if someone had gone over them with a blowtorch while you weren't looking. It can strike all parts of the tree from flowers to main trunk, but not at the same time. This is your key to keeping pear production going. Trim off any blighted area as soon as you see it. Branches should be removed with a foot of healthy wood behind them. Don't handle the affected part and then the rest of the tree . . . would you blow your nose in someone else's old handkerchief? Keep all infected trimmings away from the tree trunk while you work, and burn them in a hot fire away from the orchard. The worst blight season is from bloom till fruit . . . this is the time to keep a sharp lookout for the culprit.
Some pears must be harvested before they are ripe or they turn gravelly. The only way to find out if your variety falls into this category is to pick some when they are mature in size but just beginning to turn color, letting the others ripen on the tree. Compare quality. Next year you'll know. Pears picked just before the first blush of color can be cold-stored for two to three months or more.