In the Garden:
Asian pears have a crisp, juicy texture more akin to apples than European pears. The trees are easily grown and a great landscape addition.
Luscious Asian Pears
If you have tried growing fruit trees with only mixed success, try pears. They produce beautiful blossoms in spring and fruit every year. Although most pears are easy to grow, my favorite are the Asian pears. Also known as the Oriental pear, water pear, sand pear, salad pear, apple pear, pear apple, Japanese pear, and Chinese pear, these trees reliably produce crisp, juicy fruit.
Asian Pear History
Asian pears have been grown for centuries by Chinese, Japanese, and Korean gardeners. Older types have a gritty texture, hence the name "sand pear", but newer varieties don't have this characteristic. Now is a good time to find Asian pears in groceries or at farmer's markets to try them out. If you find them as wonderful as I do, consider ordering some trees for planting this fall or next spring.
Climate and Soil Requirements
Asian pears are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9. The type of rootstock effects hardiness. Plants grown on Pyrus communis stock are hardy to -30oF. However, the preferred rootstock is Pyrus betulaefolia. It's hardy only to -10oF, but gives plants the greatest vigor producing good fruit size while being tolerant of wet soils. Asian pears require about 4000 to 800 hours of winter chilling (temperatures between 32oF and 45oF), about one-half the winter chilling of European pears. Bloom time is about the same as 'Bartlett' pears, so late spring frosts are usually don't damage flowers in our region.
Soil for Pears
As with other fruit trees, Asian pears grow best in well-drained, slightly acid soil enriched with organic matter. Fertilize with 3-1-2 ratio fertilizer, such as 15-5-10, applying 1 pound of fertilizer per 1 inch of trunk diameter in spring to established trees.
Pollination and Varieties
Many Asian pear varieties are self-fruitful, but growing two or more varieties ensures the best fruit set, size, and shape. Some varieties such as 'Kikusui' with '20th Century,' 'Kosui' with 'Shinsui,' and 'Seigyoku' with 'Ishiiwase' are poor cross-pollinators and should not be grown together. 'Niitaka' is pollen sterile and can't pollinate other varieties. 'Seuri,' 'Tse Li,' and 'Yali' are early bloomers and are best planted together.
Asian Pear Varieties
There are many varieties but the following are among the most readily available and best tasting: 'Shinko,' 'Hosui,' 'Korean Giant' (also known as 'Olympic'), '20th Century,' and 'Shinseiki.' 'Shinko,' 'Shinseki,' and 'Korean Giant' also have good fireblight disease resistance, while '20th Century' is one of the most susceptible to this deadly disease.
The biggest maintenance requirement for Asian pears is thinning. Thinning ensures good fruit size and prevents limbs from breaking. It must be done by hand early in the season, thinning to one fruit per spur, spaced 4 to 6 inches apart. Even with this amount of thinning, an 8- to 10-year old tree can produce 200 to 400 fruit.
To harvest, start picking and tasting the fruit when the skin color changes. Although European pears ripen after harvest, Asian pears must ripen on the tree. Asian pears usually require several pickings to harvest all the fruit at the correct degree of ripeness. These pears are fairly fragile, so handle them carefully. I store mine in boxes in an extra refrigerator in the basement. That way I can enjoy their juicy goodness for months to come.
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