Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Fruit & Nut Trees
by National Gardening Association Editors
The extensive selection of high-quality pear varieties available that can't be found in grocery stores make pear trees well worth growing by home gardeners. Pears require less spraying than peaches, plums, or apples and are easy to train to fit small spaces in a yard. Unfortunately, pear trees can be affected by two serious problems. The insect pest the pear psylla can be difficult to control. And the bacterial disease fire blight has made larger-scale commercial pear growing difficult in many parts of the country. Because of fire blight, most of the United States pear crop now comes from northern California, Oregon, and Washington, where the predominantly dry climate discourages the spread of this disease. If you live outside of this region, you can still grow pears successfully by selecting blight-resistant varieties and rootstocks. With good planning and vigilance during the season, you can grow fresh, tender pears year after year with minimal use of chemical products.
Pears can usually be grown wherever apples are successful, though they are somewhat less resistant than apples to extremes of heat and cold. Pears, however, need less attention than apples in matters of pruning and insect control and are more tolerant of moist soil conditions. So if you have predominantly clay soil, pears will probably do better for you than apples on the same site. Compared to other tree fruits, pears are slower to start producing. Many apple varieties begin bearing in 3 to 4 years; with pears, the wait for good crops is longer. Standard types will take about 4 to 8 years to begin bearing; dwarfs, 4 to 6.
As a general rule, pears must be cross-pollinated to produce fruit, so plan to plant two varieties; most combinations of pear varieties will work except for 'Bartlett' and 'Seckel', which don't cross-pollinate well with each other. Out of nearly three thousand varieties, perhaps a hundred have good yields, flavor, texture, and keeping qualities. However, fewer than twenty are grown commercially. Thus, the home gardener has a wide choice of top-quality specialty pears. There are several pear varieties that offer effective resistance to fire blight, such as 'Moonglow', 'Magness', 'Maxine', 'Seckel', and 'Kieffer'. In the South, plant resistant varieties such as 'Leconte' and 'Baldwin'.