A standard pear tree takes up rather a lot of room and is not too eager to embark on its fruiting career, though when it does so the size of the crop continues to increase with passing years. Better suited to the small garden are pears in cordon form. Single stemmed, these can be planted 2 ft. apart against any sunny fence or wall; or against horizontal wires strained between end posts in the open; alongside a path is an excellent position for them. They come into bearing quickly and their fruit is of the largest size and best quality.
Also useful for the small garden is the espalier-trained tree, with horizontal wires to support the tiers of horizontal branches. These too fruit speedily and heavily. Planted in line they should be 10 ft. apart. Dwarf bush trees, at the same distance, are as profitable.
Trees of fruiting size in 12-in. pots, in which they remain, can be purchased for the unheated greenhouse and dealt with as explained in the section FRUIT IN THE GREENHOUSE.
Ready for Use. Pears are ready for eating, or cooking, from August onwards, according to variety. Some can be kept in store for a considerable period.
Dessert pears include Laxton’s Superb, ripe in August, its only drawback being that it will not keep; Williams’ Bon Chretien, in September, to be picked before it becomes yellow and allowed to ripen indoors; Conference, ready October to November, one of the easiest to grow and most satisfactory in all ways; Emile D’Heyst, October to November, easy to grow on practically any soil; Louise Bonne of Jersey, a big fruiter and regular cropper, ripe in October; Winter Nelis, which starts to ripen in November and will store to January or later; Josephine de Malines, starting to ripen in December and on to January in store.
Cooking varieties include Fertility, September to October; Catil-lac, October till April; Vicar of Winkfield, November to January. These all carry heavy crops.
Most pears require to be fertilized by the pollen from a different variety – they are self-sterile. It is therefore advisable to plant two different kinds, unless there are other pear trees in the near neighbourhood.
Self-fertile varieties (set fruit with their own pollen) in the foregoing list are Conference, Laxton’s Superb, Louise Bonne of Jersey, Williams’ Bon Chretien. can be assisted to spread the fertilizing pollen, by the grower using a tuft of dry cotton-wool or a rabbit’s tail tied to the end of a stick. This is fluffed over the fully open flowers on successive days, when the atmosphere is dry and the sun shining.
Pears are not faddy as to soil, so long as it is not waterlogged in winter. The ground should be dug 2 ft. deep and the soil below that broken up; if the subsoil is heavy it can be lightened and made more porous by mixing with it plenty of sand or sharp grit. Some old manure may be worked into the top 6 in. if the soil is poor, but too rich ground causes over-vigorous growth, which results in unfruit-fulness.
When and How to Plant.
Roots should be spread out horizontally at the levels they have naturally taken, in an ample planting hole, and fine soil worked between and under them with the fingers. When the roots are covered, to the depth indicated by the soil mark on the stem, the soil should be made firm by treading. Cordons should be planted with the stem base about 4 in. out from the fence or wall.
Trees should be got in as soon as possible after leaf-fall, or during mild weather up to March.
Planting details are fully explained in the section THE ABC OF PLANTING.
Watering and Feeding.
At least a bucketful of water should be given to young trees, whatever their form, whenever necessary in dry weather. A surface covering of quite old manure, or hop manure, leaf-mould, or lawn mowings, will serve to keep the shallow roots cool and the surface moist in hot weather.
Feeding should be postponed until trees are in bearing. Weak liquid manure given once a week from the time the fruit starts to swell will have considerable influence on the crop; or a fruit tree mixed fertilizer can be used, according to directions accompanying it.
Birds, Wasps, Other Troubles.
Birds and wasps will go for the choicest fruit when it begins to ripen. If birds cannot be scared away, they can be kept from the fruit by covering this with muslin draped loosely over the espalier or dwarf bush tree or cordon. Wasps should be tracked to their nests and there killed as explained in the chart ‘Remedies Against Enemies of Fruit Crops’. Remedies are also given there for the scabbed and cracked fruit trouble, and for scale on shoots and branches. Pear midge is dealt with under ‘ Thinning the Fruit.’
Lack of fruit may be due to youthfulness, or to incomplete pollination (dealt with above), or to excessive wood growth. The latter is frequently the result of planting in too rich soil, or feeding the tree before the fruiting habit has been formed; the remedy is root pruning. This operation is fully explained in the section THE HOW AND WHY OF PRUNING.
Summer and Winter Pruning.
The fruits are produced on spurs on the old wood, and the spurs themselves are produced very abundantly. A well-managed cordon, espalier or other form of pear tree will be thick – but not too thick – with fruiting spurs. Pruning is simple enough. Side shoots are cut back by half their length, in summer (August) and then shortened in winter so that they are left as stumps each with two buds; these become fruiting spurs. Ends of main branches of a bush tree are shortened in winter by about one-third of the past summer’s growth. A cordon is allowed to prolong itself by about two-thirds of its current season’s growth each year, until it has reached any height desired; the tip is then treated as a spur. An espalier is treated similarly; if another tier of horizontal branches is required they are formed as explained in the section How TO PROPAGATE FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES.
Shoots produced by the fruiting spurs are summer shortened by about one-half, and in winter cut back to within two buds of their base. When spurs become too long, and crowded with fruit buds and leaf buds, it is time to shorten them by cutting away half their length in winter.
A standard pear grown so tall that the fruit is difficult to get at can have some of its head removed in winter. Other than that, little if any pruning is required.
Operations are explained in full detail in the section THE HOW AND WHY OF PRUNING.
Pear trees are increased by budding or grafting desired varieties on to special stocks. Methods are explained in the section How TO PROPAGATE FRUIT TREES AND BUSHES ; how young trees are formed to any desired shape is also explained there.
Thinning the Fruits.
A too heavy crop one year may be followed by scarcity of pears the next year. To avoid this, and to increase the size and quality of individual fruits, some thinning must be done. Some of the pears will drop off when quite small, the tree being unable to carry them all. Some will fall, in June, as the result of attack by grubs of the pear midge if this pest happens to be in the locality.
Thinning should be deferred until this dropping is over, which is usually about the end of June. If extra-special fruit is required, dessert varieties should be left with one pear where there was a cluster of them; cookers can remain a bit closer. The fruit that is left on the tree to ripen should be the best-shaped and the healthiest.
The presence in any pear of midge grubs is indicated by discoloured patches, by over-early swelling and irregular shape. These signs should be looked for, and the affected fruit picked off during the thinning, and burned. All fallen pears not fit for use should also be burned, to ensure the destruction of any grubs that might be in them. Grubs wriggle out of the attacked fruit when this is on the ground and bury themselves in the earth, there to undergo the transformation to adult midge flies. These should be dealt with by cleaning the soil at the foot of trees.
Gathering the Fruit.
Varieties that naturally ripen late should be gathered late; quality is adversely affected if they are picked too soon. Ripening will be completed in the store. Varieties that ripen earlier, on the tree, are ready for immediate gathering when the fruit comes away almost at a touch, or gentle pressure at the spur end of the pear’s stalk. Bruised fruit will not keep. Gathering should therefore be carried out with care.
Storing for Winter.
A damp storage place is bad for pears, and they must be safe from frost. The store should be airy, and preferably dark, and the pears laid out singly – not in layers. Late varieties will ripen, according to their class, a few at a time, and they must be watched; the psychological moment can be determined by feel. Often there is only a borderline of a day or two between a fully-ripe pear and an over-ripe one.
Preparing for Table.
Dessert pears should be carefully wiped and polished with a soft clean cloth. The fruit is advised by doctors in cases of constipation, gout, dyspepsia, anaemia; it should be eaten ripe.