If you want to grow edible fruit at home without spraying your trees, grow pears!

Photo by David Hughes
Pear Flowers

Apples, peaches, plums, apricots, and nectarines are all susceptible to dozens of pests diseases and fungi that make them at best difficult to grow at home. Even if you did want to spray your trees, most of the effective products are unavailable to the home fruit grower.

If you happen to live way up north or on the west coast, maybe you can grow acceptable apples and stone fruits at home. Here in the humid east though, Pears are hands down the easiest fruit to grow successfully at home.

Large fruit of any kind is the product of the level of care provided by the orchardist. Immediately after petal fall fruit needs to be thinned. With pears, fruit needs to be thinned to one fruit per foot along the branches. This requires pinching off many hundreds of tiny pears. Even at this stage the orchardist can select the largest fruits to save.

Fruit trees are programmed to reproduce themselves. They are there to ripen as many seeds as possible each season. They do this by setting as many fruit as possible. The fruit itself is the bait used to tempt birds and mammals to eat and disburse the seeds to new places.

Photo by David Hughes
A properly thinned Magness Pear

We do not prefer seeds, we prefer fruit and the larger the better.The tree supplies X amount of energy and sugars per season. If that amount is spread over thousands of individual fruits, those fruits will be tiny. If we thin those fruits to an optimal level, all of that energy and sugars will be focused on the remaining fruits and they will be much larger.

Trees will need to be pruned each year to open them to sunlight which is the fuel for tree growth and fruit production. There is a simple formula for all fruit trees, Sunlight= Flowers= Fruit. Pruning should be done in February after the worst of winters cold but before spring growth begins.

For those who want to grow a “Natural Tree”, remember , the tree has different goals from ours and without training, it will fullfill its own goals.

Pear trees are not without disease and insect pests. The trees here are resistant ( not immune) to these.

Fireblight is a bacterial disease that affects both apples and pears. It enters the tree through the blooms or through injury, mainly hail damage or untimely pruning cuts and is carried by water. Rain during bloom or hail damage during vigorous growth in spring and early summer are the primary infection sources.

A dormant spray of fixed copper before budbreak removes the bacterial spores and greatly reduces the chance of infection.

Hail, even tiny hail, causes injury and also atomizes the spores from the ground, spreading them into the tree at the same time. After an injury or pruning cut, the tree rushes sugars to the wound to aid in the healing process. These sugars become the food for the fireblight bacteria causing an infection. A spray of Agrimycin within 24 hours of the hail can reduce the chance of an outbreak.

Curculio and Stinkbugs are the main insect pests of pears. Both cause mainly cosmetic damage. Gnarly misshapened fruits with hard spots at the bite locations are the main impact. Both are controlable by insectcide applications. Consult your local Agricultural Extension agent for recommendations. Asian Pears are susceptible to coddling moth on occasion.

Sooty blotch and Flyspeck are cosmetic fungi that grow on the waxy cuticle of the fruit of European Pears. They make the fruit finish blotchy, which only affects marketability, it has no effect on eating quality. Asian Pears are russetted and unaffected by these fungi.

Photo by David Hughes
Ripe Chojuro Pears

Asian Pears will ripen on the tree. If stored in a vented plastic bag in the coolest part of the refrigerator (33 to 34 degrees) they will keep for up to 6 months. You will eat them before that much time passes.

European Pears are best ripened off the tree. Pick them when the pear gives slightly to thumb pressure at the base of the stem. Store them in a vented plastic bag at 33 to 34 degrees and they will keep 3 to 4 months. European pears are brought out to room temperature for 1 to 2 days and will mellow to perfect ripeness.

Of course they may be preserved in any number of other ways. European Pears pressed for cider will yield better if pressed while still hard.