Thursday, February 27, 2014

Survival Plant Profile: Pears

Photo credit born1945. CC license.

If I were to ask you your favorite fruit, what would you answer?

My Dad likes apples. I love mangoes. My kids all love bananas. My wife likes... hey... just a minute... let me go ask her...


...okay, after much discussion, the answer seems to be papaya. Or apples. Or bananas. She would prefer apples if we lived further north... papaya if we lived in the tropics... and also raisins, but only if...


The point is, if you were to ask a bunch of people to name their favorites, I doubt very much you'd have anyone proclaim their undying love for the humble pear.

Personally, I didn't care for pears until I tried them fresh and fully ripe. We bought a house in TN with mature pear trees growing in the yard. They were some variety of dessert pear, pale green and yellow when ripe, and endowed with a wonderful melt-in-your-mouth flavor. My opinion of pears as hard, watered-down apples with unpleasant texture was transformed.

Now I love pears.

When I moved to Florida, I was afraid I wouldn't be able to grow any varieties worth eating. Fortunately, I was wrong. You can grow good pears from about the middle of the state north. Further south than that and you'll have chill hour issues and may have to mess around with forcing dormancy by leaf stripping, etc... and that's a topic for another day.

Unlike Apples, Peaches, Plums and Nectarines, pears are relatively care-free trees. The biggest disease issue they face is "fire blight," a nasty bacterial infection that usually starts at the ends of branches and works its way down towards the trunk. Fortunately, if you're observant, you can often head off the infection with a good pair of pruning shears and a spray-bottle of alcohol.

Sterilize your pruners with alcohol, then cut at least 12" further down each infected branch than the closest patch of infection. The infection is easy to identify since it looks like the name implies: charred brown leaves and wood. Make sure to sterilize your shears between each cut so you don't inadvertently spread the disease.

Once you've removed all the infected wood, burn it. Don't throw it in your compost or let it fall around the base of the tree. You want it gone.

Beyond the occasional brush with fire blight, Florida has some good pear varieties to get excited about. We can grow the classic Kieffer pear, the old-fashioned Pineapple pear (which apparently has a touch of pineapple flavor to the fruit), gourmet Oriental pears and other good varieties like Hood, Spaulding and the low-chill UF cultivar Flordahome.

On my property, I've planted a Hood, a Kieffer and a Flordahome. I'm about to add an Asian and a Pineapple this week.

When you plant pear (or any other) trees, make sure you keep the grass back from around the trunks to a distance of 4-5'. Grass will consume your tree's resources and choke it... don't let it do that. A ring of mulch is always a good idea.

Pears take a few years to get big enough to bear well, so plant them as soon as you can. The wait is worth it. We used to harvest hundreds of pounds off our two trees in Tennessee. That made for a lot of delicious pear butter... salsa... slices in syrup... dried fruit and Perry (pear wine).

Finally... pear trees are also beautiful beyond their functionality. I've come to love their interesting shape, the rough bark, the wild branches and the lovely blooms in spring.

Though they're an easy survival tree for Florida, they don't make my top three (which are mulberries, loquats and persimmons) but they're a very close four at the moment. Plant a few for extra-good pollination and redundancy... and you'll be enjoying fruit before you know it.

(NOTE: I stock multiple varieties for sale in my nursery - drop me an e-mail if you'd like to purchase your very own Florida-adapted pear tree.)


4 Spuds!

Name: Pear
Latin Name: Pyrus (spp.)
Type: Tree
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Medicinal: No
Cold-hardy: Yes
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Grafting, seed
Taste: Good
Method of preparation: Cooking varieties, cooked. Fresh, out of hand. 
Storability: Depends on cultivar; generally good
Ease of growing: Moderate
Nutrition: Good
Recognizability: Moderate
Availability: Moderate

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At February 27, 2014 at 7:55 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never cared for Pears. Though, I'm guessing that I've never had a ripe one, They were always really hard and kinda grainy. I've tried growing them but they never amounted to much (ok, maybe I didn't try very hard). I do dig the spudometer though!


At February 27, 2014 at 8:43 AM , Blogger David The Good said...

The graininess depends on the variety. Some of them are better picked a little early and allowed to ripen on a shelf... others are amazing off the tree... and I find all of them to be really good for making my pear salsa recipe. I need to post that, come to think of it.

At February 27, 2014 at 9:36 AM , Blogger Arisia said...

And post how to tell when they are ripe and/or ready to pick. I had my first ripe pear years ago when I subscribed to the Harry and David fruit of the month club for a year. They said to let them ripen in the refrigerator or a cool place until they are a little soft around the stem when you press a finger into them.

The pears in the grocery store sometimes never get to that stage, because they pick them too early to prevent bruising during shipment. And sometimes even though the pear is a little soft around the stem, when you get it home and slice it open, you find it's black and mushy inside instead of ripe.

At February 27, 2014 at 9:07 PM , Blogger George G said...

I am a fan of pears too.
I got a bunch of potted D6 rootstock very cheap.
Then later was lucky enough to be given a lot of scion wood for free.
This was my first attempt at grafting, so I was honestly surprised and delighted when they all took and grew.
I have just planted out the 5 trees, with 12 different varieties, including 2 asian.
We have a similar climate to you, here in Sydney Australia.
So I chose the low chill varieties - many developed at Florida University, I think.
Including Hood, Flordahome, FLA 39-40, Fla 58-45.
My biggest challenge will now probably be keeping the possums, birds and bats off them.

At February 27, 2014 at 10:17 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Wow - your first attempt and they all took. That's great.

I have to confess: I'm a newbie grafter. Just started experimenting with it. I have five plum grafts and a loquat I tried and I'm waiting to see if they took.

It's funny that you have UF varieties over there. UF has really done some amazing work with fruit tree varieties.

As for the pests, I notice in Tennessee that the animals mostly left my pears alone. I think it's because the green fruit doesn't attract attention like brighter colored edibles.

At February 27, 2014 at 10:20 PM , Blogger David The Good said...

Yeah. Grocery store pears just aren't there yet.

As for readiness... that's a hard one. Depends on the tree. Some ripen on the trees, others aren't very good at that and need to be pulled before they finish ripening.

You're right about the unbalanced ripening... I've seen that. When you have a tree, you have the luxury of picking fruit at different times and getting a hands-on feel for peak ripeness.

At February 28, 2014 at 1:44 AM , Blogger George G said...

It was probably beginners luck with me.
I was using a Pyrus calleryana (D6) rootstock, which apparently is very vigorous, so that probably helped too.
Actually I planted a bare pruned banch of D6, after it had been lying around for a week, and it soon sprouted and is growing fast now.
I did water spray the grafts every couple of hours, for a few weeks.
I personally think that keeping the grafted scions moist really helps.
Also I think grafting in way that removes all the rootstock leaves, is preferable,
so all the sap is directed to the scions.
Anyway grafting is such a useful skill for any fruit grower, since allows quick and cheap change of varieties,
and multiple varieties on the one tree is great in any yard.
I think I might try plums too, like you, or citrus which seems to often be done.

At March 4, 2014 at 1:08 PM , Blogger Jean Campbell said...

My best results come from picking pears when they develop tiny brown speckles abd come off the tree with a light tug. I refrigerate them for a period of time (I think it's 3 weeks) and then bring them out to fully ripen at room temperature. It isn't necessary to wrap them in tissue paper, but they make impressive gifts that way.

I think my pears are Pineapple, Hood and Kieffer -- or maybe that last one is Orient. They are all tasty and grow well in South Georgia. As hard as it is to thin pears, they will skip the next year if too many young fruits are left to grow.


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