Photo by Missouri Botanical Garden
A ripe pear is a rare pear. This is a pity, but there’s a remedy. You must pick the fruits when they are still hard and puckerish. If you lift a pear to horizontal and its stem parts from the twig, the pear is ready. Then you store the fruits cold for some weeks, then ripen them at room temperature until they are luscious, juicy and fragrant. For the details (humor alert: be sure to read the last sentence), see the bulletin from Oregon State University.
Like apples, crabapples, Asian pears and other members of the rose family, common pears are susceptible to a bacterial disease called fireblight, which can kill branches and entire trees. Some varieties have resistance to the bacteria. Among them are Magnus, Warren, Beurre Bosc, and Kieffer, which has long been a standard pear for homesteads, though the fruits are more gritty than others and less flavorful. I inherited an old tree on my homestead in the Ozarks long ago and it bore more fruits than we could eat or store.
Pears grow into large trees, too large for gardens, so they are grafted onto a pear species that stunts the top. Such two-part trees nonetheless can reach fifteen feet tall. They are a glorious sight in bloom, when the flower clusters are like a cloud. Where space is tight, pear trees can be pruned as espaliers, a common practice in Holland.
Most pears need pollination by a different variety to bear full crops. So plant at least two trees. Bartlett, a standard commercial pear, is somewhat self-fertile. On the other hand, it’s susceptible to fireblight. Most pears need a long cold period in winter to bloom well in spring. A few cultivars need much less chilling and can be grown in warm climates. One is ‘Flordahome.’
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