The subtleties of growing pears

When we purchased our current place in Clawson, my spouse and I found an old pear tree just west of the house. The previous owners were gardeners, so this was hardly a surprise. 

Pears can be some tough trees that work well in our landscapes. They;re attractive, produce good fruit, have few management problems, and can last for years. Many older country living homesteads around here seem to have had firm-fleshed canning pear trees in their yards.

"Pear trees can make wonderful additions to the gardens of any Angelina County resident."

There are three basic categories of pears you'll see in the U.S.: European or French pears, Oriental hybrids and Asian pears. The Europeans include such popular varieties as Bartlett, Bosc and D'Anjou that are found in many grocery stores. Our environment in East Texas - and, more specifically, the prevalence of a bacterial infection called fire blight - excludes the Europeans from being grown in all but the far reaches of west Texas. 

Oriental hybrids include such well-known varieties as Orient and Kieffer. This type is well adapted to grow throughout much of Texas, accounting for most of the state's pears. In terms of texture, Oriental hybrids range from coarse and gritty to smooth and buttery. Some varieties have a dessert-ready quality that will rival the best European varieties, and are thus ideal for fresh eating. More coarsely textured varieties, such as Kieffer, are used primarily for home processing, including canning, preserves, pickling and baking.

The Asian pear, sometimes referred to as the "apple pear," is gaining increased attention because of its unique fruit. These are relatively new to Texas and their adaptation into the local ecosystem is still being determined.

Generally speaking, pears are adapted everywhere but the southernmost part of Texas because of insufficient winter chill. The more humid eastern portion of the state, meanwhile, can have severe problems with fire blight. If we are to grow excellent pears, we should plant only varieties with high fire-blight tolerance.

The subtleties of growing pearsGrowing a pear tree can sometimes be challenging, but it'll ultimately be worth it.

Sandy soils are best for pear trees, but they can also be grown in clay-like or heavy-loam soils in most parts of Texas. The trees at my place, for example are above a shallow, red clay soil.

All-day sun is required for maximum fruit production. Blessed by an abundance of tall trees, we need to choose an area of the yard in full or nearly full sun. Morning sunshine is particularly important for the early drying of dew, which will reduce the incidence of disease.

Most pear trees sold in Texas are budded onto Pyrus calleryana, a disease-resistant, drought-tolerant rootstock. The Old Home pear is also used as a rootstock, and trees from nurseries outside Texas may be budded to this variety. Trees budded to either of these rootstocks are full-sized and usually long-lived.

I can't over-emphasize that on the farm and ranch land for sale in Texas, specifically within Angelina County's borders, we absolutely must plant trees resistant to fire blight. Fortunately, many of the available Oriental hybrid pears are tolerant of this bacterial disease. Kieffer, which ripens from late September through October, has been recommended in the past because of its high fire-blight resistance, but varieties with much better dessert quality and equal fire blight resistance are available.

Perhaps the best available pear for combined dessert quality and fire blight resistance is the Warren, a seedling selection discovered in Mississippi. Ayres and Magness varieties also rank high on this list with a "highly resistant" designation for disease.

Other varieties of pears will work well for canning, baking and other processing, but only have a "good" designation in terms of their fire-blight resistance. First on the "others to consider" list is Maxine. It has very good dessert quality with medium to large attractive fruit, and ripens in August through to early September. Moonglow is another good dessert quality with medium to large fruit that ripens during the same period. Then there's the attractive Garber pear, which has a crisp-textured dessert quality and a shape similar to that of Red Delicious apples.

Last but not least, consider the Orient variety. It is of fair dessert quality but primarily used for canning and baking, coarse-textured and almost russetted, with medium-to-large fruit. Most notably, it is a consistent, heavy bearer that ripens between late August and September and is highly resistant to fire blight.

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Water Wise Landscaping - On Monday, June 18 the Angelina County Extension Office will hold a free seminar entitled "Water Wise Landscaping - How to Have a Lush Landscape Without a Huge Water Bill". This is an evening seminar that starts 6:30 p.m. at the Extension office. The main topic will be watering strategies and technologies to make your life simpler and your gardens healthier - without breaking the bank in terms of your water bill. For more information, call 936.634.6414 ext. 102.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email: cw-sims@tamu.edu

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