Survival Plant Profile: Pears

Pearsweb
growing pears in florida

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…

Nevermind.

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. Growing pears in Florida is easier than you might think.

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.

Create Your Own Florida Food Forest by David The Good

In my book I cover growing pears in Florida, along with lots of other plants.

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.

Growing pears in Florida may not be as glamorous as growing oranges… but they’re well worth it.

 

SPUDOMETER RATING:

 

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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15 comments

  • 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!

    Mick

    • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • I enjoyed your Crazy Easy Fl Gardening book, and it confirmed for me that I should think about planting pears this year, but am not sure if I should go with Asian (which are my favorite) or a soft pear. I’ve been able to find a little info on growing Asian pears in Fl, but not a lot. I’m in the southern part of north Lake county (makes more sense when seen on a map) so right where 9a and b merge. Soil is basically sand, so drainage shouldn’t be an issue, nutrients would be.
    Have you had any success with Asian pears?

    • The fire blight is the big issue. Multiple types of Asian pear will grow, though they aren’t as easy to keep happy as the “sand pear” types such as the awesome “Pineapple” pear.

  • Supposedly the “Chinese white pear” (Bai li) cultivars Tsu Li (which is really ancient and supposedly good but quite slow to bear) and Ya Li (which need to be planted together, as they bloom earlier than even the pyrifolia Asians [“apple pears”]) will both fruit with only 450 chill hours and are fireblight resistant. I have had grocery Ya Li and am not impressed–crisp, watery, no flavor (that is also my opinion of most of the larger, pyrifolia types which someone must like because they are more expensive than aromatic, buttery European pears that taste like pears). However I found a delicious way to treat firm Boscs that also works with low flavor sand/oriental pears and Ya Li is to poach them in flavored syrup. The bland ones actually keep their shape better than good European types (turn a Seckel glut into pear butter instead). The flavor comes from the syrup rather than the pear, but hey, it works. (The French mostly use sweetened wine, but even stale coffee. In [Polish] Chicago, I can get blackcurrant juice or syrup and mostly use that. Vanilla and ginger blend nicely with most pears, even the aromatic ones that are mostly high chill and killed by fireblight.). “Warren” is often recommended as a moderately low chill (NW FL and north), fireblight resistant European sort similar to Bartlett, but I don’t have personal experience with it. Poached pears with vanilla ice cream may not be an option if the something hits the fan, but is nice in nicer times.

    • I have a lot of pear trees in Northwest Florida that are mostly grafted over pears I purchased in box stores or in flea markets. I pick varieties that were either developed in the deep south by normal people or were found after many years did quite well. Best fresh eating pears and fire blight resistant so far for me are: southern bartlett (From abbreville, la) golden boy from Just fruits and exotics, and the Asian pear Olton Broussard from an old shipment to a nursery labeled oriental pear. Kieffers and Orient pears for cooking/salads and for pollinating the olton broussards. There are many new pears that I am trying out at the moment that are said to be very good. But the three I mention are about as sure of thing as there can be in the south. The olton broussard may not fruit in zone 9 or during extremely warm winters in zone 8b. The hood is another good but early pear that is disease resistant and very low chill. It was university developed unlike the other eating pears that I mentioned. see http://tandeecal.com/page10.htm southern pear interest group.

  • I moved to Florida last September from California. I had never grown a fruit tree except an apricot seed that the gardener said wouldn’t produce and it did. Now I planted a pear tree a month ago and it’s 8/26/17. It is already producing beautiful new growth but the bottom leaves have spider mites and brown spots.
    It’s a beautiful new adventure the Lord has put me into and country life has way more adventures than city. What should I do!

    Sincerely
    Carol rose

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