Survival Plant Profile: Pears
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. 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.
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.
Latin Name: Pyrus (spp.)
Nitrogen Fixer: No
Exposure: Full sun
Part Used: Fruit
Propagation: Grafting, seed
Method of preparation: Cooking varieties, cooked. Fresh, out of hand.
Storability: Depends on cultivar; generally good
Ease of growing: Moderate