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Greg Steele

Care of Mature Common Pear Tree - Midlands UK

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Hi there,

 

I tried to post this a while back and I don't think it made it through for some reason so apologies if there is a duplicate post. I also couldn't find an obvious answer for this query with the search, again sorry if this is a duplicate.

 

We moved into our first house in Nov 19 and inherited a mature pear tree by itself which has been espaliered (sp?) and trained in the past - the big metal bracket is still there in the trunk! The rest of the support is gone but the tree is still a T shape. This tree has flowered in April both years but has never produced a pear. I don't know what particular variety it is. It also suffers from what I believe is fire blight on a number of smaller branches all over the tree at the ends of the branches. 

 

I am a competent and enthusiastic but amateur gardener so I wasn't sure how best to look after this tree. I am aware I need to remove fire blight (although this is tricky!) and any crossing branches but I am concerned about the lack of fruit.

 

1) Regarding fruit - is there something more significantly wrong with the tree or is this tree likely suffering from the lack of a pollination partner? If it's just a case of getting another tree friend for it - could you recommend any good variety matches?

 

2) Regarding pruning - does this tree likely just need maintenance (removing fire blight and crossing branches) or would I be better to give it a more significant prune (or even pollard) back to it's T shape. 

 

Really grateful in advance for any help - thank you! 

 

Best wishes,

 

Greg Steele 

Nottinghamshire. 

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Hi Greg,

 

Would you be able to put up some photos? Ideally a shot showing the whole tree with something for scale, and one showing the damage you think is fireblight including a close-up of the leaves. It would also be useful to get an idea of the diameter of the trunk, with a photograph right down at ground level.

 

From that it should be possible to give you some ideas of what might be the problem(s) and what might be possible.


Alec

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Old fruit trees can be a shot in the dark for pruning, they  either gallop away again or decline rapidly. K

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8 hours ago, Khriss said:

Old fruit trees can be a shot in the dark for pruning, they  either gallop away again or decline rapidly. K

Its a black art .😐

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Thanks all for the replies! No idea of the age of this tree but the row of houses is ~60 years old and so the tree must be that or more I would think. 

 

Photos attached. Behind the tree is the shed, the highest corner of the shed (towards the right of the photo) is 2.3m high. The trunk has some plants around it at the base but it is ~10 inches in diameter. There are some gravel stones around it - this was laid before my time and I have reduced the area covered by the stones to try and give the tree more space. The soil underneath is largely clay based. I've attached photos of what I believe to be fire blight causing dying off of random smaller branches.

 

Best wishes,

 

Greg

IMG_20210703_120132773_HDR.jpg

IMG_20210715_214319504.jpg

IMG_20210715_214328025.jpg

IMG_20210715_214333711.jpg

IMG_20210715_214409075.jpg

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OK, several observations.

 

The tree appears to be generally in good health. There is reasonable extension growth and it looks a decent enough colour. Given the size, I would agree that it is 60+ years old.

The garden plants round the base shouldn't cause any problems. I think I can see mint and violas (is that grass wheat?). Trying to avoid compaction around the roots is also good.

The size suggests it is probably on Quince A stock which has been standard for a long time. I was looking for a graft line but can't see one. That may mean the soil level has risen a bit. The bigger risk is that the pear has rooted into the ground. This will help it grow a whole lot bigger! I would be inclined to do some cautious excavation to see what is going on there.

I am not sure it is fireblight. I think canker looks more likely. If you work your way down the shoots which have died, you should find where the canker is as a patch of damaged bark which goes right round. Either way, cutting these right out is the best move, below the damage, to a good sideshoot or a bud if they are young enough.

It's an interesting shape. You have quite a few choices with it - given that it could have more than a century to go, there is plenty of time to re-grow it into whatever shape you want. You could gradually turn it back into an espalier (as many layers as you want), or round it out as a bush form, or make it a pyramid. It depends how much work you want to put into it. Happy to go through how to get towards any of them - but it will take you several years. I have been gradually re-shaping some complete messes of trees since 1988 and they are looking OK now!

Pears fruit on spurs. You seem to have a reasonable number, although it has been cut back a fair bit in the past (not necessarily a bad thing) so there is more young growth than you might expect. Flowers but lack of fruit suggests either frost, birds taking the blossom or a lack of pollinator. If you have space for a pollinating partner it would help a lot. It could be a considerably smaller tree - 6-8ft and about 3ft wide is achievable for a freestanding pyramid. Again, if you want to go that route, happy to offer some thoughts.

 

Alec

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Superb advice, thank you so much Alec, I am very grateful! I'll work on the pruning. Could you recommend some hardy varieties for me to look for as a pollination partner?

 

Greg

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1 hour ago, Greg Steele said:

Superb advice, thank you so much Alec, I am very grateful! I'll work on the pruning. Could you recommend some hardy varieties for me to look for as a pollination partner?

 

Greg

You're welcome. Regarding pruning, a few things to consider.

 

Regardless of shape, if you hit it too hard it will grow vigorously and not fruit. Taking it back a bit at a time over several years is a better option. Dead, diseased, crossing and growing in towards the centre rather than out from the centre is the first set of material to lose. You may well want to remove some larger pieces - I would only do one of those a year.

Winter prune for shape and vigour (easier to see the shape with the leaves off) and summer prune small material to keep it in shape. Now would be a decent time to summer prune (diseased and dead can come out any time). Most people either summer or winter pruned - generally commercial trees are only winter pruned and ornamental forms such as espaliers are only summer pruned but you can do a bit of both.

If you are going back to an espalier, it is fairly easy to identify what stays and goes but otherwise you will have choices. One way to get the tree to shape much quicker is to bend branches into shape and tie them there. They will then 'set' as they put on growth. Take the ties off and you have a near-instant branch in the right place that might otherwise have taken years to grow. If you go this route, do check the ties regularly. I would clean everything up the trunk to the height you want and then if it is not going to go back to an espalier, start looking for those potential formative branches.

If you haven't developed the habit of innately thinking about where your centre is, sticking a pole up against the trunk can give you a physical guide as to what is pointing outwards/inwards while you are working on a tree.

 

Varieties. You need a pollinating partner and don't know what you have which makes things trickier as you don't want to duplicate it. There are a couple of things you can reasonably guess - the age tells you it can't be one of the more modern introductions and there are also a few fairly self-fertile varieties so it can't be one of them. That would leave me looking at Conference (a bit dull but reliable), Concorde (modern and in my opinion an improvement on Conference), Beth (relatively modern, fruits in September so earlier than most, excellent flavour but it doesn't store so you have to like eating fresh pears from the tree as you will get quite a lot over a period of a month or so) and Beurre Hardy (named after Dr Hardy but happens to be hardy as well) which has a good flavour and is reliable. Make sure you know what the rootstock is - I would go for Quince A as it is fairly bomb-proof but if you need to keep it very small I would go for Quince C and be aware that it will need the area around the base kept clear of vegetation and may need watering for a few years.

 

There are many good suppliers of fruit trees. Generally, buying bare-root in the winter is cheaper if your local garden centre doesn't have what you want. If you want inspiration on the huge range of varieties available (with pictures and descriptions) I would look at Keepers Nursery - 


The Keepers Nursery fruit tree catalogue

(note that on their website there are tick-boxes at the top of the page which you have to check if you want to see all the varieties rather than just their most popular varieties. They also have a handy guide to choosing pears)

 

I don't buy many trees as I tend to graft my own, but when I do buy them they often come from Keepers because of the range available, or from R.V.Roger. I do not buy anything, ever. from Chris Bowers.

 

Alec

Edited by agg221
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