Caring for Asian Pear Trees

Q. When our tree first blossomed and started leafing out, we thought it was an apple tree.  The fruit started developing but looked a bit odd for apples.  Finally found out it was an Asian Pear. Last fall the waterspouts and crossover limbs were removed. There were lots of blossoms but little fruit this year. How and when should pruning be done?  Can the suckers on an Asian pear be used to start a new tree? Carol Weston – Roy, WA

A.  That is an easy mistake to make since another common name is the apple pear.  This is because the fruit have the round shape (more specifically the Chinese variety of pears – Japanese can be more “pear shaped”) of an apple and some of the nice crunch as well.  But as you noticed the skins are not as smooth and are tan in color. There is pruning that can be done both in the winter and early summer.  Winter pruning will remove flower buds that formed over the summer and early fall.  Summer pruning is for cutting back the ends of new growth to keep them in check and winter is for correcting structural problems, cutting back the leader or thinning out overlapping fruiting spurs.  Watersprouts and crossing limbs can be pruned winter or summer. Please learn from my mistake.  I waited for several years for my four-way (4 cultivars grafted on one tree) Asian Pear tree to start producing.  The flowering was great each year but for two years I only had about 4-6 pears.  I started training the limbs to grow laterally (this promotes fruit setting) and then I had a bumper crop.  I came out one sunny August day to find that a whole limb had pulled away from the trunk.  The tree had produced more fruit than it could handle.  The next year the tree set two fruit.  I should have known better but my gluttony got the better of me.  The moral of the story is to thin the developing fruit out early in the spring so that there are no more than 1 fruit for every six inches of branch. This will also prevent the heavy and light crop cycle. You can download a free Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) file from the Extension website called Training and Pruning Your Home Orchard: http://cru84.cahe.wsu.edu/cgi-bin/pubs/PNW0400.html
Although it is possible pears are not easily rooted.  Grafting or budding onto a specific rootstock is the common propagation method for pears and other fruit trees.  The rootstock is used to impart some favorable qualities to the tree like controlling the size of the tree, providing tolerance to certain soil conditions and early fruiting.  If you did manage to root a water sprout the plants would likely become much larger than the tree you have and take much longer to start setting fruit.

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