overgrown pear, need to bring it to manageable size

jojomojo(6b)February 22, 2014

First I'll say I don't really have any experience with fruit trees. We have 4 on our property that we bought a couple years ago. That first Spring I thought I was doing pretty good to figure out that we had 3 apples and a pear ;)

The pear seems like a fairly healthy tree. Its about 15' with branches starting about 3' from the ground. The thickest outward growth is from about 3'-6', above that it goes mostly straight up. Is it okay to cut the tall center trunk to bring it to a more manageable height? If so, what is the most I could cut at one time?

From what I read, most pears are not self-pollinating. I'm assuming someone near me has a pear tree. The first spring we lived here the tree was loaded with fruit, the second we got nothing. I'm fairly certain everything got zapped from a late frost/freeze (hit 32, maybe lower, the first week of June!).

If anyone can give suggestions on another variety & dwarf rootstock that would be good for my area & soil, I'd appreciate it. We're at 5600' in northern NM, zone 6a. We get very little rain (8"-12"/yr) but have irrigation. Our soil is terrible (ph is 8+, clay with a high water table - 2-4ft down, saline/sodic), but since the other trees are doing okay, I figure there's hope! I haven't done a soil test in the area where the pear is growing though, so maybe its not as bad as the area I had tested, but its certainly heavy clay with a high water table.

I appreciate any suggestions :)

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alan haigh

The only real danger in bringing down the height is the extra stimulation of heavy pruning can be an encouragement for fire blight but the chances are very good you'll avoid any difficulty- especially if you don't try to bring it down all the way in one season.

Many pears have the potential of bearing fruit parthenocarpically (without seeds) if the weather is sufficiently warm during and shortly after bloom. They are also exceedingly easy to graft another variety to, although not all pears are compatible pollinators, such as Seckel and Bartlett (or so I've often read).

    Bookmark   February 22, 2014 at 8:04PM
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To add another pear, you'll want to try to identify which type you have. It's best to pollinate a euro pear with another euro, and Asian pears with another Asian. Perhaps you could find something similar in the supermarket to identify it. Do you have a picture? Is it a "pear" shaped pear, or is it round? Do you eat it straight off the tree? Is it hard when eaten, or soft?

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 3:37PM
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Dwarf trees have weak roots in regard to supporting the tree. semi dwarf is better. you can control height through pruning.

For a second tree I would get a Bartlett pear from a reliable nursury such as raintree (chain store are often mislabeled). No way to know if it will be pollen friends with your tree, but the next step is to graft other varieties onto one or both. You might find some varieties that you like much better then the big tree and through gradual grafting make it mostly the preferred variety. I am in the process of doing that on my peach tree.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 9:59PM
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I went to a pruning seminar last year and the expert there suggested that one single cut below knee level is the best way to prune an over-tall, overgrown pear tree.

Then go buy a couple of new, young trees to replace it and keep them pruned to a manageable height in the future.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2014 at 11:21PM
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alan haigh

Paully, your expert is an absolute idiot, IMO. Pear trees are very slow to establish but very amenable to reconstruction. I seriously doubt your expert has spent much time doing old fruit tree reconstruction. There are very few people with the opportunity to actually gain much experience doing this kind of work.

I wish you'd let me contact your "teacher". I seriously believe he or she is performing a huge disservice by distributing terrible advice. The excuse would probably be that most people don't have the patience to perform this project correctly- not that it can't be done.

It is actually not very difficult and I was an instructor for many years at the New York Botanical Garden's School of Horticulture. I know of students who successfully carried it out based on what they learned from a single hand-out from my class.

I was actually reading a guide from UC Davis the other day that described standard procedure for drastically reducing a fruit trees height. There were no caviots, only the directions that it is most commonly done by reducing a tree one third a year towards the desired height. You cut to a point just above a vigorous lateral branch that is preferably at least a third the diameter of the trunk at point of cut.

The instructions even suggested that a one year, drastic reduction is a practical approach for a commercial arborist with an impatient client.

Google UC Davis, arborist guidelines for pruning fruit trees and I expect you can find it.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 6:54AM
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bhawkins - This is a European pear. It looked like your typical light green grocery store pear if I remember right. We only tried a couple of them. It definitely had a harder flesh. I'll attach pictures of the tree, but I don't have any of the fruit. Hopefully we don't get freezing temps in June again this year, maybe I can get one!

cckw - I'll definitely look for a semi dwarf and keep it pruned. Any trees I plant I want to keep as small as possible (I'm only 5' and not fond of ladders).

paully1 - No way am I going to cut the tree down. It is established, seems healthy, and produced a lot of fruit. Anything doing this well in my soil deserves a chance! :)

harvestman - Thanks for the tips. I'll search for that information.

The picture attached was taken 4/7/2012. The shape of the tree has changed a little since then. I did some pruning to open it up. Looking at the picture I realize my guessing on heights was a little off. The growth looks a bit tall & gangling starting around 7'.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 11:30AM
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That tree is not that bad. We have trees at my parents house that are over 20' tall and way overgrown. I come in there and just cutting off limbs to open it up and it seems to just grow that much faster. The trees get so overloaded they start breaking limbs. For advice I would listen to Harvestman. I have learned a lot by reading his posts.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 11:45AM
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I agree, its not in too bad of shape and seems healthy. I just need to bring it to a more manageable height.

I just went out and took a pic of the tree. I hope I didn't prune too heavily (last pruned it about a year ago I think). To be fair, it wasn't just me....the neighbors cows seem to think it tasted pretty good all last summer (biggest garden pests I've ever had). I mainly just took out crossing branches. It put on quite a bit of new growth last summer and seemed pretty happy.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 12:16PM
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I had a couple apple trees that were huge when I moved into my house. I pruned them heavily for two years in the spring and all it did was make them grow like crazy sending up water shoots. I finally summer pruned them last year in August and it seemed to do the trick. So if it were my tree I would give it a normal spring pruning to help with fruit set etc. and then give it a summer pruning for size.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 1:31PM
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Your tree doesn't look bad to me, I wouldn't do any drastic pruning.

Choosing the right rootstock is really really important. There are many choices, and many of them won't work for you. Hopefully a poster near you will tell us what he uses. Or possibly New Mexico State has some info.

If planting 2 or more pears, pollination wise, probably any 2 Euros (or possibly Hybrid pears like Keiffer? maybe, I'm not sure) will work with your existing tree. Again, hopefully someone near you will post what works for them. If planting one, perhaps a "combo" pear is best; all the grafting has been done for you; Raintree & other nurseries sell these.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 4:23PM
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alan haigh

If you want it lower you can easily take out the tallest part of the V at the top of the tree and tree will sustain a balanced and attractive form.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 5:29PM
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btw, if you add a pear for pollination...most euro's take 6-8 years to fruit...but a few, like Harrow Sweet, seem to produce pears for many people the 2nd year...

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 8:43AM
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harvestman - I think that's where I'll start this Spring - taking out that tall side of the V. Maybe at the end of summer or next spring I'll see how I can bring it down a little more.

bhawkins - Thanks! I had no idea it took pears so long to bear. I'm not even sure we'll live in this house another 6-8 years.

I just found Tooley's Trees - anyone heard of them? They say they specialize in trees adapted to our climate & soil (or, at least to their climate & soil a few hours from here...they're at nearly 8000'). I think this may be a good place to start for me.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 9:47AM
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alan haigh

Jo, fruit trees are clones grown on clone rootstocks- there is no such thing as what your promising nursery is hyping. I'd stay away from them and try one of the fruit tree nurseries in your state with an excellent reputation like Fowlers or Trees of Antiquity.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 8:15PM
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I looked at the website and missed what Harvestman is refering to when he talks about hyping- what am I overlooking here? I couldn't find a discussion on rootstocks, although they do mention grafting.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 9:06PM
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Maybe I worded it oddly. On their site they simply say they focus on varieties & rootstocks that do well here (mainly drought tolerant and high ph). Aren't there rootstocks that do better in alkaline soils? Have better drought tolerance? I don't think they are making any big promises or claiming to have something no other nursery has, unless I overlooked something too.

I'm open to other fruit tree nurseries in Northern NM, but I don't know of any.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 9:38PM
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Hman, I believe Jojomo is in the mountains of New Mexico, not CA. I haven't heard of Tooleys before, but judging by their website they seem like a good choice. Relatively local, they specialize in fruit trees, their euro pears are seckle, clapps favorite etc, all reasonable; a rootstock used is ohf333. I was going to tell jojomo "good choice"

Of course TyTy has a good website too. Hman, what am I missing?

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 8:13AM
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alan haigh

A clone is not adapted to a specific cliimate. Every named apple is genetically almost identical to every apple tree of that name (there are sports- sometimes many sports of some varieties which are minor mutations usually of better color than the original). The same deal with rootstocks.

When a nursery claims their fruit trees are adapted to local climate it is nonsense- Miller's used to do that, claimed their fruit trees were particularly hardy because they were located in an area with cold weather. I don't feel an ethical outfit would go that route. They know better.

The particular varieties they carry could be selected for a specific region, if that is actually their claim then I take it all back.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 5:16PM
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alan haigh

Sorry, I should have read your comment before firing off my explanation. They may well do what they advertise.

For pears, you probably would do best with Betufolia for drought tolerance.

For apples MM 111 is the most drought tolerant rootstock you are likely to find. Later flowering varieties such as Goldrush may be more reliable in New Mexico, where you probably often have untimely frosts.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 5:27PM
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