By David Rodriguez
A question that I am commonly asked is, “What is the simplest and easiest fruit tree to grow here in San Antonio?” Well, they are almost fool proof — oriental pear trees would be the simplest and easiest fruit tree for homeowners to grow. Fire blight has been the biggest disease factor in growing pears in Texas, so typically they are not commercially grown here, and are left for homeowners. Oriental varieties are more adaptable to the South instead of European pears. Those are commonly grown on the North and West Coasts. Many oriental varieties are very resistant to the Fire Blight disease and can be found in many old home sites throughout the South, including San Antonio.
Oriental pears can be grown in a wide range of soils. They can grow on heavy clay- caliche soils or sandy soils south of San Antonio. Few crops are better adapted to our climate than the oriental pear hybrids. They have low chilling hours of about 400 and can tolerate as high as 1200 hours.
As mentioned, fire blight resistance or tolerance is the major criterion in selecting pear varieties for San Antonio. Factors such as fruit quality and tree strength are also considerations. The following are five varieties that have passed the test of time in San Antonio. I have also included a brief description of each one. When you decide to plant try at least two different varieties. This is a good time to visit your local nursery, purchase, and get those pear trees in the ground! Look for the following varieties.
Orient is a large, excellent, flesh-quality pear. The tree has the best fire blight resistance. It holds its leaves well into the fall and is a reliable producer. The chilling requirement is low and can be grown in areas ranging from 400 to 1200 hours. This tree normally bears after 4 years and is self-sterile.
Kieffer is a hard pear which is tolerant of fire blight. This disease does not spread rapidly throughout the tree as in other varieties. The fruit has a moderate amount of grit and seems to lack the typical pear flavor. This type of tree is a very productive tree, normally bearing in five years, is vigorous and heat tolerant. This variety has a low chilling requirement and can be grown in areas receiving a range from 400 to 1,200 chilling hours. This is a self-sterile variety.
Moonglow is one of the newer oriental pear varieties, and is very fire blight resistant. This is a very vigorous tree that normally produces in about six years. This tree has excellent flesh and is great for preserves or canning. This would be the best pollinator for all other trees grown around this area. This variety hits the chilling hours here almost perfectly at 700 hours.
LeConte is a typical variety sold here, but does not have a good fire blight resistance. It is mentioned here because it is one of the oldest oriental varieties grown in San Antonio. The fruit has the typical pear shape and can be eaten fresh. It makes an excellent preserve with a low grit content. LeConte is a self-sterile variety with a wide range of chilling hours.
Garber is one my favorites. It is an early apple shaped vigorous pear. It has much better fire blight resistance then LeConte, with relatively low chilling hour requirements. This pear has a moderate amount of grit and is excellent for preserves or canning.
When you have decided on which varieties to plant, the next consideration is the area to grow your trees. The spacing of the trees should be at least 25 feet apart. Give them plenty of space to grow and to breathe (meaning they need ample air circulation between them). Pears do not like to be pruned severely, but at the initial planting you can lightly shape up to train them. Planting is simple, and your Certified Texas Nursery professional can aide with this. Keep trees well-mulched and provide extra supplemental irrigation in the summer time. Oriental pears require little fertilization and overall care. Find a nice spot in your home landscape that will provide room for at least two pear trees and enjoy them. These trees would be probably the easiest trees that you have ever grown and are expected to live for many years.
Remember, Learn and Have Fun!
David Rodriguez is the County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the Bexar County Master Gardeners AHotline@ at (210)467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at http:// bexar-tx.tamu.edu