If you purchase trained fruit at a garden centre they often come attached to an impressive bamboo frame (like the one below). The frame can be a real distraction because what you are actually getting – and what you need to think about before parting with your cash – is the structure of the tree strapped to it. The photo to its right shows the same tree in the nude, looking a lot less impressive. The trick when purchasing is to take note of the actual tree form, and see past the fancy-pants frame. In the case of the tree below, the shape was something I could work with, so was ideal.
To decide if the pre-trained form is suitable for your needs you need to have an idea about the final form you are after. I chose the one above because I want to create a fan and this specimen has a reasonable symmetry with three shoots on each side. If there were an odd number I would be cutting out the central one anyway.
Traditional fan trained trees have a form like this:
The one I have bought could be used for this classic shape if I cut out the central leader along with the top four shoots leaving just two side shoots, but I’m not going to. The ‘risk’ in trying to train all six shoots, rather than training just two as in the diagram above, is that the top shoots will be more vigorous, and I may struggle to train the lower ones to the full width. However, this is less of a problem with a pear than it would be with a cherry or plum, and that’s what makes pears (and apples) suitable for training as espaliers with three or four completely horizontal tiered branches like this:
So my plan is to go somewhere between these two traditional forms: a kind of espaliered-fan! There are no hard and fast rules in this game, and half the fun is seeing how it turns out. For other trained forms see my dedicated page here.
Other things to look for when purchasing pre-trained fruit trees:
- Check there are no damaged areas, particularly around pruning scars or at the graft.
- Check that all the shoots are healthy, flexible and vigorous (with good buds)
- Check that the graft is a good 4-6in (10-15cm) above the soil, and is clean and sound
I bought my pear from a local garden centre, rather than ordering it online. This has the advantage that I could check it over before purchase, see healthy buds about to break on all the shoots, plus it gave me the flexibility to buy it on a weekend when I had time to plant it immediately. Oh, and it also comes with a “guarantee for life” – what ever that is. Ordering online from a reputable nursery will inevitably give you more choice and will probably be cheaper – although savings can be lost on delivery charges unless you are ordering several trees. Another problem is that such nurseries tend to sell out in the autumn, and I wanted to purchase in the spring.
Two things to consider if you are thinking of purchasing from a garden centre: first, they only keep small stocks of trained fruit (if they stock them at all) so if you are desperate to secure one you are best off ordering from a nursery in the autumn. Secondly, many garden centres often keep unsold stock for a year or two. Avoid older plants, as not only will they have suffered nutrient deficiency from living in a pot under the dubious care of garden centre staff, but the shoots become less flexible with age and you are likely to snap branches as you set about the initial training.
It is sensible to get your support wires in place before you plant the tree (I use Grippler nylon wires – I much prefer them to galvanised steel). These wires should stand clear of the wall or fence by a couple of inches (5cm) to provide air flow behind the plant. The tree is then planted so that the plane of the branches are a further inch or two in front of the wires. If your plant is not quite flat, it should still be OK as long as there is enough flexibility in the shoots to bend them into place. Any branches that are pointing significantly out of plane should be cut off. Make sure that you plant the graft well clear of the ground to minimise infections and avoid rooting or suckering from the graft joint.
Bamboo canes are fastened to the two lower-tier branches and gently lowered to a suitable angle. Whilst doing this they should not be allowed to fall, as they might snap the branches. Once a position is found the cane can be tied in a couple of places to the support wires to hold it in place. These ties should be adjustable, so the canes can be moved later in the year as the shoots extend
The young growth (last season’s) is the most flexible, whereas older wood is more brittle and prone to snapping. Lower-tier branches will have two-year old wood at their base, so need gentle handling. It is possible to bend the older wood less and the younger, newer extension growth more – you can see this particularly on the left hand branch above.
The right hand branch is not as straight as I would like, but it will still be amenable to adjustment towards the end of the coming year once it has thickened up and has new extension growth – so I’ll adjust it then. Over-tightening the ties now can restrict growth and cut into the expanding wood.
The second tier is treated the same. These shoots are one year old wood all the way back to the trunk, so are easily bent through a large angle, however, their weak point is where they meet the trunk, so I try to avoid putting strain there. This is achieved by placing the first cane tie several inches from the joint so that the main flexing is beyond this point.
Finally the top tier shoots are tied in completing the initial training. In late summer, once the majority of growth has taken place, I will revisit the shape as a whole, possibly training the lowest tier horizontally along the second wire, but for now I’m happy with the shape.
Here’s what it looks like. I have deliberately used long canes to fill the final space I hope it will occupy. I’ve done that mainly for visual impact: In practice I will change these canes every year or so as I train and tie in new growth.
Variety – Concorde
As this is the first and possibly only pear I will have in my garden I went for a self-fertile variety, although it would do better with a pollinator. Luckily, our neighbors five doors down have two conference pear trees in their garden, so I can be fairly sure of getting some cross pollination.
According to Orange Pippin Trees:
Concorde is without doubt one of the best pears for the UK. It is a fairly new variety, but combines the strengths of two classic 19th century varieties. From Conference it inherits reliability, cropping potential, and excellent suitability for the UK climate. From Doyenne du Comice it inherits top quality flavour. The result is a pear that tastes as good as many of the old-fashioned European pears, and yet grows well in the sometimes marginal conditions of an English summer.
The fruit is very similar to Conference in appearance, tall and pear shaped with extensive russet. The skin colour is variable, normally a yellow-cream colour but it may sometimes be flushed from exposure to sunlight.
Concorde performs well in many situations and is a good choice for growers who want to produce pears organically or without chemicals.
I’ll take off any blossom this year so the tree can put its energy into growth. Next year I might let it set one or two fruit. After that I expect I’ll have to thin it as it is very heavy bearing, but I should get a large crop, possibly with a good red blush as the sun will get to the fruit easily.
I’ll keep you posted!
UPDATE: Late summer 2016
The pear has grown nicely. Compared to the apples it has had far fewer pests. The first flush of leaves were perfect, although the later growth was less happy. You can see that the new vertical shoots have much smaller leaves. Even so the fruit is almost perfect – well formed and handsome. We have picked one, and are currently ripening it in doors. We will pick the others soon.
Those long vertical new shoots are perfect for training, so today (Sep 24th) I got my secateurs, canes and ties, and made a start:
If you study the two photos you will see which canes have been added, and which have been lowered and raised. Branches on the old canes are still flexible enough to move a short distance, which creates room for the new shoots to be tied in. Hardly any growth needed cutting back. Almost everything could be trained into the existing space.
At this stage I am still creating the basic framework. Next year the older branches will be less flexible and will probably remain in their position for the rest of the tree’s life. New growth, extending from their tips, however, will be supple enough to train into the gaps around the periphery. Thus the fan ‘grows’.
Here’s the first pear of the season. It’s pretty well perfect. I think it was picked a little early, and we only ripened it indoors for a week. I reckon it could have done with another week. That said, it was sweet, crisp, mildly fragrant and really tasty.
UPDATE: Spring 2018
April. The fan-form is taking shape nicely, and the pear tree is growing healthily. We didn’t get many pears last year, and this spring there are only a few clusters of flowers, so probably not many pears this year either! Still, this is a young tree (3 years now) so is likely to become more productive in time.
Trained pears can live for many decades, so it has plenty of time… For now I can enjoy the beautiful (if sparse) blossom:
UPDATE: Summer 2018
July 26th. An ideal time for summer pruning. The new shoots of pears become woody earlier than apples, so late July is ideal for summer pruning. Apples must wait until late august otherwise they are likely to make a lot of vegetative growth.
Before pruning (above) You can see lots of vertical shoots in the middle, as well as many side shoots that have formed along the main stems. These are all cut back to 4 or 5 basal leaves.
After pruning (above) A much neater fan, which hopefully will produce a lot of happy flowering buds and, perhaps, next year, some pears!