Margaret Lauterbach

Pears, pears and more pears: These fruit trees are producing

Seckel pears are in abundance this year at the Lauterbach house.
Seckel pears are in abundance this year at the Lauterbach house. Washington Post file

Have you ever had a dessert pear? Seckel pear, a small delicious dessert pear, is known as the only true American pear because it allegedly first appeared as a mutation on a farm owned by a Mr. Seckel near Philadelphia in the early 1800s. Some folks think it’s a hybrid cross of a European pear with an Asian pear. It’s popularly known as a sugar or candy pear for its sweet flavor. Important to us in this area, it’s resistant to fireblight, while few other varieties of pear are resistant.

The tree itself is not huge, but nicely formed, a silhouette similar to that of young Linden trees. I planted a Seckel many years ago, and it bloomed every year without setting fruit. I had thought the Bartlett pear tree in our front yard would pollinate the Seckel, but obviously it was not. All pears need another variety to pollinate it, but that wasn’t working. I finally did a little research and learned that Bartlett is the only pear variety that does not pollinate Seckel.

We had bought fruit trees from Garden Center West (now closed) for years, so I ordered an Anjou pear tree from Garden Center West’s fruit tree source, Stark Brothers. It arrived when the Seckel was in bloom, and I was dismayed when I saw it was just a whip, a single stalk. I went to Costco and bought a pear tree that was in bloom, and planted it in the vicinity of my Seckel pear tree. Voila! Fruit set that year and for several thereafter.

Seckel pears are normally about 2 to 3 inches in height, regular pear shape but not much “neck.” We’ve had fruit for the past several years from this tree, but this year it’s overloaded, and many of the pears are larger than the regular size, almost round. Once they develop a yellowish blush, they’re ripe. High temperatures apparently helped.

Pears are ready to be picked when a slight touch dislodges them from their twig, and most pears ripen indoors since all pears ripen from the inside out. Seckel pears ripen on the tree, and those that fall are ripe, essentially picking themselves.

This year the fruit set on the Seckel was so heavy that it broke a high branch. We’ll trim it back when the tree is dormant. Now the pear “whip” is tall and bearing fruit, and so is the Costco tree. I’ve lost ID tags from both, but I presume that the “whip” tree is an Anjou since its fruit began dropping in early September, and the Costco tree is something else, perhaps Comice, since it appears to be ripening later.

If you’re just starting to plant fruit trees, you can plant two trees in the same hole. I don’t think we knew that when we planted the Bartlett pear nearly 50 years ago, but we’ve had fruit from it for about 47 years, even though there’s not another pear tree in our vicinity. The explanation may lie in the fact that the Bartlett has two trunks, one probably a sucker from below a graft. A serendipitous sucker.

I don’t know why, but we have had fewer codling moth problems this year than in years past. There were none in the white peaches this year, but the past few years have seen many such invasions. The Gravenstein apples, the first fruit to ripen, were invaded by codling moth larvae in about the same numbers as usual. Some of the pears, many of the Seckel pears, were free of those larvae. My pear trees do have a destructive insect in residence, however: pearleaf blister mites.

These tiny mites, seen only under magnification, raise blisters on pear leaves, in which they lay eggs. The blisters turn red, then black, looking like black streaks or skid marks on leaves. Larvae feed under bud scales in winter, sometimes causing buds to dry and drop off, then in spring they feed on emerging leaves from the appearance of green tip through bloom. Their feeding on fruit buds causes misshapen and damaged fruit.

Control is through dormant spraying, from post-harvest until spring. If your pear trees have similar symptoms, see for control options.

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