Buying Fruit Trees

By Jeff Rugg

May 15, 2019 5 min read

Q: I need to replace a pear tree. The first one was planted in the fall; last spring, it didn't bloom, which is normal for a newly planted pear. However, what wasn't normal was that the tree started dying from the top down. It was exhibiting the symptoms of fire blight, which, as you know, is a quick-acting and deadly disease in pears. Fire blight is often spread by bees to the flowers on the trees, but this one had not bloomed. I don't know how it got fire blight, but I need a new pear that is resistant.

I already have a Summercrisp pear from the University of Minnesota that is self-fertile and resistant to fire blight, but it will bear more fruit if another kind of pear is nearby. I have read about so many pear varieties that I am lost on which one I should choose. Do you have a preference for what kind of pear I should try?

A: Ah, yes, there is a thing called the "tyranny of choice." When there are too many options to choose from, we become confused and have an increased chance of regret. Gardeners experience this every spring when shopping for flowers.

In your case, I think the Kieffer pear is a good choice, as it is also self-fertile and resistant to fire blight. It is a hybrid between a European Bartlett pear and an Asian pear. The cross was accidentally founded in the late 1800s by Peter Kieffer near Philadelphia. Your Summercrisp will produce fruit in the summer; the Kieffer will produce in the fall and store well into winter.

When choosing any new fruit tree, there are a few things to look at. First, the tree will be grafted so that you have the type of fruit you are looking for. The rootstock will often be one that causes the tree to be smaller. Make sure the graft union is strong, healing properly and not crooked. You will often find a short stub left from the original rootstock tree's trunk. This needs to be pruned flush so that the tree can properly heal over this area.

Second, the tree trunk will have been pruned so that the tree will sprout branches below that location. A bushier tree will sell better than a tall single trunk. Make sure that the branches come out in the pattern you want. For apples and pears, we want the branches to grow outward all around the tree trunk and be evenly spread up and down the trunk. If you want to plant the tree as an espalier against a wall or fence, then the branches can just point out to the sides. Look at the pruning cut on the trunk and branches. Are there any stubs? Dead stuff decays, and we do not want to leave the stubs. There might also be a branch or two that is growing in the wrong direction or vertically, trying to become a second trunk. Prune those off.

Third, is the trunk straight, and does the top need to be pruned? At the nursery, some of the taller trees can have broken tops or branches.

Before planting, wash the soil off the roots. The tree might have been grown in a pot and have circling roots that need pruning or straightening. The tree might have been grown in a field and only transferred to the pot recently. Damaged roots may need to be pruned.

Dig a hole wide and deep enough for the roots. Plant the tree at the same level at which it was growing before. This may or may not be the same level as the soil in the pot or the soil in the burlapped ball. Look closely at the tree trunk for any difference in color to indicate where the soil line was originally. Do not add fertilizer or special soil to the hole. Fertilizer can damage the roots, and special soil may entice the roots to stay where they are and not grow out into the surrounding soil as much as they should.

A properly planted tree usually doesn't need to be staked, but if the tree has a small root system and a large top that will catch the wind, it may be a good idea to stake it in place.

Email questions to Jeff Rugg at [email protected] To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: _Alicja_ at Pixabay

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