1. Q: Why did the leaves of my pear tree turn black?

A: Many pears are susceptible to fireblight. Plant a tolerant variety.

2. Q: When and how do you prune pear trees?

A: The less you prune pear trees the better off you will be because of fire blight. The more you prune, the more the growth which will be subject to fire blight. Lush growth is ultra-susceptible to fireblight.

3. Q: What can you spray on a pear tree to prevent it from bearing?

A: There is no spray that will prevent fruiting. Late summer defoliation will drastically reduce the amount of fruit produced the next year.

4. Q. I have a Monterrey pear tree which I dearly love except for the fact that black leaves and blackened, dead branches appear on it every year. I have been told that this is fire blight. What can I do to prevent this ugliness on my otherwise beautiful tree?

A. Antibiotics, such as streptomycin (Agri-Strep), and copper-containing products, such as Kocide 101, will control the fire blight bacteria if applied at the proper time. For these products to be maximally effective, the first spray should be applied at green tip. (Green tip refers to first bud activity on the tips of branches before bloom occurs.) The objective is to get the level of these products on and in the tissue as high as possible as soon as possible. Apply each product according to label recommendations. Applications should be made in a sequence of 4 or 5 sprays at 7-day intervals, or less if rain occurs, from the time of green tip through petal fall (when the petals fall from the flower). Applications before, during and after bloom are necessary since all pear blooms do not open simultaneously and to insure that the bacteria will be killed when the dirty-footed bees, which spread the fire blight bacteria visit. These products will not hurt the bee, just sanitize her! Control will not be 100% effective.

5. Q: We own a home just south of Fort Hood and have two Redspire flowering pear trees to plant. How close to one another must we plant them to assure that they pollinate properly and produce fruit? Also, would it make a difference if they are planted North&South or East&West? We would also like to plant Apple, Peach, Cherry, and Plum trees, do you have any recommendations?

A: Redspire flowering pear trees are just that, flowering trees, which produce no edible fruit. Ocassionally they do produce a small fruit which is not readily edible. Hence, use them as accent plants in the landscape and do not worry about pollination. These trees would pollinate other fruiting pears you may want to plant. Two very good choices are Orient and Warren. Also, do not be concerned about direction of planting as it won't really matter on small backyard plantings.

Two very good apple varieties for your area include Mollie's Delicious and Gala. You need to plant 2 apple varieties to insure pollination.

Good peach varieties include: Harvester, Majestic, Denman, and Redskin. Cherries will not fruit in your area.

6. Q: Three years ago, two Redspire pears were planted 25 feet apart. One is doing fine. the other has little vigor. each year the outer edges of the leaves brown, and the discoloration moves toward the center of the leaves. the tree defoliates, then produces new leaves. Culture for both trees is said to be the same. Could you give me a clue as to what is going on? Something fungal? If so, could you recommend a fungicide and a simple spraying schedule? I believe there's no evidence of spider mites, etc.

A: It sounds like you have a tree problem, rather than a disease problem. If it was a disease, it should be affecting both trees.

Trees which have a damaged root system from either cold (freezing), or drying out exhibit the symptoms you describe. It was probably not something you did, but rather what happened to the tree from the time it was dug at the nursery until you bought and planted the tree. Sometimes the trees eventually grow out of the problem, but for the most part, they never recover. Probably your best bet is to jerk this tree out and replant another tree.

The other possibility is that the tree is a different variety which is unadapted to your area. Again the best bet is to get a new tree. You probably want to move over a little bit when you plant the next tree. Also examine the root system for evidence of injury. The roots should be nice and white.

7. Q: How is the best way to tell when apples and pears are ripe?

A: Harvest time varies with individual tastes and locality. One may consider a fruit ripe while another individual believes it is immature. However, fruit picked too soon does not store well and does not develop full flavor.

Probably the most reliable index is the number of days after bloom: Red Delicious 135 - 155 days from full bloom to harvest whereas Granny Smith takes 170 - 180 days from full bloom to harvest.

Other factors to consider include seed maturity; in most cases the seed of mature apples will be turning black. Also the background color changes from green to yellow. Generally speaking, as red apples reach picking maturity the green peel becomes slightly yellowish. Green or yellow varieties change from green to creamy white or yellowish as they reach maturity.

The flesh of immature apples usually exhibits a greenish tinge. When ready to harvest most varieties become a creamy white or yellow.

Lastly is fruit drop. Normally when natural fruit drop begins, harvest should be well underway. Some varieties may not taste fully ripe when they drop. However, apples continue to ripen off the tree. So store them for several days at room temperature in a cool part of the house until there is sufficient conversion of starches to sugar to give them a good ripe taste.

When picking apples, it is important to avoid injury to the fruit. Remove the apple from the spur by pulling upward and outward while rotating the fruit slightly. On some of the thin, long-stemmed varieties such as Golden Delicious, it is sometimes necessary to firmly place the index finger at the point of attachment on the stem and spur to prevent the spur from breaking. Apples picked with the stem attached to the fruit keep longer.

The Oriental hybrid and European pears grown in Texas do not ripen well on the tree. They are ready to harvest when they change from hard to firm (firmness similar to a softball). Harvest maturity is usually indicated by a slight change from green to yellow.

Mature fruit will begin to drop even though still hard, if harvest is delayed. Most pear varieties in Texas reach harvest maturity in August and September. They should be picked and ripened off the tree. Pears remaining on the tree too long ripen poorly and have poorer texture and flavor.

Ripen pears at room temperature in a well ventilated area. They will ripen in 1 to 2 weeks. Refrigerate the fruit after ripening until consumed or processed. For longer storage life, refrigerate unripe pears as near 32 degrees F as possible and then ripen as desired.

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