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Advice on pruning an elderly pear tree

Hi, I have an old pear tree, at least 70 years old. On-line videos I have seen are aimed at younger trees. Mainly I am not sure what to do about all the "fussy" rather "busy" little twigs - do some need to go? I attach photos. (I used to get it done by a professional when I had the apple tree as well, the apple tree needed loads more off and I feel a bit silly and pathetic getting someone to come in when I think there's not much to take off probably). Any advice much appreciated! Thanks Gillian 


  • bédébédé Surrey Hills, acid greensand.Posts: 1,352
    We had one like that when I was a child.  Does it still crop well?  Are the fruits worthwhile?

    1.  Leave alone.

    2.  Replace with a young tree or trees.    But in clean soil to avoid Specific Replant Disorder.
    "Have nothing in your garden that you don't know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 21,224
    The fussy little bits are the bits that will have flowers on them.

    Does it flower well?  Enjoy the flowers. And if it fruits, so much the better.

    If it were mine I’d admire its structure and see it as a feature of the garden. 
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Central Norfolk UKPosts: 82,221
    I agree … a venerable pear like that doesn’t need pruning,  other than to remove unhealthy or crossing boughs. 

    The twiggy side shoots are the flower and fruiting and hopefully they were ripened well in last years sunshine and will produce well this year. 

    I’d love to see a photo when it’s in blossom … a mature pear covered in blossom is a beautiful thing. 😊 
    “I am not lost, for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.” Winnie the Pooh

  • Dear all, thank you very much for your very helpful advice and comments. I am sorry I can't work out how to reply to each individually so all in one box...
    I will confess my main interest is I like it in the garden and enjoy it being there, I don't mind if it produces fruit or not. It has been producing pears which the blackbirds have more of than I do and seem to really enjoy and birds sit in it. It has been kept fairly small, 12-15 feet in height. So I guess I will just take off what I think are called "watershoots" - the thin growth on the top? sometimes it puts on 8-10 inches, not so much last year I think perhaps because of lack of rain and due to an accident I couldn't get out watering as I would have wished. 
    I have been a bit concerned about branches that are thick and crossed. I was wondering if one should come out. I'd have said one inch in diameter, maybe slightly more. Someone told me though that "old trees are like old people, they like to be left alone" would you agree with that? I am only 59 but already I can see where that is coming from :-) Another photo attached at end.
    I am hoping it survives whatever winter gales are coming and if so I will post a photo of it. Some years it has more blossom than others. 

    Last winter sadly the apple tree of similar age blew down. Bedes remark on soil replacement interests me. My knee jerk reaction was to plant another cooking apple tree straight away but I was told they do not do well in the same spot. Also to avoid anything "water hungry" (cherry?) for the sake of my foundations. It's a bit hard to explain but I am a bit limited in where I can sensibly put a tree as I there is a retaining wall of increasing height as the road slopes down but the garden stays level and I'm thinking a tree with its roots right next to it at its higher points would not be one of my better ideas. 
    If I did soil replacement how much soil would need to go?
    Would a young and vigorous tree sort of out compete an older tree and kill it off? (They were not that far apart, and a new one couldn't go that far away)
    Any suggestions for a suitable tree happily received - whatever it's natural height I would need to keep it pruned to about 12 feet I think. 
    If it makes any difference, I live in north east England, 5 mins walk from the coast and I think the soil will be more alkaline than acidic as the rock is limestone. 
    Thanks ever so much for the help,

  • bédébédé Surrey Hills, acid greensand.Posts: 1,352
    edited 24 January
    I forgot about the blossom.  Silly.

    My childhood tree used to drop hard pears that then rotted.  These attracted dozens of Red Admirals.  Those were the days.

    Regarding how much soil to replace to avoid SRD.  I don't know, but it's a commonly reported problem with roses.  Perhaps the rose enthusiasts will know.  Pear is a member of rosacea I think.
    "Have nothing in your garden that you don't know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."
  • pansyfacepansyface PEAK DISTRICT DerbyshirePosts: 21,224
    edited 24 January
    Water shoots are the result of over enthusiastic pruning - vandalism, to put it politely. They grow up to a metre in the year following this. Your don’t have water shoots. 

    Yes, we oldies like to be left alone.  If you feel the need to prune it, do as Dove says and just cut out smallish branches that crowd the centre of the tree.

    One way to get round soil replacement would be to buy your new tree and grow it in a large pot for a few years. Then plant it in the ground. The soil should have had time to “forget” about the first tree, if it was a problem.
    Apophthegm -  a big word for a small thought.
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen Spain.Posts: 6,548
    I sincerely hope you don’t have to replace that characterful tree, but if you did have to make that decision at some point, in addition to the full soil replacement or pre-pot growing mentioned by Pansy and Bede, there is indeed a another method rose growers use - the box..

    This still involves swapping the soil (but rather less volume) with some from another part of the garden where any other member of the rosaceae family has not been grown.

    Choose a sturdy cardboard box around half as much again wider and deeper than the rootball of the new tree. Dig out a space big enough to accommodate said box, water the hole well to settle the soil below then slide the box in so the the top is slightly proud of the surrounding soil (adjusting the soil level below as necessary). Then place a little of the ‘clean’ soil in the box, plant and backfill around the new specimen so the soil in the box is level with the top of the box.

    The whole box can still settle a bit further, hence planting it a smidge higher initially so it ends up level with the surrounding soil. By the time the box rots and the tree pushes it’s roots out beyond it, all is well.
  • Dear all, thank you so much for all the comments and information, they have been great to read, very informative I have learnt lots, and I feel more comfortable now that I can do my best for my elderly pear tree. I really appreciate the time people have taken to help me. Hopefully it will survive whatever winter gales are perhaps to come (unlike the poor apple tree last year) and I will be able to post a picture of it with its blossom in the spring. Thanks ever so much, Gillian
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