Apples and pears make themselves at home
By Urban Harvest

Apples and pears are a delight in the home garden beautiful when in bloom, rewarding when in fruit and offering a graceful winter silhouette.

As if their beauty and delicious harvest were not enough, apples and pears are one of the easiest fruits to grow in the home garden. They require less pruning than stone fruits, and they do not demand a complicated spray schedule.

Apples and pears are in the family of fruits known as pomes fleshy fruits with several seed chambers instead of the single-seed characteristic of stone fruits such as peaches and plums. Other well-known fruiting pomes are loquats and quince, and ornamental favorites such as hawthorns, roses and pyracantha.

An apple or pear tree can be expected to live for decades, so choose your tree wisely. There are a few things you must take into consideration before making your selection: chill requirements, pollination, location and training method.

Chilling
Apples and pears grown in most of the Houston area must be rated as "low chill" varieties. Explaining chill hours thoroughly can get a bit complicated. Simply put, many fruiting and flowering plants require a period of exposure to temperatures between 32 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to complete dormancy, and be ready to bloom and set fruit the following spring.

This exposure does not have to be continuous. It is the cumulative number of hours throughout fall and winter. The total number of chill hours required varies greatly by variety.
The number of chill hours that can be expected also varies widely across the Houston area. The Cypress/Bear Creek area can expect approximately 600 hours, downtown can expect 450 hours, and the Pasadena/South Bay area can expect 350 to 450 hours.

Pollination
There are apple and pear varieties that are self-fruitful, meaning they do not require another variety to provide pollen in order to set fruit. Some do require pollen from another variety and even those listed as self-fruitful will benefit if there is another variety in the area.

This can be a concern for homeowners with space limitations. There are several ways pollination can be assured without planting an entire orchard of apples and pears.

Remember pollinating insects have a feeding range. The tree that provides pollen to your tree does not necessarily have to be in your own landscape. If a neighbor has a suitable variety in their landscape, your tree will benefit.

The pollinizer does not necessarily have to be a fruiting variety. Bradford pears and flowering crabapples can be used as pollinizers.

Another method to assure pollination is to plant the new two-in-one trees. These trees have two varieties grated to one rootstock, and are the perfect solution for the small garden.

Location
Apples and pears need plenty of sunlight to bloom and fruit properly. You will need a location that receives sun most of the day. Early morning sun and adequate circulation help the dew dry quickly, which can help to reduce the incidence of moisture-borne disease, lessening the need to spray.

Apples and pears require excellent drainage. Avoid any location where water stands for several hours after a rain. Plant them in raised beds if there is any doubt.

Training
Apples and pears lend themselves to more choices in training than almost any other fruit. They can be grown in standard tree form; trained as espalier against a wall or fence; or as a cordon, a row of trees each trained to a single, fruit-bearing stem.

Apples and pears are well-suited to the new high-density home orchard management system. This system is new relatively and it opens up opportunities to grow more varieties of fruit in the space allowed. Urban Harvest offers a class and the information is on Angela Chandler's website

Varieties
Anna and Dorsett Golden are two low-chill apples that are well-suited to our area.

Suitable pear varieties include Hosui, Atlas Super Orient, Southern Bartlett, Southern Queen, Tennessee and Tennesui.

These apples and pears will be among the fruits available at the upcoming Urban Harvest fruit tree sale on January 19th.

This article is provided by Urban Harvest, Inc. To learn about gardening classes, farmers markets, school and community gardens and more go to www.urbanharvest.org or call 713-880-5540 for more information. The article is written by Angela Chandle, who is a Harris County Master Gardener and Heidi Sheesley who is the owner of TreeSearch Farms Inc., a wholesale grower of perennials, natives and unique plants, HeidiInTheGarden@urbanharvest.org.