Gardens - Fruit & Vegetable Gardening

Juicy fruits: Pick fresh peaches and pears

Maribeth Fitts
Photography by
Gibson & Smith

Enjoy the ripe goodness of these homegrown summer treats

Picture a magnificent row of fragrant blossoms gracing your walkway each spring. Imagine the delights of plucking blush peaches or golden pears right off your own trees and carrying a heaping basket into the kitchen. Think about a bubbling pan of pear crisp or a peach pie fresh from the oven made with the fruits of your labours.

Site selection
Both species, especially peaches, are at the northern limit of their growing range in Southern Canada. Peaches are restricted to areas where they are produced commercially: southwestern Ontario, the Niagara Peninsula, the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia, some areas in the Okanagan Valley and coastal British Columbia. Outside these regions, the risk of mortality increases. At temperatures of -23°C or lower, bud death can occur. Even at slightly higher temperatures, peach trees are vulner able so a protected site is desirable.

Pears can be grown in a wider range of climates. Their northern limit extends from London to Kingston and up to the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, most of Nova Scotia and southern New Brunswick, southwestern Alberta and along the south coast of Newfoundland, as well as the peach-growing areas listed above. Even so, pears will sometimes lose flower buds (and subsequent fruit set) when late spring frosts occur in the northern limits of their regions.

When choosing a site, make sure there is sufficient room for the eventual mature size of your tree. Commercially, farmers plant fruit trees four to five metres apart to reduce competition for light and nutrients. Full sun is also important for proper fruit development and ripening.

Peach trees need deep, well-drained loam or soil, as they have little tolerance for wet feet. Pears are more tolerant of different soil types, but heavy clay or extremely sandy soils are the least desirable. Pears grafted onto dwarf quince rootstock need soil similar to that for peaches.

Choosing varieties at the nursery
Select well-known commercial varieties and purchase plants from a reputable garden centre or nursery for the best performance and survival.

In the nursery, look for good-sized caliper (14 to 17 millimetres in diameter), 1.5- to two-metre-tall trees that are free of gumming (an indicator of fungal canker). They should also have several supple, well-feathered, side branches, ideally placed all around the tree.

For peaches, a single specimen tree is sufficient in the home garden because they are self-pollinating, but at least two pear trees of different cultivars must be planted together to ensure successful cross-pollination and fruit set. 'Bosc' and 'Bartlett' are ideal companions for pollination.

Planting and early care
Prior to planting, test the soil for deficiencies and to determine fertility and pH status. Amend the soil as necessary; if the pH is less than 6.5, dig lime into the planting area long before transplanting. Well-rotted manure or compost can be added to the area, provided it's incorporated the previous fall.

Spring planting is most common; this is the best time to find decent fruit tree nursery stock. The trees should be planted with the soil line at about two centimetres below their graft unions. It's not necessary to trim the roots of nursery trees.

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