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Pruning an old pear tree

My neighbor has given me permission to prune her old pear tree. Last year it produced LOTS of pears, most of them little woody in places, but quite palatable. The kids loved them, and I made pear butter.

But the poor tree needs some serious pruning. I don't believe it has ever been pruned, has a lot of dead branches, and very little structure. It is right next to a bradford pear, only a couple feet away, so that their branches intertwine on one side (I don't think she'll let me cut the bradford pear down as it is more ornamental). It is about as tall as our two-story houses, so it's been around a while.

So where do I begin? Shall I just take out the dead branches to begin with and wait for next year to do more? I know you're not supposed to remove more than a third of the tree in any one session--but a third of this tree would be a LOT.

Thanks for any suggestions or references.

Heather
 
I'd take out the old dead stuff this year and than in the future work on heading off limbs and getting watersprouts off. pears do not need the pruning that apples need.

The reason your pears were woody is you waited until the ripened on the tree before picking. pears must be picked green and allowed to ripen off the tree to prevent the gravelly stuff. we pick ours in August/September and eat/sell them late Spetember through November
 
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Definitely remove the dead wood and then I would also remove any branches (or twigs) that cross each other and rub on one another. If they rub they can damage the bark and let in disease or pests.
 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ LAUS DEO, Where ever I go, there I am. ..... major at nwi dot net ..... Zone 6a, Eastern Washington, sagebrush high desert, Columbia plateau.
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My forester friend just pruned our new and old fruit trees, and Major is on the right track for sure. He starts with taking out old dead wood, then looks for any branches that are crossing and rubbing. Most fruit trees bear fruit on horizontal branches, so you want to take out as much vertical growth and encourage the horizontal growth. You also want to eliminate crowding and spaces shared by more than one branch of the same size that are growing in the same direction.

Overall, the idea is to encourage horizontal growth and thin out - sometimes taking 1/2 to 2/3 of the branches - so the tree can breathe and grow in the way you want it to. Eliminating crowding will also help prevent disease and pest problems. Our plum "bush" is now looking like a tree and is about 1/3 the size it was. I am anxious to see what kind of fruit we get this summer, as well as if it gets aphids or not.

It may be worth surfing the web for some visual aids or browsing a bookstore or library for some formal instructions. Not that you can't wing it, but with an old tree you may want to make sure you nurture it and train it well. You will be rewarded for sure!
 
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In addition to the pruning, I've heard, seen, and applied the "partridge in the pear tree" technique to getting more horizontal branching: hanging weights from the branches to spread the tree out, if it isn't espaliered.

I don't know how much success I've had with the technique: I hung a few bricks from the branches two years ago, had one crop of 6 pears (the previous years were 5, 3, and 1, going back in time). We'll see what I get this year, as there is now some older horizontal growth.
 
[hr]I have three seasons: GROW, *SEW*, and SEED CATALOG!
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Bump
 

Abigail, all 9 kids grown and 16 little gardeners: what a harvest!

Zone 7a, Far Rockaway, New York

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I'm sure I mentioned this, and the post disappeared... DIRT PIT! YOU'VE BEEN MEDDLING! Razzer

I mentioned hanging heavy weights from the branches of the tree, to train them horizontally without actually tying them to an espalier. After a season with a half-brick hanging off the end, the branch grows horizontally, and sends up vertical shoots along the length.

I tried this last year, but didn't notice a huge increase in harvest. However, we didn't have nearly the sunlight we should have had, so pollinators weren't out and about as much, and the farms across the main road had all been razed for development, so our bee population nosedived. (Nose dove?) Anyway. This year, I'll see if I get more than 6 pears.
 
[hr]I have three seasons: GROW, *SEW*, and SEED CATALOG!
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Hey, thanks everyone for the great responses! I've been out of town and unconnected (to the Internet, that is) for a few days. Boy, a lot has happened around here in those few days!

Thanks for the help, and I'll be sure to take it slow and easy this year. The tree has survived (and fruited) this long without my help, so I'm not going to do anything major right off the bat.

Thanks too for the advice on the fruit! I'll be sure to pick sooner this year, and let it ripen in my kitchen. Should it be in a cool dark place, or a sunny one?

Thanks!!!
 
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