Apple and Pear Trees

Apple and Pear Calendar; Zone 7b; Chatham County, North Carolina
Rene Higginbotham

Growing apples in a home setting is moderately challenging. Pears are slightly easier to grow because they have less pest issues. Before planting apple and pear trees, consult your local North Carolina Cooperative Extension Office. We offer research-based information that can help make growing apples and pears more successful.

If it seems apples and pears may be too difficult, consider planting native crabapple trees. You can still have the flowering spring beauty and shape of the trees while supplying native pollinators and wildlife with essential food.

Links to online resources where you can find apple and pear trees grown for our area are listed at the end of this section.
Site Selection

  • Soil Type and Drainage
    • Apple and pear trees need well-drained, fertile soil. If necessary, raised beds can be constructed to improve drainage.
  • Soil Fertility
    • Ideally, pH should be around 6.5. A soil test should be completed prior to planting. If creating raised beds, conduct soil tests after amendments such as compost are added
  • Air Drainage
    • Choose a site that allows cold air to flow downhill away from fruit trees. Avoid low sites.
  • Sunlight
    • Apple and pear trees need full sunlight.
  • Variety Selection
    • Apple varieties known to grow well in North Carolina include the following: Gala, Ginger Gold, Jonagold, Empire, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Crispin (Mutsu), Stayman, Rome and Fuji.
    • For apple varieties requiring cross-pollination, at least two types with overlapping bloom periods must be planted together. Even when planting self-fruitful varieties, pollination by another variety will increase yield and quality.
    • Apple trees are grown on a wide variety of dwarfing rootstocks that control the size of the tree without reducing the size of the fruit.
      Pear varieties that can be successfully grown in our area include ‘Kieffer’, ‘Moonglow’, ‘Magness’ and ‘Seckel’.

      • Popular varieties such as ‘Bartlett’ and ‘Anjou’ are not recommended for our area because they are highly susceptible to fireblight.
      • ‘Kieffer’ is an old variety that produces large, hard pears popular for canning and preserves but not for eating fresh.
      • ‘Moonglow’ and the ‘Magness’ are good pears to eat fresh; however, the pollen of the Magness is sterile and requires another pear such as Moonglow for pollination.
      • ‘Seckel’ or Sugar Pear has very small fruit with excellent flavor.
  • Planting
    • The best planting time for apple trees in North Carolina is late fall or early winter. Pears can be planted after Thanksgiving or in early spring.
    • Roots will grow through the winter, resulting in greater tree growth during the first season.
    • Dig a hole twice the size of the root system, remove damaged roots at the point of injury, and shorten any long roots that will not fit in the hole. The graft union should be 2 inches above the soil. Fill the hole with native soil. Never add fertilizer to the planting hole.
    • After the hole has been filled, water the area well.
    • Unbranched trees should be pruned to 32 inches above the ground. With larger trees, remove the top ⅓ of the tree.
  • Weed Control
    • All vegetation under the trees should be controlled up to the drip line (the circle formed by the outermost branches of the tree).
    • Handweeding, herbicides and mulch are recommended weed control options.
    • Avoid using mechanical cultivation to eliminate weeds because tree roots near the surface will be destroyed in the process. The cutting line of weed trimmers can strike the bark of the tree and crush layers of cells under the bark without any visible signs of injury.
    • When using herbicides, follow label instructions and keep the product off the tree.
    • A mulch layer of 3 – 4 inches will control weeds and conserve moisture.
    • To diminish the presence of voles and mice, place guards or traps around the base of the trees.
    • Mulch should be pulled back 1 foot from the tree trunk in early fall.
  • Insect and Disease Control
    • Pests can be controlled with commercially available pesticides, including organic products. Treatment must be started before problems become severe.
    • Contact your local North Carolina Cooperative Extension office for assistance identifying pests and recommended control measures.
    • Some varieties of apples and pears are very susceptible to fire blight, a bacterial disease that can kill limbs and even entire trees. Choose resistant varieties and avoid over fertilization of trees to minimize fireblight. Pruning out infected limbs and the application of antibacterial sprays can help control fire blight in moderately susceptible varieties.
    • Begin a spray program with dormant oil to control mites, scale and other overwintering insects in January and February. Applying a home fruit spray throughout the growing season will ensure the best quality fruit.
      • Make the first application at petal fall in the spring, then spray every 10 to 14 days until harvest.
      • Never spray pesticides on open blossoms as this will harm pollinators.
    • Many pest problems can be reduced through proper sanitation. Remove and burn or bury dead, diseased, and damaged wood and fruit as soon as possible.
    • Remove leaves after they have fallen in autumn. Do not use leaves as mulch.
  • Fertility
    • Test soil every 2-3 years to monitor nutrients in the soil and soil acidity.
    • Observation of the amount of vegetative growth can also be used to judge nutrient needs.
    • Trees with less than 10 inches of current season’s growth on lateral branches may need fertilizer. Trees with greater than 18 inches of growth may not need fertilizer for several years. Excessive tree growth can promote some pest problems.
    • When fertilizer is needed, it is applied in late winter by broadcasting on the soil surface, both inside and outside the drip line.
    • Keep fertilizer at least 6 inches from trunks of young trees. Synthetic 10-10-10 or an organic, slow release fertilizer such as Plant-tone can be used. Follow label directions and apply based on soil test recommendations.
  • Fruit Thinning
    • Apples and pears must be thinned early in the season to prevent overproduction which can result in smaller fruit, increased limb breakage, and increased insect and disease problems.
    • Fruit should be thinned when they are about the size of a nickel. Leave only one fruit per cluster.
  • Training and Pruning
    • Fruit trees have specific training and pruning needs. The goal of tree training is to direct tree growth into a form that maximizes future strength and fruit production. Training fruit trees begins as soon as the trees are planted.
    • Pruning performed during the winter is commonly referred to as dormant pruning. Dormant pruning begins with the removal of damaged, diseased and dead wood. This is also the time to develop the tree’s desired shape. A central-leader training method is recommended for apple and pear trees.
    • To learn more, download a copy of Training and Pruning Fruit Trees from NC State Extension.
  • Harvesting
    • Apples ripen at various times in the late summer and early fall. Pears tend to ripen later than apples. Check for ripeness by taste, skin color, seed color and texture.
    • A ripe apple or pear will easily separate from the tree with a twist of the wrist.
    • Rapidly cool harvested fruit to increase storage life. Rdd apple varieties may fail to develop good color in our climate due to warm nigh temperatures.
      January
      ● Spray apple and pear trees with horticultural oil to control mites, scale and overwintering insects.
      February
      ● Prune apple and pear trees before flower buds begin to swell.
      March
      ● Fertilize if needed based on soil test results.
      ● Start a spray program as soon as the petals fall from the flowers. Spray every 10 to 14 days with a home fruit tree spray to control insects and diseases.
      April
      ● Thin fruit to prevent limb breakage and to reduce insect and disease problems.
      ● Fruit should be thinned when they are about the size of a nickel. Leave one fruit per cluster.
      May
      ● Check apple and pear trees often for signs of fire blight.
      ● Control weeds by mulching, handweeding and carefully application of herbicides.
      ● Monitor rainfall and ensure that apple and pear trees receive at least 1 inch of water per week during the growing season.
      August
      ● Harvest apples when a twist of the wrist will release them from the tree.

September
● Harvest pears when a twist of the wrist will release them from the tree.

October
● Take soil samples and submit to the NC Department of Agriculture’s Agronomic Division.

November
● Clear turf or weeds from the area right around the trunk of the tree.
● Pull mulch back 1 foot from fruit trees to minimize the risk of vole damage.
● Remove leaves and any unharvested fruit; do not use leaves as mulch if they show any signs of disease.
● Plant new apple and pear trees after Thanksgiving.

December
● Plant new apple trees during December and January.

Resources
Producing Tree Fruit For Home Use
Training and Pruning Fruit Trees in North Carolina
Growing Apple Trees in the Home Garden
Growing Pears in NC
North Carolina Production Guide for Smaller Orchard Plantings
Disease and Insect Management in the Home Orchard
Caring for Young Fruit Trees: Almanac Gardener
Growing Fruits and Berries 101
Century Farm Orchard