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pear tree problem from newbie  RSS feed

 
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I have been stalking this forum for about a year now, and it is amazing. Seriously, what a wonderful community! I can actually spend time reading many different things without being bombarded by advertisements or having people be nasty to each other.  I have never posted before because I am very intimidated by how much everyone seems to know and how little I have to contribute.  Over the last two years I have just started to learn about gardening and have been doing little experiments here and there and just watching how things turn out.  It has been a mixed bag of success and utter failure.  Now I have what I consider to be a crisis and I am hoping someone has some insight that can help me, I can't give a lot of really helpful info because I just don't know very much sadly.

I live on a third acre in a suburb of Minneapolis, MN.  I bought the house my grandparents had lived in for 40+ years, but prior to me buying it had been vacant for several years.  So I am working to learn many things to set this place right, and honestly it has been very overwhelming with my lack of experience.  My grandparents were not particularly environmentally concerned but they had developed many habits that stemmed from being raised around the depression that fit well in to practices many use to be better stewards of the environment now (such as composting, water retention, growing perennials, and reusing things as many times and ways as possible).  It started this little journey of mine on some good footing.  One of the things I have neglected for too long is my grandpa's fruit trees.  My grandpa worked for many years as the head maintenance person for an orchard and learned grafting.  He was apparently well known for how good he was and several fruit trees in my neighborhood are his handy work.  My yard has a 30+ yr old pear tree he grafted and cared for.  Now it has been neglected for nearly a decade.  When I first moved in three years ago it was still producing edible fruit.  Then two years ago some of the fruit started develop a brown scab like growth on some of the fruit. I figured it was something to do with the weather that year and didn't think much of it.  Next year all the fruit were either scabbed or looked like they had been pelted with hail, and most of the leaves had developed spots.  I spoke to a landscaper friend who also has done some orchard maintenance and he said the tree is in desperate need of pruning.  Make sense, the tree is around 25 ft tall and is just a rat nest of branches.  I've seen tips on pruning and then when i am looking at my tree I wonder how removing that much growth is even feasible. He also suggested we do a copper spray treatment this spring to address what he suspects is a fungal infection. I am concerned about doing this treatment because I read it can lead to build up in the surrounding soil and bring havoc to water sources.  I am uphill from a creek that runs through a protected wildlife habitat and I feel it would be better to cut down the tree than do something that would cause damage to that ecosystem. To be clear, I do not want to cut down the tree I am pretty sentimental about it being my grandpa's handiwork.  Ethically I just don't want to do a bunch of damage to other living things to save it.  From my research a fungal infection sounds pretty accurate, but it also looks a lot like stony pit virus which from what I can see the only treatment is removal.  So my brain is just swirling with all these concerns about losing my tree, doing damaging treatments that may or may not even be helpful, or infecting other plants in the area. I don't know what to do. The professional resources I have seen all seem to point to using the copper spray, but i don't see any acknowledgment on those sources of the potential environmental impact so it makes nervous to even reach out to them for guidance. 

The friend is planning to come over this weekend to prune and I am also wondering if heavily pruning a sick tree would be too traumatic and if we should be considering less pruning to avoid shocking an already sick sick tree? I am fascinated by the fruit tree guilds I have been reading about and really want to make one, but I am wondering if I should hold until it is healthier to avoid possibly spreading whatever is making the tree sick to those plants or if the guild would help improve the health of the tree (as far back as i can remember the tree has only been surrounded by grass, which has become mostly dandelions/clover/and some other things I can't identify)

I would also like to add that in my research I feel like there is a severe shortage on resources to care for mature trees. I suspect the assumption is if the tree is that mature you have been doing good things, but in my case the person who knew the good things to do is gone and my do-nothing approach is obviously not good. Thank you in advance to anyone that takes the time to read this and even more thank you if you have any words of wisdom to offer
 
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Hello Ana!

It sounds like scab, which is relative to rain or the periods of moisture the tree is exposed to. Proper pruning will help, and a few other things as well. First things first, you need to get the tree healthy. Start by giving it proper ballenced nutrition, and creating healthy soil dynamics.  Have a qualified Arborist, who disinfects their tools, prune off anything dead, damaged or diseased this Spring. Fruit or leaf scab doesn't qualify as diseased, so don't worry about that now. Once the 3 Ds are done this spring, then you can do a 15% total thinning delegated to reduce height, and cantilever weight reduction on the large outter limbs. Thats about 7% thin to reduce height, and 7% thin on cantilever weight reduction, on the big heavy limbs. That's all the pruning I would recomend this year. Fruit trees need anual pruning, but for a pear, I would only recomend 15 to 20% per year in restoration and maintenance. Next dormant season, then do up to 20%, delegating each percentage to the most needed aspects of restoration or pruning. The main things you need to worry about with prunings, and why an experianced arborist is so important. Is finding an Arborist who will make the best cut selection, and find symbiotic solutions in working with the trees genetics as they relate to environmental expression. And in doing so, training the tree to recover from damage, thin for height reduction, thin for cantilever weight reduction, thin for light and air circulation, thin to maintain ballence, keep the tree beautiful, and of course water sprout removal. If they don't disinfect tools, dont use them.

For nutrition use Sea-90 minerals and Epsom salt, both at half doses quarterly. Also use properly aerated/brewed, worm casting/compost tea. For applying the tea, spray the entire tree, its leaves, and the soil out past the drip line applied quarterly. The tea properly made and applyed, acts as a probiotic, that will fight against the pathogens which cause scab. Also mulch the ground with some well made ballenced compost, mixing in your ammendments, and get some healthy ballenced soil going. If you want to run a soil test, I would recomend doing it before doing your yearly amendments of mulch, so you can adjust your mix accordingly. After the first year of tea spraying, and prunning, things should improve drastically. The scab is more of a cosmetic issue, that tends to be problematic in wet springs, or when fruit trees go unpruned to a degree that it lets moisure linger. Im guessing your situation was a combination of both, but don't let the scab bother you. Scab blows around in the wind everywhere, and if the tree has a virus, only improperly disinfected tools would spread it. Once the tree is receiving proper nutrition from healthy soil, its immune system should keep it healthy.

Make sure you use a qualified arborist, and not some wanna be orchardist, who thinks they can cut to much. You need someone who will attend to details, and make wise decisions when choosing cuts. Less is more, and it will take at least three years of annual pruning to restore your tree properly.

Any questions?
 
Ana Thompson
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This is wonderful information! Thank you so much for giving so much detail!
This makes much more sense to me and I breathed a deep sigh of relief. 

I contacted my friend to let him know that I thought I should hire an arborist and he laughed at me.  Turns out, he already has an arborist set to do the job because when he was over here a month ago and saw the tree for the first time without leaves went "NOPE!".
 
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