Prune your Comice pear tree during the dormant season

November 18, 2018

In 1934, an Oregon farmer called on top executives in New York City with boxes of pears from his and his brother's orchard, trying to convince the skeptical executives that these pears would make great corporate gifts. It worked, and by 1936, he and his brother were ready to advertise nationally, starting in Fortune magazine.

Michael Hedglon of Hedgehog Studios advertising tells us that the ad's headline became a classic:

"Imagine Harry & Me advertising our Pears In Fortune!" It effectively portrayed a wholesome, innocent, “Aw, shucks, we are just a couple of country bumpkins with great pears.” The ad worked, and today the company is known as Harry and David and their pears are a holiday staple.

Those pears are Comice (ko-MEESE) pears with the round body and short neck and oh-so-sweet, tender flesh. As a bonus, the Comice pear tree is a stunning ornamental in its own right, with massive displays of white blossoms every spring.

Like all fruit trees, Comice pears do best with at least six to eight hours of sunshine in well-draining soil. Comice pears are resistant to fireblight, a major scourge of pear trees. You will need another pear variety such as Bartlett nearby for cross-pollination.

If your tree is bare root, soak the roots in a tub of water for two to six hours before planting. Plant your Comice pear tree in a hole slightly deeper and wider than the root ball. Mound up some soil in the center of the hole and set your tree on it. Gently spread out the roots and fill the hole with the excavated dirt. Do not add fertilizer to the planting hole, as it can burn the roots.

Mound up a rim of soil around the planting hole to form a dam that will hold water and let it slowly soak in. Keep the newly planted tree well watered, but not soggy. If you have average soil, you need only fertilize once a year. If you use too much fertilizer, you will have lots of growth but no fruit.

Prune your Comice pear tree during the dormant season in late winter. An advantage to pruning is that cutting the tree back stimulates healthier, stronger growth.

Unlike most fruit, pears are harvested when fully formed but not ripe, and buyers let them ripen at room temperature. You can help them ripen by putting them in a paper bag that will hold in the natural ethylene gas that ripening fruit gives off. You can add a banana or an apple to the bag of pears to give off even more ethylene and speed up ripening. Comice pears have very soft skins, so handle with care to avoid bruising them.

Plant a buttery-sweet Comice pear tree, and within a few years, you will have perfect dessert pears that go so well with strong-flavored cheese like Camembert or Brie. And, of course, they make ideal Christmas gifts, whether or not you are a country bumpkin.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.