Medlar trees were once a common sight in the UK, Germany, and other parts of Europe and Asia, but somehow they became lost in time. Luckily these hardy, easy to care for trees are enjoying a comeback. Medlar fruits are ideal for providing a winter treat as they don’t ripen until after the first frosts. Available in dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard sizes, there’s sure to be a medlar tree the perfect size for your yard. Let’s learn more about how to care for a medlar tree.
What You'll Learn Today
How Do You Take Care Of A Medlar Tree?
Fruits won’t develop in more tropical climates as the trees require winter chill to make them flower. They grow well in almost all European countries and in the US in zones 5 to 8.
This depends on the variety of your medlar and if they are grafted onto a particular rootstock. Dwarf types are available and you can also reduce the height of the tree with pruning by using heading cuts.
Medlars like a sheltered, sunny spot.
The best soil is a well-drained loam with a pH that is mildly acidic at around 6.5. They are however very tolerant and will grow in almost all soil types except those which become severely waterlogged such as heavy clay, or ones that are highly alkaline such as chalk soils.
It’s a good idea to establish a good shape when your Medlar tree is young and train it for the first few years. To do this remove any and all suckers and low branches so you have a clean, solid trunk.
Next, completely remove any branches that are at a very closed or open angle to the trunk or close to other branches. You want to encourage an open shape.
Tipping the branches will induce more branches to form with new growth and cutting the top of the central leader will divide it and help to keep the tree from growing too tall.
Once you’ve established the shape as you want it, you will only need to give your tree a light pruning to remove any suckers and dead, diseased, crossed, or damaged branches.
This should be done just before the sap starts rising in late winter when the tree is still dormant but will soon be starting to grow again.
When pruning, always try to prune just above an outward-facing bud, using an angled cut.
Your pruners or loppers should be sharp and sterilized with rubbing alcohol to prevent disease transmission. Wipe the blades after each cut with a cloth dipped in the rubbing alcohol to keep them clean.
These ancient, hardy trees need very little fertilizer to keep them healthy. Just using a top dressing of quality organic compost early each spring especially when the tree is young will suffice.
As the tree matures, you can continue to use an organic mulch of 10 to 20 cm in depth around the base of the tree in springtime. This will help suppress the weeds and act as a fertilizer as it breaks down. Don’t forget to leave a gap around the trunk.
Other than mulching, remove any weeds from around the base of the tree, particularly while it is young, as they will use up soil nutrients and moisture. Regular mowing around the tree will help this without the need for a weedkiller.
The medlar is self-fertile and has both male and female flowers on the same tree. Therefore, it doesn’t require a second tree to produce fruit, although cross-pollination is always highly beneficial as it encourages larger yields and better quality fruit.
Medlars are pollinated by insects and bees are particularly fond of the attractive flowers.
Most propagation of medlars is done using mature wood cuttings grafted into Quince or Hawthorn rootstock.
Summer softwood cuttings can be propagated by using a rooting hormone to establish a strong root system.
Growing medlars from seed is quite tricky and the seeds usually require two phases of stratification. A refrigerator can be used for this, which replicates going through two winters in order for them to germinate well.
The seeds themselves are poisonous and should not be eaten. They have a tough exterior that is impermeable.
Once all of the leaves have dropped off the tree in fall and a couple of hard frosts have occurred, the medlars should have started to fully ripen which in most other fruit you would consider them to be going bad. This is known as the bletting process.
When picking the fruits it is safest to cut them off the tree using clean pruners to prevent damage to branches.
The fruits can be picked before they are fully bletted and allowed to ripen in boxes or crates kept in cool, dry conditions. This can take several weeks.
Once the fruits are squishy to the touch and the skin color has turned to a dark reddish-brown they are ready to eat.
Pests and Diseases
Medlars are not particularly susceptible to pests and diseases. One of the main issues appears to be a fungus that attacks the fruit called Brown Rot. It can spread from one fruit to the next so any that show brown blemishes should be discarded.
Learn more about medlar trees in this video:
How Much Space Does A Medlar Tree Need?
If fruit trees are too crowded and the branches are restricted from getting enough light and air circulation, it can affect fruit production.
When planting trees it’s best to give them sufficient space to grow into. Think about how large they will be when they reach full size. This will ensure they always receive enough light and air and it gives the tree the best chance of reaching its optimum and staying healthy.
The actual amount of space your medlar tree needs depends on the size it will grow to. Medlar trees spread to roughly the same size as their height, so a dwarf tree will require a lot less room than a standard size one which can grow to around 20 feet.
How Much Water Does A Medlar Tree Need?
When your medlar tree is young, it will require frequent watering, particularly in its first two to three years, especially during periods when there is no rain.
Deep watering once a week is usually sufficient, except in severe drought conditions.
Once your medlar tree is fully established, it will probably not require any additional irrigation, as it will be able to draw the water it needs from its deep roots underground.
Again during long periods of dry weather additional water may be required.
Mulching with an organic mulch in spring can help to maintain moisture around the tree and is also a good practice as when the mulch composts down it will also provide additional nutrients and humus to the soil.
Does A Medlar Tree Need A Pollinator?
Medlar trees are self-pollinating, meaning they carry both male and female flowers so theoretically don’t need another tree to act as a pollinating buddy.
However, all fruit trees that cross-pollinate one another produce larger crops of better quality fruits, so if possible, it is advantageous to have more than one tree.
Medlars are pollinated mostly by insects such as bees and moths.
Does A Medlar Tree Need A Full Sun?
Although a medlar can survive in the lower canopy of larger trees, it thrives best in an open site with full sun. It is under these conditions that it will produce the largest fruit crops.
Ideally, the tree should have a minimum of four to six hours of direct sun each day.
Medlar trees are generally hardy and easy to grow, requiring little care once they are established.
Young trees need a bit more attention, particularly when it comes to pruning and watering.
They are pretty disease resistant and the biggest problem is damage by frost or fungal blight.
To learn more about medlar trees and their fruits explore some of our other articles about this ancient tree.