Medlar tree care
The wonderful Medlar tree will bear beautiful blossom and the eccentric little fruits.
Much-celebrated throughout the centuries, the fruits were a delicacy in the medieval banqueting hall but have declined in popularity since the Victorian era. Medlars are now rarely seen, so you’ll take great pride in growing your own extraordinary and delicious harvest.
The distinctive shape of the fruit - like a large rosehip with a puckered end - has given it a somewhat ribald reputation. The Old English name was 'openaers' or 'open-arse', while in France they are known as 'cul de chien'. At one time, the smutty patter of Parisian medlar sellers would draw large crowds. Hardy, undemanding and slow-growing, medlar trees can outlive their owners by hundreds of years. Several examples in England are at least six centuries old.
Medlar trees have spectacular autumn colours. In spring the tree will produce a display of pretty blossom before fruits appear in summer. Autumn will bring a magnificent blaze of gold and red foliage and even in winter the distinctive contorted branches are an attractive feature in the bleak winter garden.
Medlars tolerate most soils but won’t be happy in very chalky or badly drained soil. They will do best in a warm, sheltered site in sun but can be grown in partial shade. A partially shady location is adequate but trees planted in bright and sunny spots will be the most fruitful. They are tough but the flowers may be damaged by strong winds so we recommend choosing a sheltered location if you want to ensure a good harvest.
They may be planted at any time of year as long as the ground isn’t frozen. You can keep the tree in its pot for a season if need be but be sure to water well. Dig a hole twice the size of the root-ball, spreading the roots as you refill the hole to the base of the stem. Press the soil down with the heel of a boot. For the first few seasons it’s wise to provide a sturdy stake to support the establishing trunk.
They are very hardy and will tolerate temperatures well below those that may be experienced in even the coldest parts of the UK. Because they flower very late, the blossom is rarely damaged by frost. Once established the tree shouldn’t require watering except in extremely dry summer conditions, but younger specimens may need watering throughout the warmer months as the root system develops.
In March the tree will appreciate a feed with a balanced general-purpose fertiliser followed by a mulch with well-rotted manure or compost.
PRUNING & TRAINING
One of the trees striking features are the interestingly crooked branches but, when unmanaged, these have a habit of overcrowding to become tangly and unproductive. Attentive pruning for the first few years will tame growth and encourage the tree to become a vigorous specimen with a well-shaped canopy.
Choose a dry winter day and prune back the longest vigorous vertical branches by about one-third of the previous summer’s growth. Always snip back to an outward-facing bud. Leave shorter shoots (less than 20cm) unpruned, these will produce the buds which will bear blossom and fruit. After a few seasons when the established tree has an attractive, open canopy, you can prune more sparingly. Simply remove any crowded, badly-placed or damaged branches.
Medlars have an unusual ripening habit- staying quite hard and inedible throughout autumn. They must be picked and ‘bletted’ – stored to allow the flesh to soften and sweeten, but not rot. This process takes about two or three weeks.
Leave fruit on the tree for as long as possible throughout the autumn to allow the flavour to develop, but be sure to collect your harvest before the first frosts. Pick in dry conditions when the stalk plucks easily away from the tree and store each fruit eye downwards and well-spaced in a cool, dark place until their russet-olive green skins become a rich coppery brown and the flesh yields.
Breaking the skin and sucking out the bletted flesh (spitting out the smooth seeds) is the best way to experience the flavour of this remarkable fruit.