How to Grow Medlars
Grow your own Medlars
Medlars are small trees with attractive flowers and decorative edible fruits which in taste and texture resemble apple puree. They are unusual, hardy, disease resistant and will give you a hearty crop of delicious medlars for eating raw, making jam, or cheese and jelly. They are ready mid or late November when most of the other fruit is finished.
It's a shame that they've fallen from favour in recent years because they were known to the ancients and were favourites of the Victorians, in Britain at least.
When we moved to France to run painting holidays in Videix, Limousin, we inherited a fine, mature tree in the grounds of what is now our guest house, Les Trois Chenes, and I couldn’t have been more delighted. I set about making jam, or to be more technically correct, ‘cheese’ for our painting holiday and bed and breakfast guests with gusto. I soon discovered that this delicate and unusual preserve was just what I needed for that special Christmas Breakfast treat.
Have I tempted you to have a go at growing your own medlars? If so, this is what you need to know.
The Medlar Tree
The Common Medlar (Mespilus germanica Rosaceae) originated in southwest Asia and southeastern Europe (the Black Sea coast of modern Turkey). Stern's Medlar (Mespilus canescens), was discovered in North America. In 1900.
I know that they grow in Britain and France and the video below states that they grow in Florida and Canada, so they are pretty adaptable.
Medlars are large, deciduous shrubs or small trees growing up to 8 meters tall with a spread of about 6 meters. They have dark green, oval that are rather leathery and turn yellow or red in autumn. The five-petalled white flowers 2 – 3 centimeters across with red anthers are produced in late spring.
As you can see from the picture of my old medlar, they have a spreading habit so you might want to grow yours as a standard or half-standard tree (trees with a well developed clear trunk).
Medlars are usually grafted onto quince or hawthorn rootstocks. The Quince A and BA29 rootstocks are semi-vigorous produce more stable trees of about 4-6m (13-20ft) in height and spread.
The fruit is two to three centimeters in diameter, with decorative sepals and turns a golden yellow before ripening to a mat brown in M. germanica and glossy red in M. canescens.
Choosing a Tree
Medlars are occasionally sold on their own roots, but more often are grafted onto hawthorn (semi-dwarfing), ‘Quince A’ (semi-dwarfing) or ‘Quince C’ (dwarfing) rootstocks to limit the tree’s size slightly. You can also limit the size by choosing naturally compact cultivars like ‘Nottingham’.
Medlar branches tend to droop to the ground and, while I often don’t like weeping trees personally, I love the drooping, rather Japanese-like form of my tree. I also see it as a distinct advantage as it means that I can pick about one third of the fruit without a ladder. If you don’t like this, then choose a tree with high branches or tip back the leader of a tall maiden whip to a strong bud on planting.
The medlar is self-pollinating so no need to plant a partner for it.
The two most common cultivars are the Dutch and the Nottingham.
- The Large Dutch produces an attractive fruit which is much larger than most other varieties, up to 8cm (31⁄2in) in diameter, but the texture is very coarse and the flavour is poor. The tree is quite vigorous and so should be given plenty of room.
- The Nottingham is amore compact cultivar so suitable for smaller gardens. The fruit is also slightly smaller (up to 5cm/2in in diameter) and is produced even on relatively young trees. Hamid Habibi from Keepers Nursery is not a fan of this variety and states that: “In terms of fruit quality it is the worst variety by a long way. The problem is mainly due to physical shape. Nottingham fruit has a flat shape with a very open eye which tends to crack as a result of which the fruit rots as it ripens. I believe that it is this characteristic of Nottingham which has given medlars a bad reputation.”
- The Iranian Medlar has good quality fruit particularly for eating fresh. The fruit itself is relatively small with a slightly conical shape. It has a relatively closed eye which means it does not crack and rot as some other varieties.
Other cultivars include Bredase Reus, Macrocarpa, Royal and Westerveld.
Where to Plant: Site and Soil for Your Medlar
Medlars like to be out in the sunshine, so choose an open, sunny site. If they are in light or dappled shade the fruit crop will be reduced and you won't get that lovely, golden autumn colour. Make sure you don't plant in frost pockets as medlars flower in late spring.
Medlars are very tolerant trees and grow in most soils and places but they ideally prefer moist soil and will tolerate moisture better than other fruit trees. If possible give them moisture-retentive, free-draining soil and add compost or peat / peat substitutes to heavy clay soils prior to planting to aid drainage. Leaves and flowers are easily damaged by strong winds.
When to Plant
The best time to plant new trees is between November and March. In France I like to plant in November so that it can establish itself over winter and there is less likelihood that the plant will become too dry in summer. If you have vicious winters, perhaps it's better to wait until spring.
How to Plant Medlars
Dig a hole about 75cm x 75cm x 75cm, (or about twice the sizeof the root ball, see the video below,) and add compost and a hand full of general fertiliser to the soil that you have dug out.
Put a short tree stake into the hole, and backfill the hole, shaking the roots if the tree is bare rooted, and firming gently with your foot as you fill. Tie the tree near the base to the stake with tree ties. Water in well.
In March apply a general fertiliser, such as growmore, at 70g per sq m (2oz per sq yd) over the rooting area. After applying fertiliser, mulch with well-rotted farmyard manure or compost.
Adequate moisture is essential to obtain strong growth and good cropping, and young tree in particular should be watered well during dry spells in spring and summer for the first three or four years.
Growing from Seed
Named varieties don’t come true from seeds, but if you want to plant your seeds sow them in September or October in pots of seed compost and put them in a cold frame. Germination is erratic. When the seedling are large enough to handle, put them into individual pots or into a nursery bed and grow them on for three or four years before planting them into their permanent sites.
Training and Pruning
I inherited a mature tree and have not pruned it at all in eight years and pruning mature trees can spoil the form. Don’t you just love it when you are told you don’t need to do any work? Remove weak, dead or crossing branches on established trees in March.
For young trees, you can cut back lower branches if you want a free stem, otherwise cut back all lateral shoots to two or three leaves between October and March. When the tree has reached the desired height, pinch out the leading shoot to induce growth of the laterals that will form the main branches.
Older specimens may need lower limbs propped up if they haven’t been shortened sufficiently.
Medlars are quite easy to train into restricted forms such as cordons, fans or espaliers.
Medlar Pests and Diseases
Medlars are relatively trouble free, but may suffer from hawthorn leaf spot, which appears as multiple brown spots, 1–2mm across, on the foliage. My tree has never suffered from anything in 8 years and has received no care what-so-ever, although I do run chickens under it and have my compost heap nearby. If you do get leaf spot rake up and burn the affected leaves. There are no chemical controls available.
More About Medlars
- Medlar Jam or Cheese Recipe
This recipe makes a wonderfully special and spicy cheese which is perfect for Christmas breakfasts. The medlar is an old fashioned fruit much prized by the Victorians.
- What Is a Medlar?
The medlar, (Mespilus), belongs to the Rosaceae family. There are two species, the Common Medlar (Mespilus germanica) and Stern's Medlar (Mespilus canescens). They are pretty, small trees with an attractive habit and beautiful flowers.
© 2010 Les Trois Chenes