The real medlar (Mespilus germanica) is a rather rare guest in our gardens today. A hundred years ago, fruit trees were still found in many farm gardens, but then the medlar was almost completely forgotten. Their origin is not clearly clarified, probably their original spread-area is in Near East, although its Latin name (“germanica”) doesn’t exactly allow to conclude on it. In the Orient, one cultivated the medlar already 3000 years ago. About 1000 years later it was finally brought to Western and Central Europe by the Romans. While in the 19th century the fruit plant was found in many farm gardens, today the medlar is rather a rarity. The medlar belongs to the rose family and is closely related to the dwarf medlar (Cotoneaster), the rock pear (Amelanchier) and the hawthorn (Crataegus). It is not to be confused with the similar, but frost-sensitive and in Southern Europe cultivated Japanese Wollmispel (Eriobotrya japonica), whose yellow fruits taste sourish and are offered as Loquats with us.
Appearance and growth
The medlar grows like a tree or shrub, grows to a height of six metres and develops an oval, sweeping crown as it ages. Wild medlars are sparsely fortified with thorns, but most cultivars are thornless. Its leaves are up to 15 centimeters long and slightly hairy underneath. In autumn they turn yellow from the top with irregular red and green spots, the lower part remaining green longer. The medlar opens its simple white flowers, three to five centimeters in size, with five petals from the end of May to the beginning of June. They are hardly endangered by late frost because of their late flowering.
The fruits have a gaping fruit tip, by which one can still recognize the five narrow sepals. Its rough skin turns yellow- to orange-brown. The flesh only becomes soft, pleasantly acidic and thus edible through the action of frost and appropriate storage. If it concerns so-called wild medlars, short mild night frosts around -3 degrees are not sufficient. In folk medicine, fully ripe fruits were used to alleviate inflammation of the kidneys and urinary tract due to their anti-inflammatory effect. In addition, the unripe fruits also contain the bark and leaves of tannins, which were previously used for tanning. By the way, medlars are also suitable as breeding grounds for the native animal world. Its pollen-rich flowers are popular with pill wasps, fur bees, honeybees and other insects, and the fruits are also popular with birds such as hawfinches, blackbirds and wood pigeons.
Location and soil
Medlars are quite undemanding woody plants. They prefer a sunny, warm and sheltered location, but also get along well in semi-shady locations. The soil should ideally be moderately dry to fresh and not too low in nutrients. Clayey, deep and well-drained soils with a high lime content are ideal. They may also contain larger stones. Sandy substrates should be enriched with plenty of compost.
Planting and care
The warmth-loving fruit trees should preferably be planted in the spring and, when choosing the location, sufficient space should be allowed on all sides, as the crowns of old mistletoes can be six to seven metres wide. A tree post is strongly recommended for larger plants for stabilization during the first three to four years. As medlars are usually offered with a low crown, the support post on the west side of the trunk should be driven diagonally into the ground. For nutrient supply, it is best to spread two to three litres of mature compost on the tree slice in spring, which can also be mixed with a handful of horn shavings in young plants. After flowering, it is important that the soil does not dry out too much, otherwise the fruit shrubs will easily lose their unripe fruit. Freshly planted specimens should be protected from the winter sun in the first winter with some fir twigs. As long as the trunk is not yet covered with bark, you should also apply a white coat in autumn. It protects the bark from frost cracks.
Education and editing
An educational cut, as it is usual with the other fruit kinds, promotes the formation of an evenly developed crown with a strong middle shoot and three to four lateral branches. the medlar must be hardly cut like the closely related quince after the construction of the crown: Since the flowers develop at the ends of the short shoots, some of the flower buds are also removed with each cut. Sometimes one should take out one or the other older branch, since the crowns of older plants can become very dense, which increases their susceptibility to leaf diseases.
Like quinces, medlars are self-fertile. Therefore one can harvest many fruits from only one tree. However, a second medlar in the vicinity increases the number of pollinated flowers.
Harvesting and recycling
Towards the end of October, beginning of November, the fruits ripen. They are very hard and sour without frost, but if you wait with the harvest until after the frost and store the fruits a few weeks, they become soft, slightly sour and very aromatic. Medlars are very versatile in their use: the fruits can be processed into jam, mush or fruit wine. Due to the high pectin content, jellies are particularly successful. For medlar jam, medlar jam and the juice of a lemon (for one kilo of jam) are cooked with preserving sugar at a ratio of 1:1 or 2:1. Mispelmus is made by dividing the fruits, boiling them softly and passing them. The whole thing can be refined with vanilla or cinnamon. For jelly, the fruit must first be juiced. For a litre of juice, you expect four to five kilos of medlars. The medlar juice is then cooked with gelling sugar at a ratio of 2:1.
The cultivars of the medlar are propagated by grafting on various supports such as hawthorn, pear, quince and rowan. Popular varieties are ‘Nottingham’, ‘Westerwald’, ‘Holländische Großfruchtige’ and ‘Macrocarpa’. Wild medlars can also be reproduced well by sowing.
Diseases and pests
The medlar is a little susceptible to fungal diseases. Scab and various leaf spot diseases are often the result of a warm and humid summer. Also it can come to an infestation with point drought (Monilia), which leads to the fact that the shoots die after the bloom. In order to counteract spreading, the affected branches should be cut back into healthy wood. The medlar is also somewhat sensitive to fire blight, a reportable bacterial infection. It is a particular problem in fruit-growing regions, as it can also infest pears and apples and therefore cause major damage in orchards.
Medlars from the our store-Shop
Wool medlar, Nespoli, Loquat Eriobotrya…
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Rock pear, rock medlar, Amelanchier…
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10 working days delivery time
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.