Medlar, a fruit tree to rediscover

Medlar fruit, thickening but not yet ripe, on a branch.

The medlar is a fruit tree that has long been forgotten but deserves to be rediscovered by all!

Main Medlar facts

NameMespilus germanica
Family – Rosaceae
Type – fruit tree

Height – 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – rather rich, well drained

Foliage – deciduous
Harvest – October to November
Flowering – April-June depending on area

Plant a medlar in your garden, and you’ll be the highlight of all neighbors admiring this uncanny but savory fruit-bearing tree.

Planting medlar

Like most fruit trees, it is best to plant medlar in fall. This promotes root development before winter, thus enhancing recovery and regrowth in spring.

For specimens purchased in containers, however, you can also plant in spring if you’re able to increase the amount of water you can provide at the beginning.

  • Medlar loves rather sunny spots, and if sun is lacking, it might not bear medlars.
  • This type of tree adapts to most kinds of soil, as long as it drains well and isn’t too heavy.
  • A blend of planting soil mix and garden soil is perfect for planting medlar.
  • Regular watering over the first year after planting is applicable.
  • Follow our guidance to plant the tree.

Pruning medlar

Medlar doesn’t need pruning to grow well and produce nice medlars.

However, pruning it at any stage of its life won’t hurt if you wish to keep its size under control. Pruning will let you ensure it takes up only the space you plan for it in your garden landscape.

Heavy pruning every 5 to 8 years is better than yearly trimming.

  • The best season to prune is winter but during non-freezing weather.
  • Removing dead and diseased branches whenever you notice them.
  • Snip off the weaker, frail branches if need be.
  • Remove in-growing branches and even the scaffold branches out.

Good to know about the medlar tree and harvesting medlars

Medlar fruits on tree ready for harvest.This unique tree is mostly found in Belgium, Germany and Northern France.

This fruit tree is well suited to harsh climates. Only one medlar species exists to date.

Its deciduous foliage is very dense, and the fruits appear early on in the year, in May. Harvest of these special fruits should wait until the first frost spells, as the fruit softens when faced with frost. This is called “bletted” fruit.

Don’t confuse German Medlar with Japanese medlar. Japanese Medlar is a another species entirely that mostly grows in the Mediterranean area and bears evergreen leafage.

How to eat medlar

What’s best is to pick them before birds start pecking at them, and bite in them as you tour around your garden.

Pick the fruit by grasping it between thumb, index and forefinger.

The fruit sometimes bursts open, and even though it looks rotten, it actually is at its best with a taste that is surprising and sweet.

Our bird friends know the secret and quickly come to feast on them when the fruits starts bletting. Bletting means the fruit starts maturing to the point of turning mushy. Although for most fruit types this would be over-ripe, for fruits like medlar and blackthorn sloes, this is really the best time to eat them!

Medlars are typical ingredients for pies, clafoutis, jelly, liquor and even medlar wine.

Medlar diseases and parasites

Apart from fire blight that can destroy a medlar within weeds with no hope of treatment, you’ll just have to deal with more common diseases such as European brown rot, also called medlar rot, and powdery mildew.

Most species of fruit trees often fall victim to aphids, and scale insects.

Smart tip about medlar

When harvesting, only harvest those fruits that are very ripe on the tree, because once a fruit is detached from the branch, it won’t mature anymore.

  • Medlar fruits are rather fragile. Handle them carefully and don’t stack them.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Fruit of the Medlar tree by Nick Saltmarsh under © CC BY 2.0
Ripe Medlar by Fran Sinclair under © CC BY-NC 2.0