Horticulture Magazine

Medlar Fruit Tree Care & Growing Tips

medlar fruit on tree branches

Medlar Overview

Official Plant NameMespilus germanica
Common Name(s)Common Medlar, Dutch Medlar
Plant TypeFruit Tree / Shrub
Native AreaEurope, Asia
Hardiness RatingH6
ToxicityEdible fruits
FoliageDeciduous, long leaves
FlowersWhite blossom in spring
When To PlantJanuary, February, March, November, December
Harvesting MonthsNovember, December
When To PruneFebruary, March
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun

Exposure
Exposed or Sheltered

Size

Height
4 – 8M

Spread
4 – 8M

Bloom Time
Spring

Soil

Preferred
Most soil types

Moisture
Moist but well-drained

pH
Any

This article makes a change from our regular growing and care guides, in that the plant in question is fairly unusual.

It’s a tree that can also be grown as a shrub, and it bears an edible fruit, but here’s the thing: the vast majority of people in the UK won’t have tried – or even heard – of it!

However Mespilus Germanica, more commonly known as medlar, is a rewarding and interesting plant to grow.

We’ll hold off from saying the fruit is delicious because it’s something of an acquired taste, but it is a new and potentially intriguing flavour.

unusual orange medlar fruits with their foliage
Something a little unusual

Whether you’ve found this guide intentionally and have a little knowledge of medlar already, or you came across it by chance, it’s our hope that after reading you’ll have the knowledge required to get one of these interesting plants growing nicely in your own garden.

What is medlar?

Medlar, or Mespilus Germanica, is an ancient fruit that bears some resemblance to pomegranate, and tastes to some a little like quince.

The fruits are brown or yellow, and usually measure between one and two inches.

Each fruit has a cluster of five ‘petals’ around its top, lending them a distinct aesthetic when compared to other common garden fruits.

As we mentioned, medlar can grow as a tree or as a shrub. Trees will grow up to eight metres; shrubs will obviously clock in a fair bit smaller.

The tree is known for growing in a lopsided way, to the point that it can be pulled down by its own weight. Although it may not be relevant for the first few years, bear in mind that you may need to stake your tree to support it in its later years.

Why grow medlar?

When writing about edible plants we usually start this section by saying something along the lines of “because it’s delicious!” With medlar however, we’ll withhold such enthusiasm.

The fruits are edible, as we’ve said, but they have a fairly unusual taste.

If you’ve ever tried quince it’s in that ballpark, but not quite the same. Other people say it evokes apple sauce flavours, but opinions on the exact nature of the taste (and its appeal!) vary wildly.

Medlar, pomegranate and quince fruits laid out on a white surface
Medlar, pomegranate, and quince: all in the same ballpark

The main reason we recommend medlar is novelty. It’s something you won’t find in supermarkets or even grocery stalls at markets. Most people won’t have tried it, making it a good conversation starter and point of interest in your garden.

Given the differing opinions on the flavour, you may not be convinced to grow medlar based on the eating opportunities alone. And if that’s the case, you’re in luck because this is also an attractive ornamental plant that will provide something a little different for your outdoor space.

How to grow medlar

In the following sections we’ve rounded up information on how to get a healthy medlar tree or shrub growing in your garden.

Sowing

It’s possible and not too difficult to grow this plant from seed. Sow in early spring and start in small pots. Ensure they have moist soil, and are kept in a dark, cool spot.

Seeds will take around five weeks to germinate and should be hardened off before being planted out.

Planting out

You can buy medlar as a shrub if you’re not interested in growing it from seed.

Plant this out any time between November and March, and use a stake to keep the fledgling tree supported for the first five years or so.

Medlar can be grown in containers as well as in the ground. Go for a big pot to give the plant ample space to grow. Again, plant out in November through March.

Where to grow

Choose a spot with deep and fertile soil. Drainage needs to be good. Full sun is the best for medlars but partial shade will work as well.

It’s important to choose a spot that won’t be exposed to strong winds, as the leaves and floral bloom of medlar are both easily damaged.

Fertilising

Mulch the area at the base of the plant, and keep the soil fed well to ensure the plant is well nourished. This will pass more vitamins and minerals into the fruit.

Add a handful of high potassium fertiliser each spring, one handful for each metre of soil surface. Or, if growing on grass rather than just soil, use a handful and a half.

Watering

Medlar isn’t overly thirsty, except in dry spells. Be extra vigilant in the first four years of the plant’s life, making sure to keep it well watered during particularly dry patches in this period.

Pruning

To keep your medlar in prime condition you’ll need to remove weak and dead branches. Winter is the best time to prune, when the leaves have fallen.

Depending on whether you’re growing as a tree or shrub, your priorities when pruning will be different. For a tree, your priority is establishing a balanced branch system to encourage efficient fruiting and to avoid problems later in the tree’s life.

The method for pruning young fruit trees is actually quite involved, and because it won’t be relevant to everyone reading this piece we’ll link you to a great resource instead.

If you’re growing a medlar tree and need advice on pruning it during the formative years, check out this great guide from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Harvesting

Bear in mind that it will take a few growing seasons to bear fruit: between three and five years.

When your medlar is bearing fruit, October and November are the best times for harvest.

You can leave fruit on the tree to ripen for a little longer, just watch out for frost as this will push them past their best.

insides of Mespilus germanica fruit being scooped out by hand
The inside scoop

Pick your medlars when the fruit is rock hard, then let it ripen before eating. There’s a special name for this process which you may not have heard before: bletting.

When bletting fruit, you’re letting it rot slightly before you eat it. This sounds a bit grim but trust us – it’ll get you the best results!

With medlar you eat the filling but not the seeds. It’s also good for wine, if you’re that way inclined!

Troubleshooting common problems

Medlar is prone to visitations from certain garden pests, but thankfully they’re not too difficult to keep in check. Here’s what you need to keep a lookout for:

Winter moth caterpillars

These creatures enjoy eating and generally damaging the leaves of your medlar, which can disrupt its ability to photosynthesize.

Picking off the caterpillars should be enough to deter them, and keep a vigilant eye to make sure they don’t return.

Birds

Flying visitors are also prone to be attracted by the promise of fresh fruit.

There are visual ways to deter birds: scarecrows and such. You can also use anti-bird gel, spikes, or ultrasonic repellers.

Recordings of bird distress calls work well, too.

You’ve got a few options and the most suitable will depend on your garden and your preferences.

How to use medlar

While the flavour is unusual there are a lot of ways to use medlar. You can eat the fruits raw, of course. Just take a bit and avoid the seeds.

You can also use them to make chutneys, jellies, and jams, whether medlar is the only ingredient or part of a mix. Apple is a good flavour pairing, as are dates.

Apple and medlar jelly goes particularly well with roast pheasant, if Nigel Slater is to be believed.

If you’re planning to use medlar in cooking, go for a cultivar that doesn’t have too many seeds. This will save you time and hassle when preparing it.

Now to be the proud owner of a medlar tree

One of the joys of gardening is to grow and appreciate plants that you may not have been familiar with before.

There’s an endless medley of shapes, colours, and scents just waiting to join the ranks of your garden. And when it comes to medlar, there’s a new flavour waiting to get involved as well.

While it may take a little getting used to – and be forewarned the flavour isn’t for everyone! – the potential rewards of growing this plant far outweigh the downsides.

Even if you’re not a fan of the taste of medlar you’ve still got an attractive and distinctive plant growing in your garden. And if you’re not interested in eating them, your guests will still point the medlars out and ask about them – giving you a chance to display your gardening smarts!

Whatever your reasons, we hope you enjoy growing medlar, and that you found this guide useful.

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