Yard and Garden: Apples and Pears



Storing apples at home is convenient and, if done properly, can be economical. Important keys to a long storage life for home-grown apples are picking at the proper time and storing correctly. To have additional questions answered, contact the Iowa State University Extension horticulturists at hortline@iastate.edu or call 515-294-3108.

When should I harvest apples? 

A taste test is the best way to determine when to harvest apples. Mature apples are firm, crisp, juicy, well-colored and have developed the characteristic flavor of the variety. Color alone is not a reliable indicator of maturity. Red Delicious apples, for example, often turn red before the fruit are mature. Fruit harvested too early are astringent, sour, starchy and poorly flavored. Apples harvested too late are soft and mushy. 

What are the proper storage conditions for apples? 

The temperature and relative humidity during storage are critical for maximum storage life. Optimum storage conditions for apples are a temperature of 30 to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and a relative humidity between 90 and 95 percent. When provided with optimum storage conditions, ‘Jonathan’ and ‘Red Delicious’ apples can be stored up to three to six months. Apples stored at a temperature of 50 F will spoil two to three times faster than those stored at 32 F. Apples will shrivel during storage if the relative humidity is low. 

What are the black spots or blotches on my apples? 

The problem may be sooty blotch and flyspeck. Sooty blotch and flyspeck are two different fungal diseases that often occur together on apples. Sooty blotch appears as dark brown to black, ½ inch or larger smudges on the surface of the apple. Flyspeck produces clusters of shiny, round, black dots. Individual dots are about the size of a pinhead. Environmental conditions that favor disease development are moderate temperatures and extended wet periods in late summer/early fall. 

Sooty blotch and flyspeck live on the surface of the fruit. Damage is mainly cosmetic. The apples are still safe to eat. They’re just not very attractive. 

Cultural practices and fungicides can help control sooty blotch and flyspeck. Proper pruning of apples trees and thinning of fruit promote drying and help reduce disease severity. Fungicides may also be necessary. 

If control measures fail, sooty blotch and flyspeck can be removed with vigorous rubbing. 

When should I harvest pears? 

Pears should not be allowed to ripen on the tree. If the fruit are left on the tree to ripen, stone cells develop in the fruit giving the pear a gritty texture. Tree-ripened fruit are also poorly flavored. Harvest pears when the color of the fruit changes from a deep green to a light green. Also, the small spots (lenticels) on the fruit surface change from white to brown. At the time of harvest, the fruit will still be firm, not soft. 

How do I ripen pears? 

Pears should be ripened indoors at a temperature of 60 to 70 F. The ripening process should take seven to ten days. To hasten ripening, place the fruit in a sealed plastic bag. Pears give off ethylene gas which accumulates in the bag and promotes ripening. 

What are the proper storage conditions for pears? 

Store unripened pears at a temperature of 30 to 32 F and a relative humidity of 90 percent. Pears can be stored for approximately one to three months. Remove stored fruit about one week prior to use. 

There are tan-colored, rough spots on the surface of my pears. Is it possible to prevent this from occurring? 

Russeting is probably responsible for the tan-colored spots on your pears. Russeting also develops on the surface of apples. While affected fruit are not attractive, russeting doesn’t affect the eating quality of the fruit. 

Several factors may be responsible for russeting. High humidity, rainfall or heavy dew, cold temperatures and use of certain fungicides may induce russeting. Genetics also play a role in russeting. Some pear varieties are more likely to develop russeting than others. Since most factors responsible for russeting are beyond our control, little can be done to prevent its occurrence.