Wyoming is generally not known for its fruit production. While there are not a lot of options available for fruit growers, there are some hardy species that can handle Wyoming. Pears are one species of fruit that can tolerate Southeast Wyoming and provide the hobby or backyard farmer with a product each fall.
It is no secret that Wyoming is a tough place to keep plants alive. High winds, a paucity quality water, low humidity and annual precipitation, shallow soils, soils high in minerals, very cold and unpredictable temperatures and hungry predators looking to eat plants are all factors that greatly negatively impact fruit production. Below are some ideas and thoughts to cope with these issues when growing pear trees.
Dealing with the Cold
It is no secret that temperature limits fruit production in Wyoming. Extreme winter lows, late spring frosts, and short frost-free periods all affect fruit production. Plants have many methods for dealing with extreme cold temperatures. Many fruit tree and shrub cultivars from commercial growers are not adapted to Wyoming’s cold temperatures and require long frost-free periods for production. When selecting fruit varieties, make sure they will withstand the lowest potential temperature for your area. For most of us, that means we need to select either zone three or four plants as related to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map http://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/.
I recommend planting zone three plants so there is less risk for winter damage or die off. It is often not the week of 10 degrees below zero that kills a tree, but the fluke cold snap when temperatures get to -40 for several hours.
Recommended zone three varieties include: Luscious, Summercrisp, Nova, Hudar, Cabot, Patten, Tyson, Leonard (long season). Most of these varieties are self-fertile
Help give fruit trees the best chance for success through site selection. Establish plants in areas where they are protected from the elements, including wind events. Most native Wyoming plants have developed strategies for minimizing water loss during the growing season. Many introduced fruit plants do not have specialized leaves and plant cells for dealing with these conditions. A protected location will also help keep plants insulated during colder temperatures and may help extend their potential growing season.
Man-made structures, proper location near a dwelling, downwind from a tree belt or other natural features on a property all serve as great microclimates for fruit trees. Pay attention to when and where the wind blows, sun shines, snow piles up, and plants seem to grow the best on your property. Properties above valleys will generally experience fewer issues related to cold inversion. Planting trees on a south facing slope will also help keep plants warmer throughout the year.
Today, most fruit trees have a particular variety of fruit that has been grafted onto a specific rootstock. The rootstock is very important; it determines the size of the mature tree, winter survival, and growth productivity.
Decreasing in size, trees can grow to the height of a standard tree, semi-dwarf, or dwarf. With dwarf being the smallest size, these tree sizes often make the most sense for backyards in urban areas. While dwarf sizes are great for maintenance, it is thought these rootstocks are not as hardy as a standard rootstock and often have shorter lifespans. Standard trees can be planted if you have limited space, but there can be a lot of intense pruning each season to make sure it will not outgrow its space.
For our area, the root stocks of Pyrus comunis (native pear) or Pyrus ussuriensis (Ussurian or Harbin Pear) are recommended. Both are native to Europe and Asia.
Some final considerations when selecting and planting pear trees is making sure you select the best quality tree possible. Avoid buying trees that are damaged, have small root systems, or look to be poor condition. Adding fencing around the trunk and the entire tree is a good idea to repel predators. A light coat of interior white latex paint on the trunk will also help prevent sunscald during the spring.
Growing your own pears can be very rewarding. Keep in mind that a lot of patience is required to keep the trees alive. You should also keep in mind that sometimes due to our climate, pears may not produce a crop.