How to grow pecans

How Long Does it Take a Pecan Tree to Mature?

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Pecan trees serve both as home landscaping trees and as food production. The time to maturity depends on a number of factors, and some trees may never produce quality nuts if not cared for well.

Time Frame

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A grafted pecan tree can produce a small crop as soon as two years after its grafting, although it will typically take closer to five years to mature enough to produce a large crop. Some pecan trees may take 10 to 12 years to move beyond vegetative growth into fruiting maturity.

Considerations

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The exact time to maturity for any given pecan tree depends on a number of factors. These include the climate, how much sunlight the tree receives, soil quality and the presence of another tree for increased pollination.

Size

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Pecan trees can grow to 70 feet tall have trunk diameters of 6 feet at full maturity. Trees can be spaced as close as 30 to 40 feet apart until they are about 15 years old, at which point they should be thinned. At 30 to 40 years old, pecan trees grow to a width of closer to 60 feet.

Did you know … Pecan Tree Facts.

October 27, 2014

While pecan trees produce both male and female flowers on the same plant, they’ve evolved successfully by cross pollinating with other varieties and cultivars. Each plant will develop it’s male and female flowers at different times; this is to insure that they’ll mix pollen with other plants rather than self-pollinating. That means certain varieties and cultivars make good cross-pollinating partners, and others don’t, depending on when their male and female flowers emerge. If your pecan tree hasn’t developed fruit for a number of years, it’s possible that there isn’t a compatible cross-pollinator nearby. However, with the number of pecans in the DFW area, chances are pretty good your tree will find a “mate”.

Pecan tree fun facts:

  • The Pecan Tree is the State Tree of Texas!

  • Pecans reach maturity at about twelve years old and can live as long as 300 years!

  • Non-grafted seedlings and native pecan trees often take 10 to 15 years to begin to produce fruit. Grafted varieties produce fruit in 5-10 years depending on variety.

  • Many varieties are considered alternate-bearing including ‘Cape Fear’, ‘Creek’, and ‘Pawnee’. This means that one year they’ll produce large quantities of nuts and the following year they’ll produce smaller harvests.

  • During the years pecans yield large harvests, nutrients are depleted much more quickly. Be sure to feed them more heavily during these years.

  • Pecans are not actually considered a nut, but instead are a fruit surrounded by a husk with a stone pit in the center, which is the part you eat.

  • Pecan wood, being a softer wood, is most often used in flooring, veneer, and furniture.

Pecans are especially attractive to Fall Webworms which can present themselves as a problem pest this time of year.

Do you have pecan trees? How often do you prune and feed them? Our philosophy at Preservation Tree Services is, the more you know about your trees, the better prepared you are to care for them. For more information about choosing, maintaining and loving your trees, keep up to date with our Facebook, Twitter, and Blog pages.

Entry Info

Keep in mind that this type of pruning should only be done on a dormant tree, and is often already done before sale by many nurseries.

A Thirsty Customer

Usually found along riverbanks in its native environment, the pecan likes a lot of water. Young trees need 10 to 15 gallons of water per week, whether from rainfall or from irrigation.

As they mature and begin producing, they need about two inches of water per week from April to October, applied at the drip line.

Fertilization is also important for C. illinoinensis. In mid- to late March, apply four pounds of balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 for each inch of trunk diameter.

As your plant matures, year after year, you’ll want to prune to have a central leader and just four to six lateral scaffold branches. Once the tree reaches fruiting maturity, little pruning is required.

A Spray and a Kid with a Stick: Dealing with Pests and Diseases

The primary pest that bugs these trees is scab, a fungus that produces black lesions on the plant’s leaves and shuck.

Treat scab with a fungicide such as this one from Southern Ag, available via Amazon.

Southern Ag Garden Friendly Fungicide, 8 Oz.

Mix one teaspoon of Garden Friendly Fungicide into one gallon of water.

Aphids and mites can also attack pecan leaves. For these, use an insecticidal soap such as this one from Safer Brand, also available through Amazon.

Safer Brand 5110-6 Insect Killing Soap, 32 Oz.

This 32-ounce bottle is ready to use.

If fall webworms weave their billowy nests in your trees, send a kid with a stick out to tear out and pull down the webbing, worms, and all into a bucket of soapy water.

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Product photos via Perfect Plants, Nature Hills Nursery, Tony Rodd, Southern Ag, and Safer Brand. Uncredited photos: .

About Gretchen Heber

A former garden editor for a daily newspaper in Austin, Texas, Gretchen Heber goes through entirely too many pruners and garden gloves in a year’s time. She’s never met a succulent she didn’t like and gets really irritated every 3-4 years when Austin actually has a freeze cold enough to kill them. To Gretchen, nothing is more rewarding than a quick dash to the garden to pluck herbs to season the evening meal. And it’s definitely time for a happy dance when she’s able to beat the squirrels to the peaches, figs, or loquats.

Why everyone should have a pecan tree

For my grandmother Lucille, a pecan was a unit of measurement. In giving a recipe she might specify “a lump of butter the size of a pecan.” When you formed her special nut cookies you made them “in the shape of a pecan.” Those nuts did not come in a cellophane bag, chopped. They fell from the 40 trees that shaded her Louisiana yard, and they were pronounced “peh-CAHN,” with a drawl.

After the fall harvest she would send our year’s supply to us in Yankee Land, stuffed into strong muslin bags she’d gotten from the local bank, stamped with its name. We knew just what to do with the pecans, because we had all learned to crack them and pick out the rich meats about the same time we learned to tie our shoelaces. They were turned into pies, cookies, stuffings, sauces, pralines and crumbly toppings for cakes. I still sprinkle them inside baked apples and halves of acorn squash, and pound them into a flourlike breading for cutlets and chops.

Pecan trees are native only to the Mississippi Valley region, where long, hot summers ripen the nuts, but there are now cultivars that will bear as far north as New Jersey and much of the Midwest. Colder regions prize the hardier and closely related hickories, whose nuts are pecanlike but smaller with a wonderful flavor of their own. In fact, every region seems to have its nut.

Most of the Eastern United States has native filberts (hazelnuts) and black walnuts (whose reputation for killing what grows beneath them is highly exaggerated). The Southwest has native pine nuts. Hawaii has macadamias. Peanuts, which are legumes, not nuts, originated south of the border, but Virginia peanuts are now here to stay.

I sometimes wonder why everyone does not plant nut trees on their property. With some exceptions, such as the shrubby filberts, the trees are large. But so are maples and oaks. And just because most nut trees will outlive you does not mean they’ll take a long time to bear. You’ll have hickory nuts in eight to 12 years, pecans in four to seven and tasty butternuts in two to three. Nurseries such as Nolin River Nut Tree Nursery in Kentucky (www.nolinnursery.com) and Burnt Ridge in Washington state (www.burntridgenursery) can help you select appropriate varieties.

Increasingly, nuts are being touted as sources of protein, antioxidants and “good” fats. A few to nibble between meals will kill the urge for less-healthful snacks. Once planted, a nut tree (and a companion if needed for pollination) will employ its deep root system to mine the soil for important minerals for your diet. Harvest usually means picking the nuts off the ground.

I must have been about 10 the day our building’s super rapped excitedly on our apartment door. The elevator was filled with bulging bank money bags, like a room in Scrooge McDuck’s mansion. “Don’t worry, Ferdinand,” my mother said calmly. “They’re pecans.” And we were all the richer for them.

Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of “The Garden Primer.”

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Pecan tree roots and foundation

The age of the tree is not as important as the size of the tree. Mature pecan trees reach a height of 70 – 100 feet, with a spread of 50 – 70 feet. In general, the root system of a tree extends as least to the drip line (the edge of the crown of the tree), and can extend much further, depending on the species and the environmental conditions.
Tree roots do not typically invade a foundation, though they can contribute to damage. Because they pull water from the soil, they intensify the effect of drought conditions. Soil, especially if the clay content is high, shrinks when it dries. As the soil moves away from the foundation, the risk that the foundation may settle and crack increases. This is more likely to cause a problem with a basement than a slab.
When a tree root comes into contact with a solid mass like a foundation, it will begin to grow in a different direction. Depending on the depth of the foundation (slab), the roots may grow under it, causing it to lift. Even if they do not grow under it (basement), they will continue to increase in diameter as they grow along it, putting pressure on the surface.
If the area along the foundation is kept dry on a continuous basis, perhaps shielded by eaves and gutters, roots will not grow into it. Installation of a root barrier would also keep the roots away from the structure, though you may not have enough space for one of these. (The barriers are not thick, but they need to be some distance from the foundation to be effective. Installation might compromise the existing root systems.)
These are rather large trees to be placed as close to a building as these have been. It may be beneficial to have a certified arborist evaluate your site before making a decision about your next steps. You can find a listing of certified arborists in your area at https://www.treesaregood.org/findanarborist/findanarborist
Regards,

The Pros and Cons of Backyard Pecan Production

The concept of growing a tree big enough to provide shade and produce delicious nuts is very appealing to homeowners. However, there are several challenges associated with growing pecan trees in an urban setting.

Because of its tremendous size at maturity, a pecan tree can overwhelm many residential properties. It is also a high-maintenance tree based on the amount of resources required to keep it healthy and ensure a harvest.

The biggest mistake homeowners make is not giving pecan trees enough room. If your goal is to maximize nut production, no object, whether it is another tree or structure, should be located close enough to shade any portion of the pecan tree.

Another benefit of not crowding your pecan tree is a reduction in the incidence of scab, a fungus disease. Air movement through the tree canopy dries the foliage, eliminating the environment for disease development. Boxed-in pecan trees are more prone to scab because air flow is reduced.

Neglected pecan trees can pose a hazard to people and property. Trees that are not properly trained when young have a tendency to develop forked lower branches. With age, these trees are at risk of splitting out during a storm. Winter is the normal time to correct structural defects and remove dead wood; however, pruning can be done at any time, if necessary.

To maintain health and ensure consistent nut production, be sure to fertilize pecan trees annually. Many people fertilize trees based on what they think the tree needs, but fertilizing based on a soil test fertilizer recommendation is much more accurate. For instructions on taking a soil sample, contact your county Extension office or the Noble Research Institute. In the absence of a fertilizer recommendation, apply a complete fertilizer such as 17-17-17 at the rate of 4 cups for each inch of trunk diameter in February. If the tree sets a heavy crop of nuts (noticeable in May), make a second application in June. Broadcast apply the fertilizer starting 3 feet from the trunk and extending a few feet past the canopy. Water the fertilizer into the soil promptly.

Many backyard pecan trees in Oklahoma are deficient in zinc. Trees deficient in zinc have small leaves and highly branched twigs at the shoot tips. To correct zinc deficiency, apply 36 percent zinc sulfate to the soil at the rate of 1/2 pound per inch of trunk diameter with a maximum of 10 lbs. per tree per year. If soil pH is above 7.0 (as indicated by soil test), zinc should be applied as a spray to the foliage. Plan on applying zinc at least three times between bud break and mid June. Apply at the rate of 2 teaspoons per gallon of water.

Don’t expect to produce well-filled nuts without irrigation. Because a pecan tree has such an expansive root system, every effort should be made to water the entire surface area covered by the tree canopy. The water needs of a pecan tree will vary from 1 inch per week in the spring to more than 2 inches per week in the summer. If turfgrass is established under the tree, apply additional water to compensate for additional demand. Each watering should be sufficient to thoroughly soak the soil to a depth of 12 inches.

There are several pecan insect pests that routinely damage both foliage and nuts. Aphids feeding on foliage excrete a sticky substance, referred to as honeydew, that falls from the tree like rain, making a mess of everything it falls on, including lawn furniture and vehicles. The “cotton candy” bags that appear in pecan trees during late summer are caused by fall webworm. Webworm infested trees are unsightly and, depending on the timing and severity of the infestation, can experience a reduction in yield. The pecan nut casebearer and pecan weevil are nut feeders. The casebearer destroys small newly formed nutlets in the spring while the weevil attacks the nuts during the late summer and fall. Proper timing of spray applications is especially important for control of the casebearer and weevil. Spray dates for these pests may vary each year, so it’s a good idea to check with your county Extension office or the Noble Research Institute for assistance with timing of insecticide applications.

Large pecan trees can be a problem to spray. Hose-end sprayers are the only type most home owners have at their disposal that can spray very far up into the tree, but even these are limited to trees no more than 30 feet tall. If your tree exceeds the reach of your sprayer, enlist the services of a local pest control company.

Spraying a tree located in a residential area can be a risky undertaking. Most people aren’t thrilled with the prospect of pesticides drifting over their property. Make every effort to spray on a calm day and use the safest chemical for the job. For assistance choosing an appropriate pesticide, contact your county Extension service or the Noble Research Institute.

No one enjoys fertilizing, watering and spraying their pecan trees only to see squirrels, crows and bluejays carry off the nuts. While it is not possible to achieve complete control of wildlife in urban areas, it is possible to reduce the amount of depredation using live traps and scare tactics.

Residential pecan production is rarely a paying proposition. When you consider the cost associated with animal control, insect control, fertilization and irrigation, most urbanites would be money ahead purchasing pecans.

For more information on residential pecan production, give me a call at (580) 223-5810 or email me at [email protected]

Planting a pecan tree in your yard
Hopefully you have already read our introduction page on planting a pecan tree. You’ve chosen your variety of pecan tree, picked a suitable location, and the time has arrived to plant your pecan tree. It’s time to pick up the shovel.
Pecan trees have a central tap root whose sole purpose during it’s lifespan is to seek out water and nutrients in the soil, vasts amounts of water and nutrients. It’s important to keep this mission in mind as you plant. If you are living in an area with shallow topsoil, solid bedrock, lack of a sub-surface water table, or just a nutrient deficient soil, you might want to reconsider the idea of planting a pecan tree. Regardless how diligent you are in caring for your tree, if the right conditions don’t exist, your pecan tree will struggle.
If you purchased your pecan tree locally, it probably came in a container, a ‘bucket’ with dirt covering the roots of the tree. If you purchased your tree from a distant nursery, it would more than likely arrive at your home ‘bare root,’ with no soil protecting the tree roots. While I’ve had success in planting bare root trees, it is important to note that the tree inevitably suffered some stress and will require additional care to pull it through.
Your first and foremost chore when your new tree arrives, whether it be bare root or in a container, is to water it thoroughly. If your tree is bare root and you cannot plant it immediately, you should dig a shallow trench and get your tree into soil as quickly as possible. Be sure all roots are covered with soil and soak the tree roots with water.
Let’s plant a pecan tree
Dig a hole. While planting a tree is a simple undertaking, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Unless you are planting a native pecan tree, your tree is a grafted hybrid variety, which means a branch from a specific variety of pecan tree has been grafted onto native rootstock. When digging your hole, be sure not to plant the tree deeper than the roots of the tree. The graft, usually just above the root system, is typically recognized as a knot or a crook in the base of your young tree. If you bury the graft, the tree will put off shoots below the graft, which will be native rather than the hybrid pecan variety. Your tree runs the risk of losing it’s graft. You should plant your tree with at least three inches of native trunk exposed above ground level. In other words, your graft should be about four fingers above the soil line.
While care should be taken not to plant your tree too deep, the bottom of your hole should be loosened with a shovel to make it easier for your tap root to establish itself. Dig the hole two and a half to three feet in diameter to allow young feeder roots ample room to spread. Once your hole is dug, fill it completely full of water. You can take a break as you allow the water time to soak completely into the soil. This is, I firmly believe, the single most important step in successful pecan tree planting.
Once the water no longer stands in your hole, if you are planting a container-grown tree, gently bump the sides of the container with the heel of your hands to loosen the dirt. Grasp the tree by its trunk and lift it from the container and gently place it in your hole. If you see that your hole is a bit too deep, scoop some loose soil into the bottom of the hole. Work soil into the hole around the dirt holding your tree in place. Tamp the soil lightly to remove any air pockets. Do not pack the soil tightly around your tree.
If you are planting a bare root pecan tree, you may need a helper, since you are basically attempting to put a one to two inch diameter ‘stick’ into a three foot hole. Have your helper position your tree in the center of the hole with the bottom of the tap root resting on the bottom of the hole. You should scoop loose dirt into the hole with your hands, taking care to position any small feeder roots in a horizontal position before covering them with soil. Once your hole is filled, gently tamp the soil to remove any air pockets.
You now have your pecan tree planted. With a water hose, soak the area around your tree. This will allow the dirt to settle around the roots and will also remove any remaining air pockets.
Your young pecan tree will probably need to be staked. Wind, pets, kids, and such can cause damage. You’ll need some rope, preferably cotton or nylon, and three stakes. To prevent damage to your young tree trunk, wrap an area with plastic or rubber (a piece of bicycle innertube works great.) Then loosely tie the three pieces of rope onto the protected trunk. Drive the three stakes an equal distance apart into the ground and attach the rope.
While you sit back and patiently wait for spring to bring your newly planted tree to life, keep these important tips in mind. Water your tree frequently and thoroughly during its first few years. Keep insects off your young tree. A zinc spray is essential for optimal growth, however nitrogen fertilizer should not be applied during the first growing season. For more in-depth information on caring for your new pecan tree, be sure to visit our other sections of Texas Pecan Trees.

The Insider’s Guide to Texas Pecan Trees

How to Care for and Harvest Pecan Trees

As the state tree of Texas, pecan trees are a mainstay of Texas imagery and culture. These stately beauties reach heights between 60 and 80 feet at maturity and have expansive branches. Texas pecan trees make excellent shade trees, and you’ll love having a yearly harvest of pecans. Taking proper care of your pecan tree is vital for it to reach its full potential.

Planting or Transplanting

When you first acquire a pecan tree, whether it’s a young or mature tree, you’ll need to make sure it is planted in a location where it can thrive. Pecan trees need to be planted somewhere with deep, rich soil, good drainage and plenty of room to grow. The root system of a pecan tree can extend for many feet underground, so you want to make sure that there aren’t any pipes or additional plants competing for the same space. Without proper drainage, pecan trees are susceptible to root death, reduced transportation of minerals and rot diseases.

Additionally, you should consider planting two varieties of pecan trees together. This will allow for cross-pollination and lead to more abundant pecan harvests. Just make sure each tree is given plenty of space, so neither tree is crowded.

Maintenance and Care

Pruning is one of the most important aspects of tree care. For young pecan trees, you will need to establish a strong leader branch and a sturdy scaffold structure. Mature pecan trees only need to have dead, broken or diseased branches removed periodically. The best way to make sure your tree is being maintained properly is to use Fannin’s tree pruning service.

Proper fertilization is vital for Texas pecan trees. Without plenty of lime, nitrogen and zinc, pecan trees will not produce good harvests. You should not fertilize pecan trees after July, however, as it can make them more susceptible to freezing during the winter months. Participating in our Thrive Tree Program or consulting our certified arborist about the best type of fertilizer to use will help you keep your pecan tree properly nourished.

Harvesting

One of the major benefits of having a pecan tree is the yearly harvest of fresh pecans. Pecan trees are usually ready to be harvested by early September, as the husks reach their full size by late summer. When these husks begin to split, the pecans will fall from the tree. Before pecan husks start falling, clear the space around your pecan tree of debris to make picking up the pecans easier. Not all of the pecans will fall to the ground, so you can gently shake the limbs of your pecan tree to get the most out of your harvest.

Harvesting pecans can be a labor-intensive task, but tools like a rake or a rolling pecan picker can help. Additionally, it’s important to collect pecans as soon as possible once they’ve fallen from the tree to prevent them from rotting.

Once you’ve harvested all the pecans, you’ll need to sort them. If the shell is not a uniform color, feels light or sounds hollow, it is unlikely that the pecan inside is worth it. These pecans can be discarded. Once sorted, pecans should be kept in a cool, dry place in a breathable container for a few weeks after harvesting. This allows them to cure, making it easier to shell them.

Pecan trees require a lot of care, but their beautiful appearance, abundant shade and yearly harvest of fresh nuts make them one of the best native Texas trees.

Top 5 best practices for pecan trees

  • Site Selection. Pecan trees love deep well drained soil. Pecan trees will grow in many conditions but to really thrive and produce a good pecan nut crop they need deep soil they can “breath” in. If the roots are standing in water for weeks at a time it chokes out the oxygen. Pecan roots need air in the root zone. A soil that drains helps to bring air to the roots.

  • Pecan Varieties. Different pecan varieties do best in different climates. Western and Witchita do not do well in east Texas but are very popular in west Texas. Northern Oklahoma needs varieties that ripen early such as Kanza and Pawnee because of their shorter growing season. It is good to know what pecan varieties will do well in your area.

  • Irrigation. Pecan trees need water in the summer. There are dry land pecan orchards but it is risky. Pecan trees are hardy after they are established on a site but without proper water in the summer the nuts will not fill properly. It is also inevitable that when water needs peak in the heat of summer we have some of our driest months. To grow high quality pecans year over year proper irrigation is needed.

  • Weeds. When pecan trees are young keeping the weeds off of them is important. Research studies have shown that a pecan tree will grow twice as fast with adequate weed control. Weeds should be kept at a minimum of 3’ away from the trunk.

  • Foliage Health. The leaves of a pecan tree are like the solar cells that make the energy for the pecan tree to grow. Pecan trees should not be crowded by other trees but instead should have full sun. Proper nutrients are also needed for healthy foliage. In June leaf samples can be taken and sent to your state testing lab. These pecan leaf tests will show any nutrient deficiencies you may have. Pecan scab is an issue in areas with higher rainfall but even with scab resistant trees other fungus issues can develop. Except in the driest areas fungicide sprays are needed to maintain strong foliage health, especially in wet years.

As you work with your pecan trees over the years you will learn the best management practices for your area. Enjoy!

Pecan Container-Grown Tree Planting and Care

Start by digging a hole a little deeper and several inches wider than the container. If your soil is hard score the sides of your hole to help prevent new pecan roots from circling in the hole.

When centered in the hole, the planting height of the pecan tree compared to the surrounding soil should be set at the root flare of the tree. The indicator for this is the first fine root or where the trunk increases in diameter. Have the first root or flare slightly above the soil level. Planting pecan trees too deep will hinder or in extreme cases kill the tree over time.

Do not place any fertilizer in the hole or soil conditioners. Studies have shown the pecan tree needs to be surrounded by native soil.

You can now remove the pecan tree from the container. If the tree is stuck in the pot you can cut the pot away with a knife or some snips.

Pecan trees often have long roots that circle at the bottom of the container. These circling roots need to be cut. Find where the roots begin to circle and cut them there. The cutting of the roots stimulates root growth and prevents issues that arise later from circling roots. If the smaller feeder roots are highly concentrated on the sides of the root ball use a utility knife to make vertical cuts in the root ball. This will cause the new roots to grow outward into the native soil.

Place your pecan tree in the hole with the top edge of the root ball slightly above ground level to allow for settling. Nursery container soil mix can act as a wick and pull moisture away from the roots. Flake off some of the top of the container mix and add an additional inch of soil to prevent roots from drying out.

After the pecan tree is set at the appropriate depth, begin filling the hole with soil and water. You can keep the water running as you fill the hole. It is important to not have any air pockets in your soil. Fill your hole with loose soil and water to overflowing to help the soil settle properly. It is not good to backfill with big clods of dirt. With the remaining soil you can build a berm around the tree to hold additional water while the pecan tree is getting established

It is helpful to have a trunk protector. A 2 to 3 foot growing tube or sleeve can fit around the tree, such as 4 inch corrugated drain pipe. You’ll want to split the pipe down the entire length of one side so it can be easily removed after a few years. Deer and gophers love pecan trees. If you have pressure from these more protective measures may need to be taken.

Care of Newly Planted Pecan Trees

Watering

Your newly planted pecan tree will need adequate water to thrive. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, supply each tree with 10 to 15 gallons of water per week for the first two years (growing seasons). Avoid over watering. Constantly soggy or wet soil can lead to root rot and other plant diseases.

Fertilizing

Do not place fertilizer in the planting hole at planting time. Doing so can burn the roots of young trees. In early spring you can spread a 13-13-13 type fertilizer around the tree but keep it away from the trunk of the pecan tree.

Weeding

Research studies have shown that a young pecan tree will grow twice as fast in a weed free environment compared to one that is competing with grass and weeds. A minimum three foot radius (6’ diameter) of weed free area should be maintained around the tree. Mulch can be added to help in weed control but you don’t want the mulch piled high against the trunk. If you do not have a trunk protector take care to not spray any herbicide on a young pecan tree trunk or tree shoots.

Pecan Bare Root Tree Planting and Care

Take care to keep your bare root pecan trees from drying out. The roots should be kept moist from the time they leave the nursey until the pecan trees are planted. If the bare root pecan trees can’t be planted soon after pickup from the nursery they can be heeled in. This is typically done by finding a shady place and digging a sloped hole. The pecan trees are then placed in the hole and the roots covered with dirt. It is important to keep the soil moist. Sawdust or other fine particles can also be used to cover the pecan tree roots to help keep them moist.

When you are ready to plant your bare root pecan trees it is recommended to dig an 18” diameter hole. If your soil is hard, score the sides of your hole to help prevent new pecan roots from circling in the hole. The hole should be around 22” deep.

You can now prune the roots of the pecan tree. When pecan roots are cut they regrow from the cut ends. It is these new roots that absorb the water and nutrients. The fine roots on a pecan bare root tree have dried up. The new roots that grow uptake the water and nutrients the pecan tree needs. It is important to have the bare root pecan tree in its planting hole before spring bud swell. At this early stage of bud swell the signal is given to the pecan roots to grow for the spring push.

The pecan tap root can be pruned to around 18”. It will feel hard to do this but research has shown cutting the pecan root actually stimulates root growth. Also trim the lateral side roots to be 3”-4” from the sides of your hole.

When centered in the hole, the planting height of the pecan tree compared to the surrounding soil should be set at the root flare of the tree. The indicator for this is the first fine root or where the trunk increases in diameter. Have the first root or flare slightly above the soil level. Planting pecan trees too deep will hinder or in extreme cases kill the tree over time.

Do not place any fertilizer in the hole or soil conditioners. Studies have shown the pecan tree needs to be surrounded by native soil.

After the pecan tree is set at the appropriate depth, begin filling the hole with soil and water. You can keep the water running as you fill the hole. It is important to not have any air pockets in your soil. Fill your hole with loose soil and water to overflowing to help the soil settle properly. It is not good to backfill with big clods of dirt.

Most pecan tree research programs also recommend cutting one half to one third off of the top of the bare root pecan tree. This is done to keep the ratio of the top growth and root growth to be comparable to each other.

A trunk protector is recommended. A 2 to 3 foot growing tube or sleeve can fit around the pecan tree, such as 4 inch corrugated drain pipe. You’ll want to split the pipe down the entire length of one side so it can be easily removed after a few years. Deer and gophers love pecan trees. If you have pressure from these more protective measures may need to be taken.

GARDENING: Pecan tree pruning

Question: How much, at what age, and at what time of the year is the best time to prune a pecan tree in the West Texas area?

Answer: You should begin training (pruning) your tree in year one. Choose a healthy strong stem to serve as the central leader removing any others that have extremely narrow angles of attachment (30 degrees or less) relative to the leader you’ve chosen. Generally, it is best to choose the tallest branch to serve as the dominant leader.

Train your tree to have scaffold branches that do not compete for space so that sunlight may penetrate the canopy. When your tree is mature, its scaffold branches should be horizontally spaced about 1.5 -2 feet apart.

Also, if you can imagine looking down at your tree from overhead, the branches should resemble something like the spokes of a wagon wheel. Try to prune in a way that prevents one branch from being directly over the branch immediately below it. Allowing branches to crowd within the canopy reduces the penetration of sunlight and restricts airflow which may permit certain foliar diseases to develop.

Late winter is when most pruning is done but light pruning can be done any time of year as necessary to reduce the load on pecans during heavy nut bearing years. This type of carefully planned pruning will also help control the crazy back and forth cycle of heavy bearing followed by low bearing years of nut production.

Avoid pruning more than 20% of the live wood out of your pecan in any given year. Of course, you can prune dead, diseased and damaged branches whenever you spot them.

The Master Gardener program has been designed specifically to encourage working people to join in 2019.

To learn more about tree care or to become a Master Gardener in 2019, contact the Ector County Extension office at 498-4071, the Midland County Extension office at 686-4700, or email [email protected] for an application.

Pecan Trees for the Home or Backyard Orchard

Bulletin 1348 View PDF picture_as_pdf

Lenny Wells, University of Georgia, Extension Horticulture
Will Hudson, University of Georgia, Extension Entomology
Jason Brock, University of Georgia, Extension Plant Pathology

  • Cultivars
  • Location and Spacing
  • Planting Trees
  • Care of Young Trees
  • Care of Bearing Trees
  • Harvesting Pecans

Pecan trees are commonly found surrounding both urban and rural dwellings throughout Georgia. They can enhance the environment and provide additional income from the sale of nuts. Pecans are recommended for home planting in the Coastal Plain and Piedmont, but are not recommended for the north Georgia mountains.

When planted, a pecan grown from seed (called a “seedling”) does not produce a tree identical to its parent. In fact, each seedling tree is unique and will have extremely variable nut quality. Therefore, to propagate a tree of a given cultivar, buds or shoots from the parent tree must be grafted onto seedling rootstock.

Some pecan cultivars are not profitable because of their susceptibility to insect pests and diseases such as pecan scab. Many seedling trees and cultivars also produce inferior nuts that may be unsuitable for sale or consumption. In order to successfully produce pecans in a home orchard, low-input management is a must.

Cultivars

Selecting a cultivar or variety is the most important decision for successfully growing pecans. There are numerous pecan varieties from which to choose, but only a few are suitable for yard-tree planting because many home orchardists are unable to adequately apply pesticides. Destructive diseases and insect pests are difficult to manage without the aid of costly chemical pesticides and an “airblast” pecan tree sprayer. Fortunately, there are scab-resistant cultivars that can produce quality pecan kernels. The highest-quality pecans are those with a high kernel percentage (the kernel comprises much of the nut’s in-shell weight).

Commonly-found cultivars currently recommended for yard-tree plantings include Elliott, Excel, Gloria Grande and Sumner. These cultivars are readily obtained from most pecan tree nurseries that serve the southeastern United States. Other cultivars well-suited to backyard orchards include Amling, Carter, Gafford and McMillan; however, their availability is limited. To ensure good pollination, plant at least two varieties. This is especially important for areas with few surrounding pecan trees.

Cultivar Descriptions

Elliot — “Elliot” has an extremely high quality, small, teardrop-shaped nut. It bears alternately, but nut quality remains high in the “on” years. High scab resistance makes it a good choice for home orchards. “Elliot” is susceptible to late spring freezes and should not be planted in north Georgia or in low spots. Yellow aphids can be a problem, and young trees are slow to come into production.

Excel — “Excel” was discovered as a seedling tree, then patented and disseminated by Andy Clough, who operates a nursery on his pecan farm near Blackshear, Ga. Nut size is large and similar to “Desirable,” but the shell is thick. “Excel” currently has high resistance or immunity to scab; however, once new cultivars are widely planted, scab resistance often breaks down. Nut quality has been marginal due to low kernel percentage (49 percent), but most trees are young so it is difficult to assess what the quality of mature trees will be.

Gloria Grande — “Gloria Grande” is slow to come into full production, but its primary attributes are a high resistance to scab and consistent yields as a mature tree. “Gloria Grande” will produce a crop of large, thick-shelled nuts in most years. However, it produces fuzzy kernels some years, similar to “Stuart,” and black aphids may damage the foliage most years.

Sumner — “Sumner” is slow to come into bearing. Mature tree production is usually average, with fairly regular production. “Sumner” produces large nuts of moderate quality. As a favorite cultivar of black pecan aphids, it is typically one of the first to show damage from this pest. Historically, “Sumner” has been resistant to scab, although susceptibility has recently been reported in some locations.

Amling — “Amling” is a cultivar from Alabama. It produces moderate-to-small nuts of good quality with minimal care and no sprays. Scab resistance is excellent, and harvest date is early.

Carter — “Carter” is an Alabama cultivar that produces a large nut and has an estimated harvest date of October 18. Veins have been visible on kernels in some years.

Gafford — Another Alabama cultivar that produces a good quality nut, “Gafford” has excellent scab resistance. Little is known about its long-term yield potential, but it is reported to be highly insect resistant in Alabama.

McMillan — “McMillian” is another low-input cultivar from Alabama that has been highly productive and consistent, with light scab damage on nuts. Its estimated harvest date is October 20.

Location and Spacing

It is important to plant pecan trees well away from structures, buildings and overhead power lines because of the ultimate size the trees will reach.

Yard and home orchard trees should be spaced at least 60 to 80 feet apart so they will not crowd as they reach maturity and so thinning will not be required. Crowding can cause misshaped trees and decreased production.

Planting Trees

Pecan trees are most commonly planted as bare-root transplants; however, container-grown transplants may also be used. Bare-root trees provide a lower initial cost and are more readily available. Bare-root trees should be transplanted while dormant, between December and March — the earlier the better — to get good root establishment by spring. Container-grown trees normally suffer less transplant shock, and can be transplanted from October to May. Although container-grown trees may be planted while non-dormant and in foliage, tree stress is reduced and survival is better if they are planted in the dormant season. In any case, adequate soil moisture is a necessity.

If possible, plant trees the day they are received from the nursery. Many trees bought from mail-order dealers or garden centers will have been out of the ground for several days. If these trees have been stored and handled properly, they should survive and grow. If trees appear dry, soak them in water for several hours to refresh them prior to planting. The major causes of death and/or low vigor in young pecan trees are drying before planting and failing to supply adequate moisture for the first two years following transplanting.

Bare-Root Trees — Bare-root pecan trees have long taproots and require a deep planting hole. In most situations, the hole should be at least three feet deep and 12 to 24 inches wide so that all side roots can be properly positioned as the hole is refilled.

When centered in the hole, trees should be set at the same depth they stood in the nursery — usually indicated by a color change on the bark. It is critical that the tree not be planted too deeply because the roots may die from lack of oxygen, leading to tree stress or death. Additionally, trees set too deeply are often easily blown over in a storm when they reach 15 to 20 years of age.

Roots should be arranged in a natural position. Limited root trimming is permissible, but should be kept to a minimum. Twisted, broken or excessively long roots should be trimmed to fit in the hole. Every effort should be made to keep the taproot as intact as possible; however, excessively long taproots may be trimmed. Do not place fertilizer in the hole.

After the tree is set at the appropriate depth, begin filling the hole with water. When the hole is ½ to ¾ full, push dirt into the hole while the water continues to run. When the water level approaches the top of the hole, turn the water off and fill the rest of the hole with dirt. This will prevent air pockets from developing around the roots. Level — do not pack — the soil around the tree. Very little soil settling should occur, but if it does, additional soil can be added to bring the soil level with the surface again. It is not necessary to create a berm or basin around the tree to hold water.

After planting, prune ⅓ to ½ of the top of the tree and remove any branches to compensate for the large percentage of roots lost when the tree was dug.

The trunk should be protected from cold damage, herbicides and wildlife for the first three years. This can be done by painting the trunk with white latex paint or by placing a 2½- to 3½-foot growing tube or sleeve over the tree. Four-inch corrugated drain pipe is often used for this purpose, and horticultural suppliers also sell pre-cut and ready-made sleeves. Split tubes or sleeves down the length of one side so they can be removed after two years.

Finally, mulch trees with a six-inch layer of pine straw, leaves or old sawdust. This helps hold moisture and limits competition from grass and weeds.

Container-Grown Tree Planting — Container-grown pecan trees are planted similarly to bare-root trees. After removing trees from containers, check them for pot-bound roots. If this is a problem, the roots should be pulled away from the soil and pruned. If the taproot has become twisted at the base of the container, it should be straightened or cut to encourage new taproot growth.

Place the root ball in the hole and add water and soil as indicated above for bare-root trees. Because container soil mix can act as a wick and pull moisture away from the roots, cover it with an additional inch of soil to prevent roots from drying out.

Care of Young Trees

Watering — To successfully grow pecan trees, it is important to adequately water them (10 to 15 gallons at regular weekly intervals, either by rainfall or irrigation) for the first two to three years. Most young pecan trees lose a large percentage of their roots during digging and transplanting, and their limited root system must be supplied regularly with water. This is one management practice that must not be neglected.

Fertility and pH — Do not place fertilizer in the planting hole as it may burn the roots, damaging or killing the tree. To accurately determine fertilizer and lime needs, take a soil sample prior to planting. If no soil test was made, use a general rate of about one pound of 5-10-15 fertilizer distributed in a 25-square-foot area around the tree. Make this application in June following planting. The following year, apply one pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer in March and again in June. Do not place fertilizer within 12 inches of the trunk.

Young trees should make between two and four feet of terminal growth each year. Where growth is less, apply one pound of ammonium nitrate fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter in June or July. As a general recommendation, apply one pound of zinc sulfate per tree for the first three years following planting. Spread the fertilizer and zinc sulfate in a circle around the tree outside of the planting hole.

Care of Bearing Trees

Fertilizing — Fertilization is one of the most important practices for bearing trees. If the trees are to produce a good crop, terminal growth should be six inches each year. In the absence of a leaf analysis or soil test, broadcast four pounds of a complete fertilizer such as 10-10-10 for each inch of trunk diameter (measure 4½ feet above soil level), up to a maximum of 25 lbs. per tree. Ammonium nitrate may also be used at a rate of one lb. per inch of trunk diameter, up to a maximum of eight lbs. per tree. This fertilizer should be applied in mid- to late March.

Zinc nutrition is especially important in pecan production. Zinc needs are best determined by analyzing leaf samples taken in late July or early August. Mailing kits and instructions for taking samples are available from your county Extension office. The leaf analysis report will tell you how much zinc to apply.

In the absence of a leaf analysis, apply one pound of zinc sulfate to young trees and three to five pounds to large trees each year. A soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5 assures the availability of essential nutrients. If the pH is too low or too high, uptake and use of nutrients is impaired. Apply lime as suggested in the soil test report to correct low soil pH.

Water — Water has more of an effect on pecan production than any other environmental factor, particularly where nut quality is concerned. Drought stress affects nut size and filling, as well as leaf and shoot growth. Adequate soil moisture is important at bud break for stimulating strong, vigorous growth; from bloom through shell hardening for nut size; and during the nut filling stage for optimizing kernel percentage. If trees do not receive adequate soil moisture levels late in the season, shuck split and energy reserves are affected.

The nut sizing period normally occurs from May 1 through August 15. Even though this is not a critical water-use stage for pecan, serious drought conditions during this period can affect yield. The most common visible effects of an extended drought during this period are excessive nut drop and “shell hardening” on small nuts. Lack of sufficient water during the nut sizing period also causes small nuts and may lead to water stage fruit split, which results from a sudden influx of water during the nut filling stage in some varieties.

The nut filling stage occurs from about August 15 to the first week of October, depending on variety. The most critical period for water use is during the first two weeks of September. Reports from other areas of the country indicate that as much as 350 gallons of water per day can be required by each tree during the nut filling stage. Lack of sufficient water during the nut filling stage will lead to poorly-filled nuts, poor nut quality and increased alternate bearing.

Insect Control — Although backyard or home orchard pecan trees seldom develop serious insect problems, treating the trees if pests do begin to build can be difficult. Whole-tree spraying is not an option. However, some of the most likely pests can be controlled effectively with insecticides that are available without a pesticide license, using application techniques that are safe to use around children and pets and are compatible with the typical home environment. Follow all label directions to minimize risks.

Weevils — Pecan weevils can be controlled by spraying tree trunks with an insecticide containing the active ingredient carbaryl. Mix the pesticide in a hand sprayer and spray a two-foot-wide band around the tree trunk about waist high, taking care to get thorough coverage. Treatment should usually begin in mid-August and repeated about three weeks later.

Aphids — Pecan aphids can be controlled with root-zone applications of a systemic insecticide containing the active ingredient imidacloprid. Mix the labeled amount in a bucket of water and pour the solution around the base of the tree. For large trees, the insecticide should be mixed in two-to-three gallons of water per tree. Young trees can be treated effectively with one-to-two gallons of solution. Follow the label indications to determine the correct amount of insecticide for the size of tree being treated. Pecan trees can tolerate surprisingly large numbers of aphids, particularly yellow aphids, without loss of yield. Treat when honeydew accumulation under the tree is heavy, and when sooty mold begins to blacken the lower leaves. Rainstorms will wash off the honeydew and reduce aphid populations directly, so treatment may not be necessary in most years if the weather cooperates.

Livestock Control — If trees are planted in pasture areas, they will need to be fenced in to prevent animals from feeding on them.

Disease Control — Diseases can severely limit pecan production. The major pecan disease is pecan scab, a fungus that is prevalent throughout the southeastern U.S., and that can devastate unsprayed, susceptible cultivars. Pecan scab occurs on leaves, twigs and nut shucks. All tissues are most susceptible when young and actively growing, becoming less easily infected when mature. Leaves are susceptible from bud break until they reach maturity. Nut shucks are susceptible from development until maturity.

The best way to control scab is to plant scab-resistant varieties. In many cases, pecan scab cannot be controlled on susceptible varieties without spraying. The severity of pecan scab in a given year is determined by rainfall frequency — the longer the period of leaf/nut wetness, the heavier the scab pressure.

Scab lesions are typically small, brown-to-black spots, one to five millimeters across, with a velvety or rough appearance when the fungus is sporulating. If conditions favor further scab development, the lesions can coalesce, covering much of the leaf or nut surface.

Sanitation can almost always help reduce losses from scab and other minor diseases. Nearly all fruit and foliage diseases of pecans, including scab, overwinter on plant parts infected the year before. Complete removal and destruction of leaves and shucks during the winter can reduce carry-over of scab and other diseases and help control them. Removing limbs touching the ground not only promotes air movement under the tree but also helps reduce the leaf wetness necessary for disease infection. Spraying the lower limbs with a home garden sprayer will ensure disease control on those limbs. If you plan to spray, make the first application at bud swell and continue every 14 to 21 days until mid-August.

Birds and Squirrels — Squirrels are often a serious pest, especially if trees are located near a wooded area. Hunting in season can minimize damage from squirrels. If it becomes necessary to kill squirrels out of season, a permit from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is required.

No chemicals are currently legal for poisoning squirrels or birds; however, barriers and trapping do offer some protection from squirrels.

Barriers — Individual trees can be protected from squirrels by banding the trunk with a metal shield about 24 inches wide, encircling the trunk about five feet above the ground. Slots on the metal, instead of holes, will allow the metal band to slip past the fastening spikes as the tree grows. Partially withdraw the spikes each year to prevent them from becoming embedded in the trunk.

Trapping — Live traps and size 1½ leg hold traps will catch squirrels. Release trapped animals in wooded areas.

Harvesting Pecans

Harvesting the nuts as soon as they mature is essential for preventing nut loss due to predation and deterioration, and ensures better quality. One of the quickest ways to lose nut quality is to let them lay on wet ground. Harvest early and store nuts in a clean, dry place.

Photo from Photobucket.com

Status and Revision History
Published on Oct 31, 2008
Published with Full Review on Oct 31, 2011
Published with Full Review on Feb 06, 2015
Published with Full Review on Sep 04, 2019

News

The pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) is a large hardwood tree native to the mixed forests and bottomland hardwood swamps along large rivers from the Mississippi westward into East Texas and Mexico.

They can get 70-100 feet tall and spread as much as 70 feet wide across. Pecans are widely grown commercially and in the home landscape in United States department of agriculture plant hardiness zones 6-9.

Many people ask us how long it takes for a pecan tree to produce quality nuts and how to increase pecan nut production per tree. If you are wondering these questions please read ahead!

Growing a Pecan Tree

You can grow your own pecan tree by planting a pecan nut, but it can take 10 to 15 years or more before you get your first crop of pecans. On the other hand, if you plant a grafted tree, such as the ones available from Perfect Plants Nursery, your tree can start pecan production in as little as 3 or 4 years. See our Pecan Grow Guide, and our Blog about growing pecans from the nut for more details. Our pecan trees ship rooted in soil and they are not bare root. Plant pecan trees in late winter or early spring for best results.

You can see the pecan husk enclosing the woody inner shell that protects the edible kernel.

The pecan nut consists of a soft edible kernel, enclosed in a hard woody shell, that is itself enclosed in a leathery husk with a diameter of 2 to 3 inches.

When the nuts are mature, generally from September through November, the husks turn from green to brown and split open, releasing the nuts which drop to the ground. This is before the leaves begin to drop in the fall.

Pecan trees tend to exhibit a strong crop one year and less of a crop the next, this is known as alternate bearing. The causes of this is unknown. The best way to conquer this is by planting trees of different pollinator types and varieties of pecan trees..

When to Pick Pecans

Pecan pickers can start harvesting pecans in the early to middle fall months. Search around the trees as wind can carry them but not too far away.

In early September, start looking for pecans on the ground under your trees. It will be helpful if you have kept the grass mowed low beneath the trees. Pecans are ready for harvest when the outer husks have fallen off and or the nuts have fallen to the ground.

Once your trees have started dropping nuts, you can speed up the harvest by shaking the tree’s branches and knocking them with long poles. If you are picking up pecans by hand, they will be easier to see and pick up if you spread a sheet or tarp out underneath the tree. A pecan pick up tool or mechanical harvester/tree shaker can make it even easier. Harvesters may be hand operated (like an old style reel-type lawn mower) or larger models that are pulled behind a tractor.

Squirrels and other wildlife love to munch of fallen nuts

Pecan nuts will drop continuously for a couple weeks or more, so you need to check frequently if you are to beat the squirrels and deer. Allowing the nuts to lie on the ground for extended periods will invite rot as well as various marauding critters.

How to Store Pecans

This pecan farmer is sifting through the nuts for bad or imperfect nuts to not process.

Pecans must be air dried at room temperature before use or going into pecan storage. Pecan nuts are encased in a leathery hull that may or may not split open on its own. Ensure that the hulls are removed, and the nuts are sound, then spread them out on a tarp or other smooth surface to dry.

Stir the nuts every day. It should take about 10 days for the nuts to dry. Test the nuts by cracking open: the shells should be dry and brittle, and the kernels should snap in two (not flex) when bent.

You can store fresh pecans in their shells in air-tight containers or plastic bags for several months. Keep them in a cool, dry place to avoid absorbing oils. Shelled pecan nuts can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a year or frozen for two years or more.

Pecans that fall prematurely can still be encased in their husks due to poor pollination.

Sometimes pecan nuts drop from the tree prematurely before they are ripe. This can be caused by poor pollination. Ensure that two or more pecan varieties are growing within a couple hundred yards or less of each other for proper pollination and nut size. If you are growing a pecan orchard, you will typically need 12-48 trees per acre and a long term commitment. Read more about this in our Pollination in Nut Trees blog.

If there is a long period of little or no rain during the spring and/or summer, some nuts may be aborted. Pecan trees should get 1-2 inches of rain or supplemental watering per week during spring and summer once the tree is established. You may have to irrigate during droughts to provide adequate moisture to the growing roots. Young pecan trees need 1-3 gallons of water per week.

Pecan Disease and Pests

Pecan trees that have a large crop of developing nuts sometimes suffer from nutrient deficiency, causing some nuts to abort. Fertilize pecan trees in early spring with a 10-10-10 fertilizer that also contains 2% zinc sulfate. The zinc is important for nut production and aids in preventing diseases.

Those bumps on pecan tree leaves are caused by phylloxera insects.

Insect damage can lead to premature nut drop. There are several kinds of insects that attack pecan foliage, twigs, and/or developing nuts. Among the worst are stink bugs, and the pecan leaf phylloxera, a tiny aphid-like insect that feeds on the foliage and causes unsightly bumps on the leaves. You may need an insecticide spraying program to combat serious infestations depending on environmental factors.

Pecan scab, a fungus disease, is the most significant pest in commercial pecan orchards. Always select pecan varieties that are resistant to the disease. You still may need to instigate a fungicide spray program in some years.

If you have gotten this far, you must be serious about pecan growing! Growing grafted trees is the best option for getting pecan nuts fast. Other trees may take way more time to produce nuts. Planting pecans of different varieties will help increase pecan nut production per tree.

Good Luck, and Happy Harvesting!

Tags: nut trees, Pecan Trees, pecans

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Fertilizing Pecan Trees

Homeowner

If the lawn surrounding the pecan tree is being fertilized, this could add some nutrition to the tree; however, it may not be enough to satisfy the nutritional needs of the tree because most of the fertilizer will be taken up by the grass. One-half pound of ammonium nitrate (or similar) per 100 square feet can be applied under the drip line of the tree. This should be done starting around the time of budbreak (March/April) and again in late spring or early summer (May/June). Roughly 6 to 12 inches of new growth is desired every year.

Nutritional Elements

Macronutrients and Micronutrients

Proper and balanced fertilization is important because pecan yields are proportional to the amount of the most limiting nutrient. This means if only one nutrient is below normal and all others are sufficient, yields can still suffer. Nutrients that a pecan tree requires are in two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are needed in larger amounts by pecan trees. Those elements are nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K), sulfur (S), calcium (Ca), and magnesium (Mg). Essential plant functions performed by macronutrients include the production of proteins, nucleic acids, and chlorophyll; the activation of enzymes; photosynthesis; and sugar transport.

Micronutrients are essential for plant growth and development but are needed in minute amounts. They include boron (B), chloride (Cl), copper (Cu), iron (Fe), nickel (Ni), manganese (Mn), molybdenum (Mo), and zinc (Zn). Although the plant needs only small amounts of these nutrients, they play critical roles in many plant functions such as translocation of sugar and carbohydrates, cell wall formation, carbohydrate and protein metabolism, chlorophyll development, electron transport, and many others.

Interactions can occur among these elements. For instance, when P is at very high levels, both Zn and Cu may become unavailable (or less available) to the tree. Therefore, it is very important to keep each element within the recommended sufficiency range, but also optimize soil pH and provide sufficient water to the tree.

Nitrogen

The single-most required nutrient is nitrogen. Pecan trees grow quickly and need a good amount of nitrogen for best production. High-input, improved cultivars may require more than 250 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre per year for best production. Low-input orchards (those without irrigation and few spray applications) and native pecan trees do not require as much nitrogen and can perform with around 150 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre per year. See Table 3 for details on recommendations based on foliar analysis.

Zinc

Pecan trees are heavy users of zinc, and it is an essential nutrient for good growth and nut production. Zinc is commonly applied to improved cultivar pecan trees as a foliar spray. This ensures quick uptake by the tree. Young trees and fast-growing trees need applications of zinc on new growth during the spring starting at budbreak and continuing for three sprays at 2- to 3-week intervals. Zinc sulfate is the primary source of zinc and can be mixed at 2 to 3 pounds per 100 gallons of water.

Soil applications of zinc are less effective than foliar applications and are only useful when the soil pH is below 6.0. If soil pH is below 6.0, then one-half pound of zinc sulfate per year age of the tree can be soil- applied under the tree up to 10 pounds per tree total. Even so, foliar applications are the highly preferred method. See Table 4 for more information.

Table 4. Recommendations for managing macro- and micronutrients in low-input and high-input pecan orchards based on leaf analysis results.1

Low-Input

High-Input

Nutrient

Range

Concentration

Recommendation

Concentration

Recommendation

Phosphorus (P)

Low

<0.12 %

Apply 100 lb/acre phosphate.

<0.14 %

Apply 100 lb/acre phosphate.

Normal

>0.14 %

None needed.

>0.14 %

None needed.

Potassium (K)

Low

<0.85 %

Apply 100 lb/acre potassium oxide.

<1.0 %

Apply 100 lb/acre potassium oxide.

Normal

>0.85 %

None needed.

>1.0 %

None needed.

Sulfur (S)

Low

<0.20 %

Use ammonium sulfate as nitrogen source and/or zinc sulfate as foliar spray.

<0.20 %

Use ammonium sulfate as nitrogen source and/or zinc sulfate as foliar spray.

Normal

>0.20 %

None needed.

>0.20 %

None needed.

Calcium (Ca)

Low

<0.70 %

Apply lime to increase soil pH to 6.8.

<0.70 %

Apply lime to increase soil pH to 6.8.

Normal

>0.70 %

None needed.

>0.70 %

None needed.

Magnesium (Mg)

Low

<0.30 %

Test soil pH and use lime if needed to raise pH or use magnesium sulfate.

<0.30 %

Test soil pH and use lime if needed to raise pH or use magnesium sulfate.

Normal

>0.30 %

None needed.

>0.30 %

Boron (B)

Low

<15 ppm2

Apply soluble boron at 0.5–1 lb/acre as first leaf unfurls, then twice at 2-week intervals.

<15 ppm

Apply soluble boron at 0.5–1 lb/acre as first leaf unfurls, then twice at 2-week intervals.

Normal

>15 ppm

None needed.

>15 ppm

None needed.

Above Normal

>300 ppm

Check water source for high B.

>300 ppm

Check water source for high B.

Manganese (Mn)

Low

<100 ppm

Apply manganese sulfate at 6 lb/acre beginning as first leaf unfurls, then twice later in season.

<100 ppm

Apply manganese sulfate at 6 lb/acre beginning as first leaf unfurls, then twice later in season.

Normal

>100 ppm

None needed.

>100 ppm

None needed.

Zinc (Zn)

Low

<60 ppm

Apply 3–6 lb/acre of zinc sulfate on bearing trees, 1–2 lb/100 gal water on nonbearing trees. Apply at least 3 times during spring and summer. Soil applications may be used in acidic soils.

<60 ppm

Apply 3–6 lb/acre of zinc sulfate on bearing trees, 1–2 lb/100 gal water on nonbearing trees. Apply at least 3 times during spring and summer. Soil applications may be used in acidic soils.

Normal

>60 ppm

Continue Zn spray program as is.

>60 ppm

Continue Zn spray program as is.

Iron (Fe)

Low

<50 ppm

Usually induced by environmental conditions and will resolve itself when conditions improve. If not, use iron chelate.

<50 ppm

Usually induced by environmental conditions and will resolve itself when conditions improve. If not, use iron chelate.

Normal

>50 ppm

None needed.

>50 ppm

None needed.

Copper (Cu)

Low

<6 ppm

Apply copper sulfate or copper chelate.

<6 ppm

Apply copper sulfate or copper chelate.

Normal

6 to 20 ppm

None needed.

6 to 20 ppm

None needed.

Above Normal

>20 ppm

Determine source of Cu and adjust.

>20 ppm

Determine source of Cu and adjust.

Nickel (Ni)

Low

<2.5 ppm

Apply Ni as a foliar application.

<2.5 ppm

Apply Ni as a foliar application.

Normal

>2.5 ppm

None needed.

>2.5 ppm

None needed.

1Table based on Smith et al. (2012)

2ppm=parts per million (equal to milligrams per gram)

Others

Phosphorus and potassium are also required for pecan production. Any deficit with these nutrients should be rectified before planting. If done pre-plant, subsequent applications will likely be infrequent. Nutrient deficiencies from Mn, Ni, B, and others are rarely observed to cause problems in pecan trees; however, they can occur. See Table 4 for recommendations regarding these nutrients.

Abnormalities in a plant’s appearance, development, function, or growth may be caused by various factors. These abnormalities are often visualized as symptoms. Abnormalities may be classified as diseases or disorders depending on the nature of the causal agent. Diseases are caused by biotic (living) organisms such as bacteria, fungi, nematodes, and viruses. These disease-causing organisms are called plant pathogens. Pathogens that cause disease can be spread from plant to plant under favorable conditions. Disorders are caused by abiotic (nonliving) factors such as nutritional deficiencies, herbicides, and environmental conditions (e.g., drought, freezing temperatures). Unlike diseases, disorders are not infectious.

When plants are not performing as expected, it is important to correctly identify the cause of the problem so that appropriate management actions may be taken. Unfortunately, abiotic and biotic factors can produce similar symptoms, which can make it difficult to quickly discern the cause of a problem (Figure 1). These are some examples of nutritional disorders and diseases in pecan trees that can cause confusion:

• Mouse-ear (nutritional disorder). Symptom: leaflets with rounded, blunt ends. Mouse-ear is caused by a nickel deficiency.

• Nitrogen scorch (nutritional disorder) and pecan bacterial leaf scorch (disease). Common symptom: leaflets appear “scorched,” and portions of the leaflet are brown and necrotic (dead). Nitrogen scorch is caused by an excess of nitrogen combined with a shortage of potassium. Pecan bacterial leaf scorch is caused by a bacterium that lives in the water-conducting tissues (xylem) of the tree and is graft- and insect-transmitted.

• Zinc deficiency (nutritional disorder) and bunch disease (disease). Common symptom: “bunching” (shortening of internodes). Bunch disease is caused by a type of plant pathogen called a phytoplasma that is graft-transmitted. The method of natural spread of this pathogen is unknown.

As a final reminder, applying fertilizer to pecan trees is not a cure-all. Other factors such as site, soil moisture, and pest management are as important as—if not more important than—fertilizer applications for production of a successful crop. These recommendations are to be used as guidelines for application. Each site is different and may require modification from these guidelines based on owner/operator observation and experience.

Garcia, M.E. and D. Chapman. 2007. Fertilizer and cultural recommendations for pecan trees. University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. FSA6131.

Wells, M.L. 2009. Pecan nutrient element status and orchard soil fertility in the Southeastern Coastal Plain of the United States. HortTechnology 19:432-438.

Online Resources

MSU Extension Plant Disease and Nematode Diagnostic Services — http://extension.msstate.edu/lab

MSU Extension Soil Testing — http://extension.msstate.edu/lawn-and-garden/soil-testing

MSU Extension Plant Analysis Sampling Instructions — http://extension.msstate.edu/publications/publications/plant-analysis-sampling-instructions

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