- Simple rules of planting will help young pecan trees thrive
- Pruning A Pecan Tree: Tips On Cutting Back Pecan Trees
- Do Pecan Trees Need Pruning?
- When and How to Prune Pecan Trees
- Fruit and Nut Review – Pecans in the Home Landscape
- What Does a Pecan Tree Look Like? Not Your Average Hickory!
- Pecan Trees 101: From the Tree to The Table
- Pecan Trees: Facts and History
- Pecan Tree Harvesting: Technology and Equipment
- What Do Pecan Trees Look Like During the Year?
- The Future of Pecan Trees in Georgia
- The Why, When and How of Pruning Pecan Trees
A viable pecan seed (the nut) is the product of cross pollination (sexual reproduction) between two pecan trees. It has a genetic makeup that is different from either parent, and the potential to grow into a pecan tree that differs in unpredictable ways from either parent.
If you want to grow a pecan tree with the characteristics of a particular variety, you must use a clone of that variety.
Oconee Pecan Tree – A type 1 pollinator is native to the moist bottom lands of the southeastern United States
This is typically accomplished by grafting a cutting (called a scion) of the desired variety onto a growing and well rooted seedling (the rootstock) of any pecan type. The scion has the exact same genotype as the tree from which it was cut, and is therefore a clone of that tree and will have the exact same characteristics.
A grafted tree, in a five gallon pot such as the trees offered by Perfect Plants Nursery, will start producing pecans in 3-5 years.
Of course, you CAN grow a pecan tree from pecan nut. That’s how commercial growers get their rootstocks, and it’s also how new and different pecan varieties are discovered.
Not only that, the fun and educational experience of growing a tree from a seed cannot be denied. Starting with a seed will take considerably longer to get a mature, bearing pecan tree, though.
What the ground looks like after pecans fall and right before they get buried and go through the stratification process if they do not get picked up.
Pecan nuts would ordinarily fall to the ground in autumn and get buried by natural processes such as liter-fall or rodents. The seed would then lie dormant through the winter (a process called stratification), and germinate the following spring.
We can simulate the natural stratification process indoors while protecting the seeds from decay and hungry critters.
Pecans are able to be grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 6-9 and prefer the warmer climates of the South.
Here’s How to Grow a Tree from a Pecan Nut:
Gather mature, intact pecan nuts in fall after the hulls have turned from green to brown. Shake the nuts off the tree rather than gathering them from the ground to avoid nuts already attacked by fungi or insects. Use a sharp knife to cut the hulls off of the nuts. Store the nuts in a plastic bag for 30 to 90 days at 37-44°F (3-5°C). An ordinary refrigerator works just fine.
Soaking the nuts can quicken the stratification process.
Place a damp paper towel, saw dust, peat moss, or some wetted sand in the bag to keep the nuts from drying out. Some northern pecan growing states even start the soaking process now.
In early spring, the seeds should be removed from cold storage and held at 68-86°F (20-30°C) for another week or two, and then soaked in water for a couple days. The seeds will begin to split open after soaking and are then ready for planting.
The tree is ready to plat once it cracks open
Pecan trees have long tap roots, so it is best to plant the seeds in the ground where you want the tree to be.
If you do start with pots, use deep, two-gallon nursery pots, since the root can grow as much as a foot downward before the top even emerges from the soil. Use a potting mix of half loam and half sand. Sow the seeds 3-4” deep. By the following spring, the seedlings should be about a foot tall. It will take 5-10 years before it starts producing nuts.
Good luck and happy planting!
Tags: grow a tree, pecan nuts, Pecan Trees
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Simple rules of planting will help young pecan trees thrive
Clemson Extension senior agent Mark Arena is an expert on pecan trees.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University
TAMASSEE — When it comes to planting a pecan tree, it might seem as simple as digging a hole and plopping the tree in the ground.
However, following some basic rules of planting will help a young tree grow into a large, healthy adult. Unfortunately, if you ignore these rules, the tree is likely to suffer.
In South Carolina, bareroot pecan trees should be planted in January or February, when they are not actively growing. Nurseries harvest these immature trees when they are dormant and sell them without soil around their roots. Then they keep the trees in cold storage until they are ready to ship to the grower’s location.
“We want to plant the tree in its dormant state and during the colder months of the year, because its root system was compromised when it was dug out of the ground at the nursery,” said Mark Arena, statewide pecan agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension. “This gives the tree some time to start regenerating new roots, which is important for water and nutrient uptake. If a tree is planted in late May, for instance, it will immediately start pushing out foliage. But its root system will not be developed enough to support the top part of the tree – and it might die.”
Here are step-by-step instructions by Arena, a senior agent who is based in Anderson County but who frequently visits and advises pecan growers all around South Carolina on behalf of Clemson Extension. The accompanying video further demonstrates the planting process.
Step 1: Dig a hole that is two to three times as wide as the longest root system. You do not want roots that are growing in a horizontal direction to be redirected downward. The goal is to continue allow the root to spread in its natural direction.
“Give the roots breathing room to extend into the soil,” Arena said. “The first thing I do is inspect the roots and prune off any portions that are damaged. Doing this will help them heal properly and rejuvenate at a better rate.”
Step 2: Make certain the hole is dug at the proper depth. You don’t want it to be too deep, which can result in long-term stress to the tree. There are two parts to a bareroot pecan tree: the root stock, which is the below-ground portion of the tree; and the scion, which is the upper portion of the tree where the pecan nuts will eventually be produced. Scions are young shoots cut for grafting. Commercially grown pecan trees are typically grafted and sold as bareroot trees.
“I want the root flare – where the base of the tree starts to flare out and become thicker – to be visible above the ground,” Arena said. “It’s very important that the roots are at the right depth in the earth, because they emit gasses that need to escape out of the ground. If you plant a tree too deeply, then those trapped gasses can cause the tree to decline.”
Step 3: Fill in the hole, gently pack down the soil, and make certain the tree is standing straight when you’re finished.
“I want to slowly and carefully fill the hole with soil, walking around the tree and pressing the soil with my feet to avoid any trapped pockets of air,” Arena said. “And again, I want to make sure that the root flare remains above the soil surface. Also, it’s important that the tree isn’t leaning in one direction or another.
Step 4: Remove the floral tape from the graft. This does not have to be done immediately, but Arena says the sooner the better.
“Floral tape is wrapped on really tight and can constrict the trunk if not eventually removed,” Arena said. “It also can hold moisture that can lead to rot over time. So I recommend removing it rather than letting it deteriorate on its own.”
Step 5: Make sure that your soil contains the right amount of moisture.
The flared base of the tree just above the roots should be visible above ground after planting.
Image Credit: Jim Melvin / Clemson University
“If you’ve had a lot of rain and the soil is already moist, then you won’t need to add more water for a couple of days,” Arena said. “But if the soil is dry, then you should water immediately after planting. From then on, pecan trees need to be irrigated regularly for at least their first year to ensure good root growth and establishment of the tree.”
Other things to consider: In areas where trees will depend mostly on rainfall, it’s wise to build a circular berm of soil around the tree that is about 12-18 inches away from the base of the trunk. This berm will hold water and help prevent runoff. … In most cases, there is no need to prune the stem when it’s planted, especially if the tip and bud are in good shape. … It’s better to keep the soil moist, not wet. If the soil feels moist to the hand, don’t add water until necessary. But in the spring and summer months, it’s important to keep the tree adequately watered to ensure growth and development over the first year.
“And that wraps it up,” Arena said. “If you follow these tips, the odds will be good that 15 years down the road, you’ll have a large and vigorous tree that will be produce pecans for decades.”
Background Information of the Pecan Tree:
The pecan tree is a deciduous tree that at full maturity can be very large. Heights can be anywhere from 66 to 130 feet tall. It has an alternate leaf arrangement. Pecan trees prefer a warmer climate and are often grown in the southern states of the United States.
The tree produces a fruit known as a pecan. We often refer to a pecan as a nut but in technical terms it doesn’t meet the criteria to be considered a true nut. Instead a pecan is a drupe. A drupe is the fruit of a tree that has a single stone or pit, engulfed by a husk. This husk will start out as a green color and turn brown when full maturity is reached. When maturity is reached the outer husk will split and release the thin-shelled nut. At this point, we can harvest the pecans for consumption. They are known to have a rich, buttery flavor. This buttery flavor nut is most often used in desert dishes. Pecans were not always domesticated; as a matter of fact it is one of the most recently domesticated major crops. Today the leading pecan producing states are Georgia, Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma. Since they have become such a commodity, grafting has come into play to keep up with high quality production. It is well known that pecans grown from seed are not true to type. What does this exactly mean, well a nut produced by a given variety will not produce a tree identical to the parent when planted. Each tree will be different and thus yield different pecan qualities. Therefore, in order to propagate a tree of a given variety the most true to type and most efficiently, shoots or buds from a parent tree must be grafted onto a seedling rootstock. When this occurs, then persistent pecans be created.
Pecan Tree Propagation Methods:
Cuttings – This method is not very effective, as it often takes a lot of time. Success rates aren’t as high either as a pecan is a difficult to root species. Cuttings taken in fall and 10,000 ppm IBA used. Seeds- This method is alright to use if you just want it for the tree aesthetics and not specifically the high quality nuts. Trees planted with this method result in pecan quality that will be different from that of the parent plant from which it derived. This method also takes to much time to reach full production of pecans. Grafting/Budding- This is the most common method used. It enables you to obtain trees and fruit true to that of the high quality parent plant. This is the method used for pecan production farms.There are several ways to graft and bud pecan trees. Some of these methods include bark, cleft, whip and tongue, and patch budding. Patch budding is what is most frequently used.
Micro-propagation- shoots of seedlings have been propagated this way and rooted ex vitro.
Reasons for the Purpose of Grafting:
Grafting/ Budding is the idea of taking one plant part and combining it with another plant part to make one unified plant. With time the plants will learn to grow united as one plant. The major purpose behind grafting is to multiply plants rapidly and that are identical or true to type of the parent plant.Although other methods may seem easier, many fruit and nut bearing trees need to use the budding or grafting method in order to maintain high quality plants. Specific to the pecan tree, cross pollination of the tree will seldom maintain and carry over desirable traits to the offspring. Grafting is also used when simpler methods of propagation may not be feasible. When trying to change the cultivar of a plant grafting will be used. Lastly grafting plays an important role when horticulturists and gardeners want to repair damaged plants. Damaged trees and plants due to animals such as deer and rodents, can be easily “patched up” to save the plant and allow carbohydrate transport to continue.
Equipment Used for Grafting of Pecan Tree:
- Root Stock (base plant, what the desired plant part that is being attached is actually attached to)
- Scion (the detached living part of the plant that will get attached to stock via grafting)
- Sharp Knife
- Hand trimmers
- Grafting Wax
- Grafting/ Budding Strips
- Nails (possibly)
Recommended Pecan Cultivars:
How to decide what grafting method is best for the pecan tree?:
There are several ways that pecan trees are propagated via grafting or budding method. The type that an individual will choose is determined by the location, timing, and climate of the specific area in which they are to be grown. For example from Georgia to Texas where temperatures are warm and humid whip grafting is used. This method takes one year seedlings and grafts the graftstock during dormant period in January or February. For this method the graftwood can be collected and grafted all within in the same time. Other grafting methods include cleft graft and inlay bark method. However for this website I am going to focus on one of the most common used methods which is patch budding and the method most often used in nurseries. Patch budding has a high success rate and is used from points of Texas to New Mexico. Patch budding is especially important in these locations where the climate is to dry for whip grafting. Patch budding is done in the early spring to summer. This timing is important because you want the rootstock wood to be slipping so the bark can be easily cut and peeled if needed. Also, budwood is collected the previous year and is kept dormant in a cold storage until spring when it is used.
Grafting via Patch Budding of the Pecan Tree:
In budding there are few key ideas to keep in mind. One of those must be that the two species (scion& rootstock) must be compatible. Also the key to success begins by assuring that the cambial layers are matched up. If this doesn’t occur your grafted material will fail. Also with buds you will want to make sure that the backside of the bud is not touched. Even the oils from your hands will negatively affect the results of the budding. The oils will prevent adhesion for healing. Also as stated earlier the cutting of the stock should be done when the bark is slipping during Spring and Early Summer. Bark slipping is a condition which occurs during active cambium growth, when the bark separates very easily from the wood on a tree. Since most the of this is done in an outdoor environment light and temperature conditions aren’t controlled as easily but are more natural. Plant hormones aren’t needed like in many other propagation methods.
Steps for Patch Budding:
- Begin by taking your budwood and finding a healthy looking bud. The bud should not also not be taken from the apical part of the branch. Begin just above the bud and slice under the bud to below the bud (refer to images). You should be trying to cut out a square patch of the budwood that contains a healthy looking bud. Keep this piece clean.
- Next begin preparing the stock for the insertion of the bud. Make 2 horizontal and 1 vertical cuts such that you create a square area the same relative size of the bud patch so that it will fit precisely into it.
- Raise the bark to one side leaving one vertical section still uncut. When you are ready for the patch bud to be inserted into stock cut the next vertical cut needed on the wood stock. Insert the bud patch into the hole on the stock designated for it. Make sure to match up cambial layers in order to have success. In simple terms match the outer layers of the bud cutting and the sliced section of the root stock.
- Finally seal the patch. This can be done using polyethylene plastic budding tape, rubber budding strips, grafting tape, wax or masking tape(less commonly used). Overlap the wraps firmly to prevent excessive air and water, but also to prevent the drying out of the bud. Cover up any other exposed areas. Most importantly though, make sure the bud shows through the wrap! You do not want cover up the bud to thick with wrapping material because it will be unable to poke through when it begins to actively grow.
Two or three weeks after the bud has been inserted into the rootstock you will be able to tell if it has began to take or whether it has died. If it is still green that’s a good sign. At this point the decision depending on the time of the year has to be made whether to make it the buds live then or the following year. To force the buds and initiate shoots, cut the original stock off right above the bud or depending on efficiency 6 to 8 inches above the bud. Both will cause same responses but by cutting it 6-8 inches it will allow you to tie the new shoots too allowing straight upward growth. Then after the first growing season you can cut the 6-8 inches nearly flush to new bud. On the other hand cutting it close to the bud form the beginning all you have to do is apply a panel to create straight upward growth.
Hartman, Hudson T., and Dale E. Kester. Plant Propagation. 8th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.
Pruning A Pecan Tree: Tips On Cutting Back Pecan Trees
Pecan trees are wonderful to have around. There is little more rewarding than harvesting nuts from your own yard. But there’s more to growing a pecan tree than just letting nature take its course. Cutting back pecan trees at just the right times and in just the right ways makes for a strong, healthy tree that should provide you with harvests for years to come. Keep reading to learn how and when to prune pecan trees.
Do Pecan Trees Need Pruning?
Do pecan trees need pruning? The short answer is: yes. Cutting back pecan trees in the first five years of their lives can be a huge benefit when they reach maturity. And pruning a pecan tree when it is grown can help prevent the spread of disease and promote better nut production.
When you first transplant your pecan tree, prune back the top third of the branches. This may seem drastic at the time, but it’s good for promoting strong, thick branches and keeps the tree from getting spindly.
During the first growing season, let the new shoots reach 4 to 6 inches, then choose one to be the leader. This should be a shoot that looks strong, goes straight up, and is more or less in line with the trunk. Cut back all the other shoots. You may have to do this multiple times in a season.
When and How to Prune Pecan Trees
Pruning a pecan tree should take place at the end of winter, just before the new buds form. This keeps the tree from putting too much energy into new growth that’s just going to be cut away. As the tree grows, cut away any branches that have a tighter angle than 45 degrees – they’ll grow too weak.
Also, prune back any suckers or small shoots that appear in the crook of other branches or at the bottom of the trunk. Eventually, remove any branches five feet or lower.
Some pruning is possible in the summer, especially if the branches are getting overcrowded. Never let two branches rub together, and always allow enough space for air and sunlight to get through – this cuts down on the spread of disease.
Fruit and Nut Review – Pecans in the Home Landscape
There are advantages and disadvantages to growing pecans in the home lawn. Generally, a pecan tree grows rapidly after the first 2 to 3 years and offers dense shade. The foliage is dark green. Nut production is highly variable. On producing years, nuts are good for human consumption and for attracting wildlife.
Disadvantages of pecan trees include sooty mold that drips on sidewalks, automobiles, and houses. The mold develops on the honeydew excreted by aphids feeding on the pecan tree. Another disadvantage is the early leaf loss from various diseases and insect damage. This leaf loss can sometimes occur in late summer, and homeowners have no practical method to control it. Some local pesticide companies offer a spray that can help combat sooty mold, diseases, and insects.
Varieties Recommended for the Home
Disease resistance is extremely important when selecting a variety to plant in your home landscape. Following are pecan varieties recommended for Mississippi. Some are designated for north Mississippi and others for south Mississippi.
Cape Fear has bright kernels and a high productivity rate. It has adequate scab resistance but experiences severe leaf scorch.
Forkert produces a high-quality nut with a high-percent kernel weight. The nut is of adequate size and thin-shelled. Even though it is susceptible to scab, Forkert is considered a good home pecan.
Kiowa produces large, high-quality nuts with a highpercent kernel. It has good scab resistance. This pecan is similar to the old variety Desirable.
Owens has large, well-filled nuts and moderate production. The nuts are thick-shelled. The tree is scab-resistant and has done well throughout Mississippi.
Sumner, from South Georgia, has good nut size and kernel percentage. Scab resistance is good; harvest is late. South Mississippi only.
Elliott is a scab-resistant variety favored for planting in home lawns. The small, teardrop-shaped nuts have high-quality kernels. Older trees tend to bear alternately. Observations indicate that it is aphid-susceptible and may be prone to late frost and winter damage. South Mississippi only.
Melrose produces a good-quality pecan of adequate size. In addition to excellent scab resistance, it is reported to be more tolerant of zinc deficiency than other varieties. South Mississippi only.
Jackson produces a large nut with high-percent kernel weight. It has moderate scab resistance. Grower reports indicate older trees do not consistently produce good yields and quality.
The rooting depth of a pecan tree is sometimes 6 to 10 feet. Therefore, selecting a well-drained, deep soil is best. Avoid excessively wet soils and crawfish or buckshot soils. Water should never stand for any period of time on the site. Create a berm if necessary to increase surface drainage. Pecan trees require full sun; no large shade trees or buildings should be close. Remember—pecan trees eventually get very large. Plant the trees 50 to 75 feet apart.
Container versus Bareroot Trees
Container-grown trees have feeder roots intact and can be planted any time of the year (avoid hot months). Container trees not planted immediately can be held in the shade with adequate watering. Since the roots of containergrown trees aren’t disturbed at planting, there is no need to prune back the top. Container trees experience less transplant shock and usually produce sooner than bareroot trees. On average, more container trees than bareroot trees survive after planting.
Container trees usually cost more than bareroot trees and may be pot-bound with roots coiled inside the container. Cut coiled roots before planting. Container trees must be picked up at the nursery, not shipped like packaged, bareroot trees.
There usually is a greater selection of bareroot trees than container-grown trees because more nurseries produce them. There usually is a wider selection of sizes and varieties. Bareroot trees cost less than container trees because they are less expensive to produce. In most cases, 2 to 3 feet of taproot is intact on the bareroot tree, and this helps to anchor the tree when planted. This also increases the tree’s ability to withstand drought.
Planting and Training
Proper planting and training of pecan trees is very important. Follow these guidelines:
- Purchase good trees. Use sturdy, vigorous trees from a reliable nursery source. The root system should be free of crown gall or nematode damage, and the top should be well grown and must be identified correctly as to variety. A moderately sized nursery tree suffers less “transplant shock” and usually becomes established and grows off faster than a large tree.
- Keep roots moist at all times. If bareroot, dampen packing medium when trees arrive. Plant immediately or place in cold storage. If trees must be held several days, heel in with moist soil. If the trees are in containers, water as needed.
- Trim the root system as needed. Cut off all broken and bruised roots with sharp shears or a knife. Most new roots develop on side roots and not more than 10 inches from the taproot. Examine the roots closely for serious diseases or insect infestations.
- Prune the top. Remove a third to half of the top portion of the tree to compensate for the loss of a major part of the functioning root system when the tree was dug. If the nursery tree has light or no branching, cut off one-third to one-half of the main trunk.
- Be sure the planting hole is wide and deep enough to accommodate the root system of the tree without bending any of the roots. If the soil is so heavy-textured or so devoid of fertility to require the digging of a large hole, it is not suitable for growing pecans.
- Set the tree at the same depth it stood in the nursery row. Arrange the roots in their natural positions. Fill the hole about three-fourths full of friable topsoil; work soil around the roots. Pour water into the hole to settle the soil; eliminate air pockets and keep the roots moist.
- Fill the hole. Use loose topsoil to finish filling the hole. Leave the soil unpacked on the surface to allow easy penetration of water from rain or irrigation. Leave a basin to facilitate watering the tree.
- Water the young tree. Keeping optimum soil moisture levels in the root zone is essential the first season. The functioning root system is limited at this time. Keep the basin area free of weeds. Prevent crusting of the soil surface by using heavy mulch.
- Train the young tree. During the first and second growing seasons, let all shoots from buds on the trunk (above union) grow. When shoots on the lower portion of the trunk start vigorous growth, cut them back to 4 to 6 inches and keep at this length. This “trashy trunk” method protects the trunk from sun-scald and wind damage. It makes the trunk increase in diameter and strength at a fast rate. Cut all water sprouts or suckers that develop below the bud union. The branch angle is directly related to the position of the bud originating the branch. At each node, pecans may have up to six buds lined up one above the other. The primary bud (uppermost one) generally produces the most vigorous branch with the most narrow crotch angle. Use the primary bud solely to perpetuate a central leader. If allowed to develop into branches, these primary buds always produce narrow crotch angles that later lead to limb splitting. Eliminate “Y” crotches by cutting one of the forks back or completely off. Correct “crow’s-feet” crotches where three or more limbs arise near the same point—leave one intact and cut the others back or off.
- Prune pecan trees. Continue to eliminate “Y” crotches and “crow’s-feet” as the tree grows. This helps build strong, wide-angle crotches. The top at the end of the second or third growing season can shade the trunk, and the trunk will be strong enough to withstand wind drift so the branches on the lower part of the trunk may be removed. The climate, spacing, and cultural procedures determine the desired height of the permanent lower limbs on a pecan tree. It usually is not advisable to have permanent scaffold limbs lower than 5 to 6 feet. Prune during the growing season to continue developing the desired tree shape.
Fertilizing Young Trees
Soil test and apply residual fertilizer before planting trees. Begin fertilizer applications 3 to 6 months after planting. If a soil test is not taken, apply 2.5 to 3 pounds of 13-13-13 in February or March the year the tree is transplanted. For the following years, apply 3 to 4 pounds of 13-13-13 for each inch of trunk diameter, measured 1 foot above the soil surface. Do not put fertilizer materials any closer than 12 inches to the tree trunk. Fertilizer materials at high rates can damage the tree root when placed too close to the trunk.
Annual terminal growth for young pecan trees should be from 2 to 4 feet. Where growth of trees has been less, in May or June apply nitrogen in addition to the mixed fertilizer at the rate of 1 pound of ammonium nitrate (33 percent N) per tree for each inch in trunk diameter. This additional nitrogen application often is needed on very sandy soils. Make supplemental nitrogen applications when irrigation is available.
What Does a Pecan Tree Look Like? Not Your Average Hickory!
Pecan Tree Size
As the largest trees in the hickory family, pecan trees regularly reach 70 to 100 feet tall with canopy spreads between 40 and 75 feet. Some have reached 150 feet. A stately tree with a tall, straight trunk and broad, symmetrically oval crown, the mature pecan needs more room than many backyards can provide. It’s best left to urban spaces, estate-sized lots and commercial orchards.
Pecan Tree Leaves
As you’d expect from a tree of its stature, the pecan also has some of the largest and most distinctive leaves in the hickory family:
- Pecan leaves measure from 1 foot to 20 inches long.
- Each leaf consists of nine to 17, 4-to 7-inch leaflets.
- The narrow leaflets curve like a falcon’s beak at their outer ends.
- All but one of the leaflets grow in opposite pairs along a central stem.
- The remaining leaflet forms the leaf’s tip.
- The lustrous leaflets are dark green on top and pale green underneath.
- New leaflets are covered with downy-soft hairs that they shed over time.
- The leaflets’ margins are toothed or doubly so.
Flowers, Fruit and Bark
Pecan trees are monoecious, meaning one tree produces both male and female flowers. Male flowers dangle from the branches in 5- to 6-inch clusters called catkins. Cup-shaped females open in terminal spikes beneath the catkins, where they trap pollen as it sheds.
Pecan fruits ripen in clusters of three to 11. Other hickory nuts open singly or in pairs. The fruits’ woody green husks split into four sections, revealing the light-brown nutshells inside. Rounded at their bases and pointed at their tips, the nuts usually measure 1 1/2 to 2 inches long.
Pecan trees have thick, narrowly fissured light- to reddish-brown bark. It gets flatter and scalier with age.
Expert gardener’s tip: Although a pecan tree’s fruit ripens in fall, how late in fall depends on where in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 through 9 it grows. Trees growing in UDSA zone 5, seldom produce nuts because summer isn’t warm enough.
As far as growth rate goes, pecan trees are hares in a field of tortoises. They grow between 1 and 2 feet per year and begin producing nuts about 10 years after planting. Their closest competitors, shagbark hickories (Cary ovata), seldom stand taller than 18 feet after 20 years, and need another 20 to yield their first harvests.
Pecan Trees 101: From the Tree to The Table
Pecan Trees: Facts and History
Pecan trees, native to the Southern US, are rooted (pun intended!) in a rich history. They are a type of hickory tree, and there are hundreds of different types that produce different pecans.
Native Americans were the first to have pecans, making them an original North American heritage nut. The name “Pecan” actually comes from the Algonquin word “Pacane” meaning nuts requiring a stone to crack.
Many years later, after the Civil War, small pecan farms started popping up as Georgia pecan trees were marketed to grow and sell the sweet, buttery nut.
America remains the largest producer of pecans in the world. From its humble beginnings, the pecan industry has experienced significant growth. Today, pecans are one of Georgia’s top cash crops. Georgia has been the nation’s number one pecan-producing state since the late 1800s. Albany, Georgia (which is home to Sunnyland Farms) boasts more than 600,000 pecan trees and is the self-proclaimed pecan capital of America.
Pecan Tree Harvesting: Technology and Equipment
A healthy pecan tree, in a good year, can produce 200-250 pounds of pecans. Health and maintenance are essential to a good crop production. But they are slow growing trees. Starting from seedlings, they take an average of 10-15 years before they can produce pecans. For pecan trees to thrive, they require the right soil, climate, and a long growing season.
At small farms, or in backyards, people wait and pick up the pecans the old fashion way. For professional farms, the process is quite different. While techniques and equipment used to be primitive, technology has been developed for harvest, shelling, and cleaning.
Take hedging, for example. You can check out this video of how we trim limbs of older, large trees that are hogging the sunlight from other younger trees:
A Little Shake Goes A Long Way
One example of how harvesting has evolved, is through a machine called a “shaker.”
Pecan tree shakers literally shake the pecans right out of the tree. Specialized padded arms “hug” each tree (they can grab a whole tree or just a limb). In just a few seconds, shakers can do in an hour what 25-30 people used to be able to do in a day. Sweepers sweep the nuts away so they don’t get crushed by the wheels as they drive around.
The shakers come out and shake the pecans out of the trees. Then, a harvester comes through and picks up the nuts, taking them right to the cleaning plant for gathering, sorting, cleaning and processing.
What Do Pecan Trees Look Like During the Year?
Ready for some pecan tree eye candy? Check out these gorgeous trees through the seasons!
Pecan Trees in Early Spring
Pecan Trees in the Summer
Pecan Trees In the Fall
Pecans are fully developed by late Fall, just in time for cooler weather. Typically our pecan tree leaves turn brown and fall off, occasionally we have a fall where the leaves turn the pretty yellow-gold. As you can see from the images below, leaves changing in South Georgia can be downright beautiful!
The Future of Pecan Trees in Georgia
There is not a single Georgia pecan tree grove that didn’t get impacted by Hurricane Michael. Some farms got hit harder, with thousands of downed trees and ruined crop.
While recent times have been tough, the future is bright. Many Americans still do not eat as many pecans compared to other nuts, and here at Sunnyland, we are trying to change that! Check out our delicious, fresh selection of pecans today, and see for yourself the incredible difference “tree to table” makes.
Pruning, trimming, and training pecan trees
Pruning your pecan tree(s) is a necessary and on-going chore that begins with the initial planting of your tree. Pecan trees are ‘lazy’ trees and will grow into gigantic ‘pecan bushes’ if annual pruning is not performed. The goals you seek to achieve in pruning are to encourage upward growth, lateral growth that will allow your tree full advantage to sunlight, and improved tree management. You also want your trees to well…look nice?
Suckers (small branches) growing along the trunk) will rapidly grow into unmanageable limbs while growth in the upper areas of the tree will stall. It takes less energy, water, and nutrients to promote growth lower on the trunk, thus if lower branches are allowed to remain, the pecan tree will be content just being an unsightly and unmanageable ‘bush.’
You can’t hardly ‘mess up’ when it comes to pecan tree pruning unless you (a) don’t prune at all, or (b) you prune too heavily. Since you are reading this page, I assume you intend to prune so we’ll move on to (b) pruning too heavily. Unless your tree has reached near death and severe pruning is your only hope to revive it, you should never remove more than one-third of its branches in a season. If you follow a yearly pruning schedule, you should never have to prune even that severely.
We bought our pecan orchard when the trees were five to six feet tall. They had been neglected for several years and had branches growing on the lower trunk. With the hope (and the notion that those lower branches produced pecans, too) that we could turn a profit from our pecan crop, or at least break even, we were cautious with our pruning for the first several years. We ‘worked our way up’ the tree for the first three years, removing the branches from the ground to a height of three feet the first year and removing another two feet of growth each of the following two years. This prevented throwing the trees into shock and allowed top growth to offset the lower branch removal. We were successful in producing a crop each year by following this method.
Pruning is in fact training your tree to grow the way you want it to grow. Pecan trees must have ample sunlight to produce a crop. With this in mind, you should prune to allow the upper branches to spread and to take in as much sunlight as possible. Many pecan experts say a single vertical trunk is essential. We pruned our trees to achieve this, for the most part. We pruned one tree close to our house into a ‘vase’ shape because we designated it the ‘climbing tree.’ Approximately two feet from the ground, it splits into three ‘trunks’ forming the vase shape. It is a beautiful and well-proportioned tree, and our kids have always claimed it as their tree. So, when it comes to training a young tree, you can decide whether to prune to make it become ‘just a tree’ or make it an eye-catching part of your landscape. Just be sure you start out with a plan and carry it out throughout the years.
While mature trees will require annual pruning to an extent, your major pruning comes during the first ten to fifteen years of the pecan trees life. Keep in mind during those years that you need access to the orchard floor beneath your tree. You will spend considerable time underneath your tree, watering, fertilizing, controlling weed growth, and oh yeah…picking up pecans. When you are able to prune your tree’s lowest limbs to a height just above your head, your major pruning chores are almost finished. There should be no need to prune the lower branches any higher than your head. You might keep in mind that someday you may be bringing in the heavy equipment (harvesting equipment) and be sure the shape of your trees will accommodate these machines. Other than that, your biggest pruning chores are complete.
Mature pecan trees will inevitably require annual attention. Small branches will grow downward in search of sunlight, and limbs bearing a heavy pecan crop will droop and continue a downward growth. The removal of these branches should be the only pruning you will need to perform on mature trees. Again, your goal is to be able to walk beneath your tree without a branch scraping your face!
Occasionally an upper branch will die and need to be removed. I suggest you purchase a telescoping tree saw/lopper to handle these problems. The cause of these higher branches dying range from high wind damage, freeze damage, disease, and improper care of your tree. I highly suggest you remove any dead limbs from your pecan tree as soon as possible to avoid the possibility of disease spreading throughout your tree.
When to prune your tree
It seems that there is a misconception that pecan trees should be pruned in the dead middle of winter. I personally think this is one of the biggest mistakes you could make. Pruning during the cold winter months leaves a wound that is exposed to the harsh winter elements. Those who practice this method say there is less chance for insect damage, however, that gaping wound you inflicted on your tree is still present when the bugs do come out in early spring. I recommend you do not prune until early spring, prior to bud break. We actually plan our pruning for late April, after the leaves have sprouted. This enables the tree to immediately begin it’s healing process. Pecan trees can be pruned at any time without major setbacks. I discourage summer pruning unless it consists only of small branch removal.
We try to coincide our prunings with the expected crop-set. Pecan trees tend to produce heavily every other year, followed by an ‘off year.’ We will do our heaviest pruning on our ‘on ‘ years, and prune lightly on our ‘off’ years. This aids in balancing out our crops and to an extent prevents the tree from stressing from a heavy crop, which would lead to a light crop the next year.
If you practice annual pruning faithfully, a pair of hand-held pruning shears should be all you ever need. They fit in your back pocket and you can continually lop off those small low hanging branches as you tend to your orchard throughout the spring. You may need a larger ‘two-handed’ lopper if you allow a branch to grow out of control. If you really neglect to prune regularly, you may find a bow saw handy, however, I warn you, pecan wood is an extremely hard wood and will require some muscle to saw a large limb. Somewhere along the way, you will probably decide you need a chainsaw to handle those large limbs. I do recommend you purchase a telescoping tree saw/lopper to reach the highest branches of your tree.
The Why, When and How of Pruning Pecan Trees
Pruning at Planting
This is the easiest pecan tree pruning you’ll ever do, because the trees are small and the strategy simple. Using clean, sharp pruning shears, remove the one-third to one-half of the tree. This should leave you with a trunk, or whip, from 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall.
While this pruning sounds extreme, two or three vigorous shoots will emerge just below the pruning cut the following spring. One of them will eventually become the tree’s central leader.
Dormant Season Pruning of Young Pecan Trees
For their first four or five years after planting, prune during winter dormancy. Most pecan trees growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 6 through 9 are dormant between late November and February.
- In the first year, cut the most vigorous shoot at the top of a tree back by one-third to one-half. Remove the rest of the strong top shoots. Tip prune all side branches and shoots measuring 1 to 1 ½ feet long by pinching their growing tips back 2 inches.
- In the second year, cut back one-third to one-half of the most vigorous, straightest top shoot to confirm it as the leader. Remove the second-strongest shoot completely. Tip prune side shoots measuring 12 to 32 inches long.
- During the third and fourth years, remove all side branches measuring 1 or more inches around and less than 4 feet from the ground. Tip prune the remaining side branches and shoots.
Pruning for Strong Scaffold Limbs
In the trees’ fourth-year dormancy, prune to create strong scaffold limbs for the canopies. Remove side branches lower than 5 feet from the ground or that form less than 45-degree angles with the leader.
Then begin removing the remaining side branches in a spiral, until you have between six and 10 spaced 8 to 14 inches apart around the leader.
Pruning Mature Pecan Trees
Go easy on pruning mature pecans, or they may stop producing for several years. Stick to corrective pruning during dormancy to remove:
- Crossed, broken, diseased or dead branches.
- Branches and shoots blocking air and light in the center of the canopies.
- New branches growing at less than 45-degree angles.
- Low branches that interfere with watering or harvesting.
Expert gardener’s tips: To protect your trees against fungal or bacterial infections, always seal your pruning cuts with a coat of white latex paint.