Pecan Tree – Growing, Care & Harvesting Guide
If you want a plentiful harvest, make sure to water the pecan tree abundantly in well-draining soil. You may also want to add zinc each year, depending on your soil composition.
Pecan Tree Overview
|Origin||Southern United States|
|Scientific Name||Carya illinoinensis|
|Type||Deciduous fruiting tree|
|Common Names||Pecan tree|
|Height||Up to 150 feet tall|
|Watering||Water generously when young, drought-tolerant when mature|
|Pests||Aphids and mites|
Pecan trees can be difficult to grow and require plenty of patience, with most trees not producing any nuts until they are between 6 and 10 years old. If you’re up to the challenge, these are a couple of popular varieties to choose from.
This variety is hardy through zones 6-9, but it has been known to grow successfully as far north as New York. It is smaller than most other pecan trees, typically growing to around 30 feet in height.
This variety produces nuts earlier in the season and grows to heights of up to 70 feet.
Caring for Your Pecan Tree
To grow a pecan tree, you’re going to need a lot of space, as these trees can grow up to 150 feet tall, with a spread of around 70 feet. Because of their vast size, they should be planted at least 30 feet from any structures, such as buildings or power lines, and other trees.
Pecan trees are not self-fertile, and so require cross-pollination. If your neighbors grow pecan trees, you may be able to get away with planting just one tree, but if there are no other nearby pecan trees, then you’ll need to plant at least two to ensure your tree bears harvestable nuts.
The best time to plant a pecan tree is in spring. Pecan trees need to be planted in a deep hole of around 4 feet, in well-draining soil. If you have shallow soil or rocky ground, then it isn’t a good choice of position for your pecan tree. Pecan trees also require full sun throughout the day, so they should not be planted in an area that experiences any shade.
Once you have selected an appropriate spot for your pecan tree, dig a hole around the same depth as the root ball, but twice as wide. When buying a pecan tree from a nursery, the ideal height is between 4 and 6 feet, as these trees tend to fare best when planted in the ground.
If your tree has been grown in a pot, you may need to give the roots some attention before you plant it. The taproot may have circled around the base of the pot, in which case it will need to be straightened out, as it should be in a vertical position for planting. If the taproot has become very tangled and you are unable to straighten it, you can cut the bottom of it off. Knead the remaining roots between your fingers, teasing them apart so that they are able to spread naturally in the hole you have dug for them. Any damaged roots should be removed before planting. Very dry roots can be soaked in water for a few hours before planting.
Once your tree is ready to be planted, simply place it in the hole, ensuring the taproot is able to sit vertically without being bent at the bottom. The soil line on the tree trunk should be at ground level. Fill in around the tree with the original soil you dug out of the ground, stopping at half way to thoroughly water the hole and allow the soil to settle. Stamp down on the soil with your feet to eradicate any air holes, then continue adding the remainder of the soil. Water again, generously, and if the soil settles, then add more to the top to ensure that the soil isn’t dipped around the base of the tree.
Once planted, it is recommended that you remove the top third of your pecan tree. This allows the tree to focus on forming a strong root system before it has to support its great height (University of Florida Extension).
Young pecan trees need generous amounts of water to thrive. If you have not had any rainfall, you should water your young pecan tree around once a week, aiming to keep the soil continuously moist. Water the tree heavily but slowly, allowing the soil to absorb the moisture. Once the soil is no longer able to take any more moisture and the water starts running off, you can stop watering.
Typically, you can expect to water your young pecan tree with between 5 and 15 gallons of water each week. The abundance of nuts your tree produces, as well as the quality of them, will be dependent on how well your tree is watered. Mature pecan trees are very drought-tolerant, and most will survive without any manual watering at all, assuming they benefit from some rainfall. However, if you are keen to produce good pecans, you should aim to keep the soil moist on mature trees from the time the buds appear on the tree until the nuts are ready to harvest. Around two inches of water each week throughout spring and summer should be adequate to produce large full nuts.
As the pecan tree can be quite thirsty, especially when young, well-draining soil is essential to prevent root rot. Adding sand or grit to your soil will help with water drainage. Adding a few inches of mulch to the ground around your tree can help with water retention, as it prevents water from evaporating as easily from the soil.
Full sun is essential for the proper growth of a pecan tree, but given the requirement for growing these trees in wide-open spaces that can accommodate their eventual large size, finding a full sun spot shouldn’t be too difficult. Pecan trees should be planted a minimum of 30 feet away from nearby trees or buildings, so it’s unlikely they’ll fall into the shade.
The pecan tree is native to central and southern states in the US, including Texas, where it is the state tree. It originates in Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Illinois, and Indiana, and is now widely grown across most of the southern US. The tree loves warm climates and is hardy through USDA zones 5 to 9, though some pecan trees in these zones will still struggle with low night temperatures.
Pecan trees need warmth throughout the night as well as during the day, and often in the lower zones, the temperatures will drop too low during the night for the pecan tree to cope with. Some varieties will be better at adapting to cooler temperatures than others.
Fertilizer applications are important for the healthy growth of pecan trees. They need plenty of nitrogen, so use a fertilizer that has high nitrogen content, applying it every spring to the ground around the pecan tree, but being careful to not fertilize within one foot of the trunk, as this part of the tree can suffer from fertilizer burn.
Pecan trees are also heavily reliant on zinc, which is often lacking in many soils. It is recommended that you annually add half a pound of zinc sulfate to your pecan trees soil for each year of its age. For example, a 6-year-old tree would need 3 pounds of zinc sulfate annually, a 10-year-old tree would need 5 pounds of zinc sulfate, etc.
It can be helpful to test the pH of your soil before you treat it with zinc sulfate. Acidic soil with a pH of less than 6 will respond well to a zinc sulfate treatment, whereas it will be almost useless on alkaline soils. Compounds found within alkaline soil prevent the zinc from being soluble, and so, in this case, it is better to use a zinc foliar spray. Use 2 pounds zinc for every 100 gallons, and spray the foliage every few weeks beginning in spring (University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension).
Pecan trees will be ready to harvest anytime between September and November, depending on your tree variety and the climate it is grown in. You will know the pecans are ready to be harvested when they begin bursting out of their hulls.
Often, the pecans will break free from their hulls and drop to the floor. In this case, you should pick them from the ground as soon as possible to prevent birds or insects from moving in on them. If the ground is wet, this can result in the pecans rotting or turning stale.
If you notice that many of the pecans on the tree are starting to come out of their hulls, you can encourage them to drop by shaking the branches or poking the branches with a long stick. Before doing this, it may be an idea to lay a sheet on the ground to make collecting the nuts an easier process.
Once harvested, you will need to dry the nuts. Do this by spreading the nuts out on a hard surface in an area with good air circulation and low light. They can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to properly cure. Once this is done, they are ready for consumption and can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to extend their lifespan.
Do you have any questions or tips to share? Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to share this page with other interested growers!