Pecans are a popular tree for edible nuts that have varieties that can be grown in most parts of North America. These productive trees give tasty, easily-stored nuts in large quantities.
Location to Grow Pecans
Pecans can be grown in nearly all parts of the United States that do not have a deep freeze in winter. Coastal regions of Canada may also grow some varieties of pecan. Most common varieties are grown in the middle and southern regions of the U.S., however, in states like the Carolinas, Mississippi, Louisiana, and surrounding states. Unless the variety is a smaller nut or dwarf tree, it requires a long growing season; thus, growing pecans is limited to the American South and Southeast.
Site Selection for Growing Pecans
An area with well-drained soil that is at least 4 feet (preferably 6) deep with moderate moisture retaining capacity is essential. While the trees require a lot of water in comparison to some other varieties, they cannot live long in soil that is inundated for long periods, so drainage is important. Most pecan trees are planted on light slopes or grades to facilitate better drainage.
The selected site should allow at least thirty feet in diameter that is free of obstacles (buildings, power lines, etc.) so the tree can spread out. Pecans generally do better when two or three trees of separate varieties are planted in the same area. Pecan trees must cross-pollinate between types (designated as “Type I” and “Type II”) and learning how this works is essential to keeping trees that bear nuts.
The varieties of this popular nut tree are many. The most common are the Cape Fear (of North Carolina), the Pawnee (a new type), the Stuart, the Sumner, and the Gloria (a cold-tolerant variety). Most of these popular varieties bear every year, but some only bear every other or every third year.
Obviously you want to use healthy trees. Most will want to choose grafted treelings rather than natural seedlings because grafted trees tend to grow faster and produce nuts sooner. A good starting size is 6 to 8 feet in height, though larger trees can be purchased to get a faster start towards nut production.
Planting is fairly straight forward. If the soil and all else is correct, then a hole only as deep and wide as the tree’s root system is all that’s required. Some prefer to dig at about twice the diameter and half-again the roots’ depth to loosen the soil for easier root spreading. If the soil is right, however, this is unnecessary. No fertilizer should be added at planting or before the soil has settled around the tree, but watering should be frequent and well done. Once the tree is supported and the hole filled in, cut back the top of the tree about 1/3 (on a 6-foot tree, this would be 2 feet). This is to bring it in line with the root system so the tree won’t outgrow its support.
Training and Pruning Pecan Trees
Unlike most trees, pecans produce three buds per node. The trees need to be trained to a central ladder system, which means they have branches appearing on each side in an alternating pattern (left-right-left-right) in a spiral. Of the three buds produced on each branch, the top most will be the central limb and the others will be secondary or tertiary branches. Most growers pinch off early tertiaries and allow the main limb to grow to some length before allowing off-shoots. This allows for a wider spread and thus more pecan production in later years.
Harvesting and Pecan Storage
When the shuck opens, allowing the nut to drop, the pecans are ready for harvest. Most growers harvest just as the shucks begin to split by either shaking the tree with a machine specifically made for this or by using a long pole to shake individual limbs. Most use nets of nylon or burlap or spread sheets under the tree to catch the nuts and make gathering easier.
Nuts should be dried to 8-10% moisture for storage. The most common method of drying is to thinly fill burlap sacks and leave to dry in moderately ventilated, warm areas (barns in late summer are most common). Commercial growers usually have forced air heated drying rooms.
Freezing is another storage method. Shelled pecans are usually stored this way.
Pecan Tree Pests
The primary pest for pecan trees is the Pecan Wevil. This specialist bug bores into the pecans and deposits eggs, which hatch into weevils that consume the nut inside the shell. When mature, they then bore a hole through the shell and exit the nut when it falls to the ground. From there, they burrow into the soil and re-infect the tree the following season.
Other pests include the Twig Girdler, aphids, and stink bugs.