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What Is a Pecan Tree?
Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) are large nut trees native to Northern Mexico and the Southern United States—specifically the Mississippi region. Pecan trees are a species of hickory trees that produce nuts enclosed in thick, green husks. The wood is useful for making furniture and flooring, and it adds a sweet, nutty flavor to smoked meats.
Pecan trees can grow to be more than 120 feet tall. Pecan trees can take anywhere from five to 10 years to start producing nuts, but after that, some trees actively bear nuts for 100 years or more.
Can You Grow a Pecan Tree From a Pecan Nut?
Growers rarely start pecan trees from seeds because they require so much work—not to mention nearby mature trees to help with pollination. While it is possible to grow a pecan tree from a planted pecan nut, the resulting tree would not necessarily produce nuts. Growers only plant pecan trees from seed as rootstock trees. In order to get a nut-bearing tree, growers use a process called grafting. Grafting involves taking a cutting from a pecan tree cultivar and growing it on a rootstock tree. The rootstock tree will be ready for grafting once it's a couple of years old. The grafted tree will eventually produce nuts.
How to Grow a Pecan Tree
As the official state tree of Texas, the pecan tree does best in warm climates or USDA Hardiness Zones 5–9. Determine whether you’re in the right climate before planting pecan trees, as these trees require patience, persistence, and some basic horticulture knowledge.
- Choose a pecan tree variety. Nurseries that sell pecan trees typically offer bare-root, container-grown, or large-tree transplants. Bare-root trees have sensitive rootballs that require extra attention when transplanting, while container-grown varieties are generally smaller and better able to withstand transplanting. Large-tree transplants are mature trees, but they still require special attention during the transplanting process. Grafted trees are more likely to produce nuts than seedling trees.
- Plant from the fall to early spring. Depending on where you live, you can plant bare-root pecan trees from December to mid-March. Plant container-grown trees in the fall or winter.
- Choose your site. Pecan trees need rich, fertile, well-draining soil and enough room to accommodate their large root systems. Choose a location that receives full sun and is at least 30 feet away from buildings, power lines, and other trees.
- Dig a large planting hole. Dig a hole roughly three feet deep and equally wide to accommodate your tree’s root structure. The taproot should rest firmly on the bottom of the hole. Firmly pack in the soil around the roots and water your tree with at least five gallons of water immediately after planting.
How to Care for a Pecan Tree
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Pecan trees need regular maintenance to thrive.
- Fertilize your tree. Young trees need ample fertilization for rapid tree growth. Apply small amounts of nitrogen-based fertilizer to the ground around the tree every couple of weeks during the tree's early years. Once your tree is mature, apply one pound of fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter. Zinc is especially important for nut production. Apply zinc sulfate at one pound per inch of trunk diameter each year for young trees and three pounds for mature trees.
- Water your tree. To maintain adequate soil moisture—particularly for young trees—water your tree at least weekly from March through September. Sufficiently soak the soil to a depth of at least one inch. If your tree is growing rapidly, you're on the right track. Increase your watering if the tree’s growth slows. Applying mulch around the base of young trees can help maintain soil moisture.
- Deter pests. Aphids are small, pear-shaped insects that can suck nutrients out of your tree’s leaves. You can remove them from you tree with a strong hose spray, or release ladybugs—aphids’ natural predators—into the area to control their spread.
- Protect your tree from diseases. Pecan scab is the most common disease to afflict pecan trees, though certain pecan varieties are less susceptible than others. It's recognizable by black spots or green warts on leaves, twigs, and nut shucks. Heavy rain during the growing season or too much moisture can cause pecan scab. Prevent pecan scab by thinning or pruning your plant to increase airflow. You may have to apply fungicide if the conditions worsen.
- Prune your tree. A pecan tree typically doesn’t require pruning, except to keep it away from other plants, buildings, or powerlines. You may also need to prune your tree to prevent pecan scab in humid climates.
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