Planting and Care of Homestead Pecan Trees

Reader Contribution by Monica White
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Whether young pecan trees are planted from bare-root or container-grown, they should be planted as soon as possible, to prevent drying out and for the best chance of getting the roots firmly established. Young trees should be kept well-watered and every precaution taken to ensure they do not dry out. A major cause of young trees not surviving is due to lack of water and any prolonged drought conditions from the initial planting period through approximately year two.

Bare-Root and Container Grown Trees

Bare-root trees should be transplanted during their dormant period. This period typically ranges from December to March. Container-grown trees aren’t as prone to transplant shock and may be planted with foliage, during their non-dormant period, from October to May. However, it’s best to plant young pecan trees during their dormant period, to avoid transplant stress.

Planting Depth

Young pecan trees should be planted at the same depth that they stood at the nursery. A line of demarcation normally indicates that part of the the tree which was underground. Trees planted too deep, risk the roots not getting enough oxygen, which could lead to tree stress or death. Also, if planted too deeply, trees risk being blown over during storms, when they’re between 15 to 20 years old.

Root Care

Minimal trimming of roots is permissible on twisted, broken and very long roots. The long tap root should be left intact and as undisturbed as possible. Do not put fertilizer in the planting hole, as it may result in burning young, delicate root systems.

Container-grown tree roots should be checked for pot-bound and gently coaxed out to its natural form to allow the roots to grow freely in the soil. If the tap root is twisted or broken, it should be straightened or cut to encourage new growth.

Planting Procedure

  • Assuming a 3-foot depth and approximately 24-inch-wide planting hole has been dug, place the bare-root or container-grown tree ball in the center of the hole, at the appropriate level.
  • Fill 1/2 to 3/4 of the hole with water. While the water is still running, begin adding fill dirt into the hole. Once the water level reaches the top of the hole, turn the water off.
  • Continue filling the remainder of the hole with fill dirt until level with the ground. It’s unnecessary to create a basin or berm at the tree base.
  • Strive to level the soil evenly, rather than hard packing it into place. If settling occurs, add additional fill dirt until level. This pack and fill method alleviates air pockets.

Pruning

Once the tree has been planted, pruning of up to 1/3 to 1/2 of the top branches may be necessary to balance and compensate for any significant root loss in the transplanting process.

Protection

The tree should be protected from cold, wildlife and herbicides the first three years by painting the trunk with white latex paint or by placing 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 foot tall, adjustable growing tubes or sleeves around the tree’s trunk. The sleeve or tube should remain adjustable during this period, leaving one side split opened down its length, allowing for growth expansion. The sleeve or tube should be removed by year three.

Mulch

Mulching is highly effective in preventing weeds and moisture loss. Apply a 6-inch-deep layer of leaves, pine straw or old saw dust at the base of the tree.

Water Requirements

Two of the most important keys to a young pecan tree’s survival are water and weed requirements. It needs all of one and none of the other. A young pecan tree’s water requirements are great, but vary by many factors, such as climate, soil and region.

According to a 2014 study conducted by Lenny Wells, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Georgia and its Cooperative Extension, comparisons were made between irrigated and non-irrigated watering methods and their effects on young pecan trees’ growth rates. The findings concluded that irrigated watering methods yielded the most effects on growth rate.

Young trees should be watered at least three times per week, in proportionately spaced intervals. (M/W/F). Irrigated watering is preferred or another application method that delivers 10-15 gallons in each application.

Watering Schedule

Being very thorough with a tree’s watering schedule affects its overall pecan quality and yield. Depending on variety, watering schedules occurring May 1st through August 15th is considered the nut sizing period. Watering schedules from August 15 through around the first week of October is considered the nut filling stage. The first two weeks of September are crucial for nut filling. Using up to 350 gallons of water, per day, per tree, may beome necessary.

Weed Control

Weed control allows the tree’s developing root system to grow undisturbed, with the least amount of competition for growth. Growth of weeds and their removal can result in young pecan trees’ new roots being damaged or inadvertently pulled up.

Soil & Fertilizer Management

Fertilizer is a critical first step which should occur before planting and should not be skipped. It positively effects a pecan tree’s growth rate and the quality of pecans produced. 

A soil test provides the pH factor, which in-turn provides the correct fertilizer type and amount needed. If a soil test is not conducted, a 1-pound application of 5-10-15 fertilizer, distributed in a 25-square-foot area, around the base of the tree should suffice.

This first fertilization should occur in June, right after the initial planting. The following year, apply one pound of a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer in March and June.

Do not put fertilizer directly in the planting hole or within 12 feet of the trunk. There’s a high risk of possibly burning the delicate root system.

Young trees should get between two and four feet of terminal growth per year. If not, ammonium nitrate may be applied at a rate of one pound, per inch of trunk diameter. Ammonium nitrate should be applied in June or July. Apply 1- pound of zinc sulfate, per tree, along with the other fertilizers, as an overall fertilizer supplement. 

Bearing Tree Care

  • Fertilizing – If trees are to produce a good crop, terminal growth should be six inches per year.
  • In the absence of a leaf analysis or soil test, broadcast four pounds of a complete fertilizer, like 10-10-10, for each inch of trunk diameter (diameter measured at the height of 4-1/2 feet up from soil level) up to a maximum of 25 lbs.
  • Ammonium nitrate may also be used at a rate of one lb. per inch of trunk diameter, up to a maximum of 8lbs. per tree. This fertilizer should be applied 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 instructions and kits are typically available from a local county extension office.
  • The leaf analysis report determines 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, nutrient utilization is impaired. Apply lime, as suggested by a soil test report, to correct low soil pH.

Pest Control

Most backyard or homestead pecan trees resist pest infestations. Eventually, you may encounter pests. Using organic pesticides are safe around children and pets and normally don’t require a pesticide license to apply. Pests commonly encountered are: Pecan Aphids and Pecan Weevils. For Pecan Aphids, use a pesticide containing the active ingredient carbaryl.

For Pecan Weevils, use a root-zone pesticide containing imidacloprid in a systemic application,  (application originating at the root system, then entire tree is treated). Follow all mixing and application instructions as directed.

A dark mold may develop on lower branches and leaf undersides. Rain often clears the mold away. This natural cleansing rinse, often clears aphids, making pesticides unnecessary.

Disease Management

The most common destructive disease  to young pecan trees are pecan scab. Prevalent in the southeastern U.S., pecan scab is a fungus that grows on leaves, twigs, and nut shucks of young, actively growing pecan trees. Leaves are affected from bud break until full maturity. Nut shucks from first formed until full maturity. Mature trees resist pecan scab.

Animal Management

Provide a strong and effective physical barrier to prevent the size and type of animal(s) from getting in. Consider, non-harmful, invisible electric fencing around large groves or pastures.

Birds and squirrels can wreak havoc on pecan trees, destroying all the fruits of your labor. To prevent predation (predator) loss, wrap metal barriers around the trunk so that squirrels can’t climb. If you determine that trapping squirrels becomes necessary, use a safe, trap & release method and carefully follow all instructions.

Harvesting Pecans

Harvest early to preserve nut quality and to keep future yields high. Leaving pecans on the ground, is detrimental to preservation. Pick the good, fallen pecans right away, then store them in a clean, dry place.

Picking Up the Pieces

Remember: Carefully consider where you plant a bearing pecan tree. Bearing pecans trees drop a fair amount of pecans. Allow adequate space and harvest management anywhere you do not want fallen pecan pieces to become a landscape nuisance to your or a neighboring property.

Monica White is a freelance writer, member of the Georgia Air National Guard, and an avid runner and cyclist who loves the great outdoors and all things DIY. She divides her time between Tampa and her central Florida property, where she’s growing a self-sufficient homestead. Connect with Monica on heroutdoor lifestyle blog, onFacebook, TwitterandInstagram. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS postshere.


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