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.
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.
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.
Most Popular Pecan Trees
Not only that, the fun and educational experience of growing a tree from a seed cannot be denied. Starting from seed will take considerably longer to get a mature, bearing pecan tree, though.
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.
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.
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.