The pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) is a large hardwood tree native to the mixed forests and bottomland hardwood swamps along large rivers from the Mississippi westward into East Texas and Mexico.
They can get 70-100 feet tall and spread as much as 70 feet wide across. Pecans are widely grown commercially and in the home landscape in United States department of agriculture plant hardiness zones 6-9.
Many people ask us how long it takes for a pecan tree to produce quality nuts and how to increase pecan nut production per tree. If you are wondering these questions please read ahead!
Growing a Pecan Tree
You can grow your own pecan tree by planting a pecan nut, but it can take 10 to 15 years or more before you get your first crop of pecans. On the other hand, if you plant a grafted tree, such as the ones available from Perfect Plants Nursery, your tree can start pecan production in as little as 3 or 4 years. See our Pecan Grow Guide, and our Blog about growing pecans from the nut for more details. Our pecan trees ship rooted in soil and they are not bare root. Plant pecan trees in late winter or early spring for best results.
The pecan nut consists of a soft edible kernel, enclosed in a hard woody shell, that is itself enclosed in a leathery husk with a diameter of 2 to 3 inches.
When the nuts are mature, generally from September through November, the husks turn from green to brown and split open, releasing the nuts which drop to the ground. This is before the leaves begin to drop in the fall.
Pecan trees tend to exhibit a strong crop one year and less of a crop the next, this is known as alternate bearing. The causes of this is unknown. The best way to conquer this is by planting trees of different pollinator types and varieties of pecan trees..
When to Pick Pecans
In early September, start looking for pecans on the ground under your trees. It will be helpful if you have kept the grass mowed low beneath the trees. Pecans are ready for harvest when the outer husks have fallen off and or the nuts have fallen to the ground.
Once your trees have started dropping nuts, you can speed up the harvest by shaking the tree’s branches and knocking them with long poles. If you are picking up pecans by hand, they will be easier to see and pick up if you spread a sheet or tarp out underneath the tree. A pecan pick up tool or mechanical harvester/tree shaker can make it even easier. Harvesters may be hand operated (like an old style reel-type lawn mower) or larger models that are pulled behind a tractor.
Pecan nuts will drop continuously for a couple weeks or more, so you need to check frequently if you are to beat the squirrels and deer. Allowing the nuts to lie on the ground for extended periods will invite rot as well as various marauding critters.
How to Store Pecans
Pecans must be air dried at room temperature before use or going into pecan storage. Pecan nuts are encased in a leathery hull that may or may not split open on its own. Ensure that the hulls are removed, and the nuts are sound, then spread them out on a tarp or other smooth surface to dry.
Stir the nuts every day. It should take about 10 days for the nuts to dry. Test the nuts by cracking open: the shells should be dry and brittle, and the kernels should snap in two (not flex) when bent.
You can store fresh pecans in their shells in air-tight containers or plastic bags for several months. Keep them in a cool, dry place to avoid absorbing oils. Shelled pecan nuts can be kept in the refrigerator for up to a year or frozen for two years or more.
Sometimes pecan nuts drop from the tree prematurely before they are ripe. This can be caused by poor pollination. Ensure that two or more pecan varieties are growing within a couple hundred yards or less of each other for proper pollination and nut size. If you are growing a pecan orchard, you will typically need 12-48 trees per acre and a long term commitment. Read more about this in our Pollination in Nut Trees blog.
If there is a long period of little or no rain during the spring and/or summer, some nuts may be aborted. Pecan trees should get 1-2 inches of rain or supplemental watering per week during spring and summer once the tree is established. You may have to irrigate during droughts to provide adequate moisture to the growing roots. Young pecan trees need 1-3 gallons of water per week.
Pecan Disease and Pests
Pecan trees that have a large crop of developing nuts sometimes suffer from nutrient deficiency, causing some nuts to abort. Fertilize pecan trees in early spring with a 10-10-10 fertilizer that also contains 2% zinc sulfate. The zinc is important for nut production and aids in preventing diseases.
Insect damage can lead to premature nut drop. There are several kinds of insects that attack pecan foliage, twigs, and/or developing nuts. Among the worst are stink bugs, and the pecan leaf phylloxera, a tiny aphid-like insect that feeds on the foliage and causes unsightly bumps on the leaves. You may need an insecticide spraying program to combat serious infestations depending on environmental factors.
Pecan scab, a fungus disease, is the most significant pest in commercial pecan orchards. Always select pecan varieties that are resistant to the disease. You still may need to instigate a fungicide spray program in some years.
If you have gotten this far, you must be serious about pecan growing! Growing grafted trees is the best option for getting pecan nuts fast. Other trees may take way more time to produce nuts. Planting pecans of different varieties will help increase pecan nut production per tree.
Good Luck, and Happy Harvesting!