Pecans play a huge role in fall and winter holiday traditions and cuisine, especially in the South. Whether it’s a classic pecan pie (or even pecan pie truffles), pralines, banana bread or other savory dishes, pecans can have their place at every meal, and make a great snack in between.
While some in-store pecans are nice to have around for your pecan-related dishes, planting a pecan tree of your own will ensure that you have plenty of fresh, home-grown nuts for years to come. Though the trees can take at least five years to produce abundant crops, their tall stature and long branches make them excellent shade trees to enjoy year after year, in all seasons.
Here’s a quick guide to prepping your very own pecan crop—something you’re sure to be thankful for. We know you have questions: when do pecans fall? pecan tree planting distance? how to harvest pecans? how to keep squirrels out? We are here to answer these questions and more.
How to Plant Pecans
November through February is the perfect time to plant a pecan tree of your own, and they grow best in the southern U.S. To make certain the tree survives to maturity, you should plant 4 to 5 foot tall container trees like the ones Perfect Plants sells.
Before planting, make sure your yard has adequate space as pecan trees can grow to be at least 50 feet high and have spreads of at least 30 feet. Try to plant trees more than 20 feet away from your home, garage, power lines and other structures or potential obstacles. Space pecan trees at least 20-30 feet apart for adequate growth structure… especially if you are planting a pecan orchard.
Pecan nuts fall to the ground when they are ready for harvest, so you’ll want to make sure the nuts (or branches heavy with nuts) don’t fall on your roof or driveway. The growing season is in the fall.
Scab is a fungal disease common in some varieties of pecan trees. So, you’ll want to pick a scab-resistant variety of tree, such as SumnerM, Caddo, Elliot or Oconee.
Pecans trees must be cross-pollinated to produce nuts, and the tree varieties are sorted into two types. So, if you have the space, plant one of each type; for example, a Caddo or Oconee (type-1) with a Sumner or Elliot (type-2). However, if you live in an area with other pecan trees nearby, you may not have to plant more than one tree. Pecans are wind pollinated, and the pollen can travel some distance, depending on the wind conditions.
Pecan trees also need lots of water, so be sure to irrigate them thoroughly during drier and hotter months. Use mulch or a tree-watering bag like the Tree Gator to help preserve moisture and prevent weeds.
How to Harvest Pecans
You’ll know your pecans are ready to harvest when they fall from the tree, usually beginning in late September or early October. In preparation, you’ll want to make sure to keep your yard underneath the tree clear of other debris and keep the grass trimmed short so that the nuts are easier to gather after they’ve hit the ground. After you start to see them fall, you can harvest more nuts by gently shaking the tree and its branches; nuts that are ripe enough will drop from the tree.
Be sure to watch your pecan tree closely during the harvest period. Harvest nuts as soon as possible so they aren’t susceptible to moisture or hungry squirrels.
After you’ve gathered your pecans and thrown out any damaged nuts, lay them out in a thin layer and store them in a dark, dry area at room temperature. You want to dry out and cure the nuts to develop a richer flavor, aroma and texture. This can take anywhere from two days to two weeks. After the nuts have dried out, you can save unshelled nuts (whatever’s leftover after your holiday baking and snacking, that is) in the refrigerator for up to a year. Nuts in the shell should be frozen, and can also keep for up to a year.
Pecan Tree Care
Pecan trees are very low maintenance and require little work after the trees have established their roots. The first 10-15 years will require the most work to establish these tall gentle giants. Apply fertilizer every year and water every week for the first 5 years. Use a commercial pecan fertilizer with plenty of nitrogen. Young pecan trees need about 20 gallons of water a week. Train your pecan to a central leader branch to encourage healthy growth.
Have pests eating your pecans? Squirrels problems? We’ve heard it all. Place live traps to catch the nut thief’s and relocate to a different area to save your pecans! Moth-balls also help deter them.
Pecan trees are a great, low-maintenance shade tree that, with a little TLC, will provide you with plentiful harvests year after year. Contact Perfect Plants with any additional questions related to planting a pecan tree (or two) of your very own.