Pecan Grow Guide: Go nuts!

Grow Guide for Pecans

pecan grove

Who doesn’t love pecan pie? You CAN grow your own pecan trees. All you need is some land and commitment. (Passion is recommended.)

Pecan trees (carya illinoinensis) take 20 to 25 years to reach full maturity and get 60-100 feet tall, with a spread of 30-50 feet across. But don’t get discouraged yet: Pecan trees started from container grown stock (such as the ones Perfect Plants offers) will begin to produce nuts in as little as 4-8 years. Many people ask us how do pecans grow? This grow guide will teach you everything you need to know about growing pecans.

pecan varieties

Getting Started

Select at least two different varieties since fruit set is improved by cross-pollination. Perfect Plants offers no fewer than fourteen differen varieties of pecan trees for sale. We recommend choosing at least one each of Type 1 and Type 2 varieties. Type 1 pecan trees shed pollen first and their flowers are receptive of pollen later in the growing season.  Conversely, type 2 pecan trees are receptive to pollen first. Their pecan tree catkins shed pollen later in the season.

pecan catkins

Choose a planting spot with full sun and plenty of room. Pecan trees get very large and their root systems run deep and wide, at least twice as wide as the canopy. Space pecan trees 65-80 feet apart, and be careful to stay away from buildings and other trees that could be damaged by falling limbs. They can be planted in most areas of the southeastern United States.

The soil at the planting site should be a well-drained soil with a rich sandy loam and at least 3-5 feet deep with a porous subsoil. Soil pH should be 6.0-7.0. They like neutral to slightly acidic soils. Pecan trees grown in such soils likely will not need any nutrient fertilizers except nitrogen and zinc. If in doubt, have the soil tested to determine what other nutrients you may need to add. If your soil is very dry or very sandy, you will have to irrigate more often. Zinc deficiency is common in some trees.

Pecan tree growth rate is very fast. Some trees can gain up to 3-5 feet per year. Choose a site where your tree will be able to stay for many years to come.

Pecan Varieties

Amling: A type 1 pollinator that is extremely easy to grow with low maintenance. A hybrid variety that provides great shade. Highest recommended pecan tree by UGA.edu

cape fear pecan
Cape fear pecans

Cape Fear: Starts producing it’s high-quality nuts relatively early in it’s life cycle. Exhibits rigorous and upright growth and is extremely disease resistant. A type 1 pollinator.

Creek: Incredibly productive and the most disease resistant variety. To ensure high nut quality, pruning during the early years in necessary. A type 1 pollinator.

caddo pecan
Caddo pecan

Caddo: Has one of the highest yield potentials of all pecan trees. Type 1 pollinator and thrives in both heat and cold hardy environments. A very versatile fruit tree that is excellent for home yards.

Desirable: A perfect contender for southern states due to its heat resistance and self-sufficient tendencies. This type 1 pollinator does have a flaw though- most pecan scab susceptible cultivar (fungicides are necessary). As the nut tree matures it exhibits higher yield.

Elliot: This type 2 pollinator exhibits delicious tasting nuts and is an easy at-home grower. Incredibly scab and disease-resistant characteristics make this a low maintenance tree.

kanza pecan
Kanza pecans already shelled

Kanza: Incredibly disease resistant, heat/cold tolerant, and shade-providing pecan cultivar! This type 2 pollinator has high yields with delicious tasting nuts and golden kernels.

Kiowa: This precocious variety is also low maintenance and displays large, hearty nuts and kernels. A type 2 pollinator that has good resistance to disease and starts producing heavily at a young age. 

Lakota: A new nut variety that is renowned for high nut quality, high yield potential, early nut maturity, and excellent tree strength. It is also very disease resistant making it a great addition to your pecan family. A type 2 pollinator.

mandan pecan
Mandan pecan kernel

Mandan: This type 1 pollinator offers high nut quality, exceptional yield potential, scab and disease resistance, early nut maturity and enormous tree strength—what more could you ask for from a pecan tree?

McMillan: High, sustained levels of production and excellent pest resistance. This type 2 pollinator produces well early in life and proves to be an excellent homeowner variety.

oconee pecan kernel
Oconee pecan kernels

Oconee: Excellent yield potential compared to other varieties. Fairly low maintenance, moderately scab, and disease resistant. Type 1 pollinator.

Pawnee: Type 1 pollinator is extremely heat tolerant making it great for the Southern states. It matures early and is pest/disease resistant making it one of the most popular and loved pecan trees in the US.

Stuart: An old, time favorite grown for its low-maintenance qualities such as less pruning and training compared to other varieties. This type 2 pollinator will take a little more time to start producing nuts.

falling for pecans sumner
Sumner pecan kernels

Sumner: Strong tree provides high yields in large sizes. This pecan cultivar is scab and disease resistant and is an ideal choice for backyard planting. Type 2 pollinator.

Zinner: This type 2 pollinator needs plenty of room to grow and can reach heights of 70 feet high and 50 feet wide as a mature tree. Scab resistant and has good yields even in the early ages of the tree.

pecan grow zone chart pollination mature sizes

Planting Pecan Trees

pecan tree taproot

Plant pecan trees when they are dormant, in late winter or early spring. Thoroughly water the little pecan tree in its container before starting. Remove the tree from the container and straighten out the taproot if necessary. Spread out the other roots, trimming if needed. Dig a hole as deep as the taproot and wide enough to accommodate the other roots spread out. Do not add fertilizer or soil amendments.

Place the tree in the hole without damaging the fragile taproot, and spread out the side roots. Next, fill the hole 3/4 deep with water. Backfill soil as the water is running until the hole is full. (The water helps to prevent air pockets around the roots.) Be sure to keep the tree at the same depth it was in the container. Don’t pack the soil too hard.

Spread a layer of organic mulch over the root zone to help hold moisture in and keep the weeds away. Cut off about 1/3 of the top of the tree to encourage the tree to spend more of its energy growing roots, instead of keeping the top alive.

The little tree will need protection from sun scald and nibbling rodents. Paint the trunk with a white latex paint or use a sleeve-like growing tube for the first three years.

tree guard protection

Pecan Tree Care

Did we say growing pecan trees requires commitment? Keeping up with the maintenance and care for pecan trees ensures that your tree will thrive and be healthy for many years to come. Properly fertilized and pruned trees will exhibit the best nut production and will live to be huge, beautiful nut trees.

How to Fertilize Pecan Trees

pecan tree prune

Large trees should be treated with an NZn or zinc sulfate foliar spray every 2-4 weeks starting at bud break in March until June. (Applying fertilizer can get difficult as the tree gets taller.) If the newly planted tree is growing well by midsummer, apply a half pound of ammonium nitrogen based fertilizer about a foot from the trunk. If it hasn’t grown at least a foot taller, don’t fertilize until the second year.

Beginning in the second year and continuing for 15 years, apply a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer each month from March through June. See notes below for rates of various fertilizers. After 15 years, fertilize only in March and again in May. Broadcast the pecan tree fertilizer evenly out to the drip line and a little beyond, but do not place it within 10 inches of the trunk diameter.

Alternatively, use one of the commercial pecan fertilizers that combine zinc and nitrogen, according to label directions.

Your young pecan tree will need about an inch of rain or 15-25 gallons of water, per week. Mature pecan trees need 1-2 inches of rain per week, especially during the heat of summer. If rainfall is insufficient, you will have to irrigate, preferably with a drip system. See sidebar for rates of supplemental watering.

Pruning Pecan Trees

pecan central leader

Pecan trees should be trained to a central leader with surrounding branches (the scaffold branches) spiraling outward and upward. Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring while the trees are dormant and before the active growing season. Start training as young trees. Avoid summer pruning as this is when pecan nuts are being formed. The pruning site should be clean-cut to stay free of insects and diseases.

Here are some tips for training your tree. Retain side branches that come off the central leader at an angle of around 45 degrees, and remove those that come off more horizontally outward or more sharply upward. The scaffold branches should be tip-pruned to encourage branching. Eventually, the lowest scaffold branches should be 6-8 feet above ground, and evenly spaced around the tree. This may take 5-10 years of annual pruning.

Pecan trees tend to exhibit alternate bearing. This means they will produce a heavy crop of pecan nuts one year and one of less pecan production the next. This is one of the many challenges for pecan growers. Annual fertilization and pruning will help to alleviate this problem.

pecan harvest dates chart

Bareroot Pecans

Pecan trees are most commonly planted as bare-root transplants. This means that they are dug from the ground while they are dormant and have had the soil shaken off to expose the root. Bare-root trees should be transplanted between December and March while dormant which helps with transplant shock and less transpiration (water loss) immediately after planting.

bare root pecan tree

Bare-root pecan trees have long taproots and require a deep planting hole. In most situations, the hole should be at least three feet deep and 12 to 24 inches wide so that all side roots can be properly positioned as the hole is refilled. It is best to plant them as soon as possible.

Allow your tree’s roots to soak in water for 1-2 hours before planting. Spread out the roots to encourage outward growth. Refill the hole with native soil (what was removed at the time of digging). Gently release any air pockets. The last step is to thoroughly water.

Nut production will begin after 4 years if it is a grafted pecan tree. Allow the nuts to fall to the ground or you can use a mechanical picker to pull them from the trees.

Good luck with your new pecan trees! And remember, the County Cooperative Extension office is your friend!

pecan nuts on the tree ready to fall to the ground
pecan variety chart nuts per pound
monthly fertilizer rates pecan trees march through june
pecan watering requirements chart