We get asked a lot of questions; there seems to be a growing interest (no pun intended) regarding pecan trees.
What variety should I plant? This is a tough question; the answer depends on a lot of variables. I can only speak to my own experience and what has worked well here on our farm in Virginia. The best varieties will vary depending on your location. There is no "perfect" variety. There are ups and downs to every cultivar. We try to go with low-input trees. This means, trees that do not typically require a lot of spraying to control different issues. Scab is one of the biggest problems to manage on pecan trees. Trade offs have to be made in trying to find great nut quality, tree output, disease resistance, alternate bearing etc. Also, the more northern zones need to think about trees with late bud-break, and early nut date maturity. We have Stuart, Gloria Grande, Pawnee, Lakota, Oconee, Excel, and Mandan. Yes, Stuart, and Pawnee are more scab susceptible but we need the trees for other reasons too; such as helping to pollinate each other/other tree varieties.
How long does it take to get nuts from my tree? This varies. Some trees are called precocious trees, meaning they will bear nuts at an earlier age than other varieties. For the most part, with proper management a tree can produce nuts in five years. First the pecan tree starts as a nut/the seed. Then it is planted, then in the spring it sprouts into seedling, the seedling grows and usually the second year of growth, the nurseryman will graft the specific desired variety. Pecan trees do not produce true to type nuts, so if you have a Stuart tree, with lots of nuts, those nuts will not be Stuarts, their genetics from nut to nut will vary greatly. So, this is why graft wood, a scion from a known variety is grafted onto the seedling/rootstock once the seedling gets big enough to take a graft. Then, the graft should be left to grow a good year or two to make sure it "takes" properly. So, when you buy a grafted tree, it is already several years old. Then you buy and plant the tree, and then after a few years you should start to get a few nuts, and more nuts each year thereafter.
When do I plant trees? We find it is best to plant trees when they are dormant, no new leaves, new growth etc. In fact, we like to plant trees, or transplant trees when it is very cold. We often plant trees late in the day when the wind is not blowing as wind will dry out exposed roots very quickly. I suppose trees can be planted in the summer but if this is the case I believe proper water management will be more critical to ensure the tree lives. So, generally speaking, try to plant trees in the winter, even though there will be no top growth until spring, the roots will have a better chance of getting established before warm weather sets in.
What size tree should I plant? Bigger is not always better. Some people want to locate, buy and plant the biggest trees they can find. This may work for some people but it has not worked at all for us. Bigger trees can be harder to plant and harder to adjust to your location. Bigger trees require bigger planting holes, bigger trees require more moisture to get established and bigger trees can be very expensive to purchase. Smaller trees may be more readily available, lower in price, and are easier to plant and they seem to have a higher survival rate. We have also seen over and over again that a smaller tree, about 2 to 3 feet above ground will quickly catch up with and out-pace a larger tree, 6 to 8 feet even when planted on the same site, the same day. In just two to three years time, the smaller tree will catch up with, and outgrow the other.
How far apart should I plant my trees? Again this depends on a few factors. We plant all of our field, production trees at 50 feet by 50 feet. You can plant them closer together at 35 x 35 or some other configuration but at some point down the road, many trees will need to be removed from your grove due to overcrowding, nutrient, and sunlight competition. Because trees are so expensive, and the amount of work involved with getting trees established and productive, we find it better to plant at what we consider more of a final spacing at 50 x 50. Again this all depends on your specific goals and objectives.
Send me an email if you have other questions and I will be glad to respond. firstname.lastname@example.org
Heritage Grove Pecan Farm