Pecans have been grown on family homesteads in North Carolina for many generations for food and profit. Today, pecans are still grown in our state for income and enjoyment, predominately in the southeastern area. Growing pecans requires patience and a long-term commitment.
Pecans originated in central and eastern North America and the river valleys of Mexico. They have a relatively high water requirement and have been prized and marketed since the 1600s. Their popularity has continued to increase.
A successful pecan nut crop starts with a site determined to have a well-drained soil 4 to 6 feet deep. Pecan trees perform best on sandy, loam soils but will tolerate clay soil if it is well drained. Irrigation is recommended if soils are light and relatively dry. Soil testing for pH and nutrient status is needed to determine deficiencies. Required nutrients can be applied and tilled to a depth of 18 inches which is the primary rooting zone for pecan trees.
Consider pollination requirements, cold tolerance and resistance to scab when choosing trees to plant. Pecan varieties adapted for planting in our state require 200 frost-free days from pollination to full maturity. Pecan trees are separated into two pollination groups referred to a Type I and Type II. Catkins on Type I trees release their pollen before the female flowers are receptive. The catkins on Type II trees release their pollen after the female flowers are receptive. Both Type I and II are required for pollination but to ensure maximum pollination and production plant at least three varieties together.
Planting and pruning are the next steps. Planting holes for pecans should be deep and wide because of the taproot. Plant grafted trees so that the bud or graft union is at least two inches above the soil surface. The lower 18 to 24 inches of the trunk can be painted with white latex paint to minimize temperature fluctuations. Keep the young trees well watered through the first year. Watch for damage from rodents, deer, rabbits and other pests so corrective action can be taken.
Successful producers plan for good management of the orchard floor by establishing and maintaining a grass alley with vegetation-free zones under the tree canopy. Scouting regularly for pests like weevils, stink bugs, twig girdlers and diseases such as scab, powdery mildew, downy spot, and anthracnose. Monitoring production is also important to determine pruning needs, growth and fertility as well as sanitation.
With sound information, planning and some hard work, you can enjoy your own pecan crop! Check Growing Pecans in NC for more detailed information.