How to Grow a Pecan Tree

Nut Trees That Need Warm Climate and a Large Yard

Ripe pecans opening on the tree
Ripe pecans opening on the tree

Skapie777 / Getty Images

Growing your own pecans is an attractive idea if you have plenty of space—not just for one tree but for two, as pecan trees require cross-pollination from other pecan trees to produce a good crop. 

Pecan trees shed flowers, leaves, and branches, which some people consider messy. If you don’t mind the litter and like the idea of a native tree that will supply you with pecans for your Thanksgiving pie in a few years, read on how to grow a pecan tree.

Common name Pecan tree
Botanical Name Carya illinoinensis
Family Juglandaceae
Plant Type Deciduous tree
Mature Size 70-100 ft. tall, 40-75 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, well-drained.
Soil pH Neutral to acidic (6.5 to 7)
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color Inconspicuous
Hardiness Zones 6-9, USDA
Native Area North America
Pecan trees are tall trees with a wide canopy
Pecan trees are tall trees with a wide canopy

tbmmassage / Getty Images

Pecan Tree Care 

Consistent water supply and fertilization are the two most important aspects of pecan tree care to make sure your pecan tree not only grows at the expected rate—1 to 3 feet per year for non-bearing and 5 to 12 inches for established bearing trees—but also produces nuts.

If planted in the correct location, you can expect nuts from a 4- to 6-foot tall pecan tree that you bought at a nursery in 6 to 7 years. Be aware though that the crop is not the same every year. In pecan trees, years of heavy and light crops alternate. 

Light

Pecan trees need full sun with at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. 

Soil

While pecan trees can grow in a wide range of soils, they produce best in sandy loam with clay subsoil. The soil should be fertile and well-drained yet still be able to hold water, otherwise the tree will need more frequent irrigation.

Just as important as the right soil texture is that the roots have ample room to grow. The roots of pecan trees, which mostly grow in the topmost 6 to 18 inches of soil, spread twice as far as the branches. 

Water

Sufficient water is very important for pecan trees, both during the establishment of a young tree as well as to ensure a good crop in bearing trees.

During the first 2 to 3 years, a young tree needs 10 to 15 gallons every week. That amount is likely not provided by rainfall so you will need to establish a watering schedule.

In dry spells, a bearing tree requires watering especially between the bud break in the spring and the nuts kernels filling in the mid to late summer. 

Temperature and Humidity

The ideal climate for pecans is warm and humid. A factor that considerably limits the tree’s geographical scope is that it needs warm nights. While pecan trees can grow in cooler climate zones, nighttime temperatures drop too low and the tree won’t produce nuts. 

Fertilizer

For each inch of trunk diameter, feed your pecan tree a complete fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) up to a maximum of 25 pounds per tree. In addition, in the spring around the time of bud break, apply one pound of ammonium nitrate per inch of trunk diameter, up to a maximum of eight pounds per tree.

Zinc is an important micro-nutrient for pecan trees, both for newly planted and established trees. A professional soil test (for which you can get soil test kits at your local Extension Office) will tell you the how much zinc is available to the tree in that location. To determine if your tree needs a zinc booster, you can also submit leaf samples to your local Extension Office for a leaf analysis. Based on the results and recommendations, you can apply zinc foliar spray. 

Propagating Pecan Trees

It is not a good idea to try propagating pecans from seed because the nuts won’t produce a tree identical to the parent and it will have unpredictable nut quality. The pecan trees sold by nurseries are grafted, which means the rootstock is a variety selected for its strong root system and the upper part with shoots or buds (scion) for the quality of its nuts. The nuts from a grafted pecan tree are identical to nuts of the scion. 

When you purchase a tree from a reliable nursery, the description will usually indicate which other pecan variety is a good pollinator for the tree. 

Pecan tree buds in the spring
Pecan tree buds in the spring

Christine_Kohler / Getty Images

Pruning Pecan Trees 

Pruning a pecan tree is not much different from pruning other fruit trees: prune during dormancy, and remove all broken, weak, dead, of crossing branches. 

If the canopy of a mature pecan tree is very dense, the lack of light can considerably reduce photosynthesis. Keep this in mind when pruning, and thin out dense areas to let more air and light in. Some growers say you should prune sufficiently to allow a bird to fly through.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Pecan trees can be affected by a range of fungal diseases, such as pecan scab, downy spot, brown spot, leaf spot, and anthracnose. Treating these requires chemical fungicides and equipment that homeowners, unlike commercial growers, usually don’t have at their disposal. Therefore, your best bet is to plant disease-resistant pecan varieties.

The other problem with pecan trees can be aphids, either black or yellow aphids. Heavy rain often helps to reduce their populations and hosing them off has the same effect. Before reaching for a chemical insecticide, which is often short-lived remedy because aphids reinfestation occurs quickly, try non-chemical control methods.

Article Sources
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  1. Pecan trees for the home or backyard orchard | UGA Cooperative Extension

  2. American Society for Horticultural Science. Sun Or Shade: Pecan Leaves' Photosynthetic Light Response Evaluated. ScienceDaily, 3 November 2009.