How to Grow a Pecan Tree

A Nut Tree That Needs a Warm Climate and a Large Yard

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 or even three because 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 to be too 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, here's how to grow a pecan tree.

Common name Pecan tree, hardy 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 5-9, USDA
Native Area Central and east central United States and Mexico

Pecan Tree Care 

Consistent water 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—one to three feet per year for non-bearing and five to 12 inches for established bearing trees—but also produces nuts.

If planted in the correct location, you can expect nuts in eight to ten years from a four-to-six-foot tall pecan tree you bought at a nursery. Be aware though that the crop yield is not the same every year. Pecan trees alternate with a heavy crop year followed by a light crop year. 

Pecan tree

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Leaves of a pecan tree

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Trunk of a pecan tree

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Ripe pecans that have fallen off of the mother tree

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

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 mature nut-bearing trees.

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

A nut-bearing tree requires extensive watering especially during dry spells, bud break in the spring, and at the nut filling stage 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 can 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. 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 recommended to propagate pecan trees from seed because the seeds 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 from a variety selected for its strong root system and the upper part of the tree that produces shoots or buds (the scion) is chosen for the quality of its nuts. The nuts from a grafted pecan tree are identical to the nuts produced by the scion. 

When you purchase a tree from a reliable nursery, the description will usually indicate which other pecan tree cultivar 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 can be done at any time, but pruning is typically done while the tree is dormant. Always 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 enough to allow a bird to fly through the branches.

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 re-infestation occurs quickly, try non-chemical control methods.

Article Sources
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  1. “Carya Illinoinensis.” Ncsu.Edu.

  2. Carya Illinoinensis - Plant Finder.” Missouribotanicalgarden.Org

  3. Wells, Marvin Leonard, and Robert Westerfield. “Pecan Trees for the Home or Backyard Orchard.” Uga.Edu, Dec. 2013.

  4. Wells, Lenny. “Pruning of Pecan Trees Can Be Done at Any Time.” Uga.Edu

  5. “Sun or Shade: Pecan Leaves’ Photosynthetic Light Response Evaluated.” ScienceDaily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091103145605.htm

  6. Wells, Marvin Leonard, and Robert Westerfield. “Pecan Trees for the Home or Backyard Orchard.” Uga.Edu, Dec. 2013