Blackwelder coumn: Pecan trees are worth the effort

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 18, 2011

SALISBURY — Cooperative Extension gets many inquires about pecans with the upcoming holiday season. Nursery and garden centers usually receive their shipment of pecan trees in late winter. But before you get your shovel out, there are a few cultural requirements about pecans to consider before planting.
• Pecan trees require a considerable amount of space, at least 75 feet between trees. Small residential lots may not be able to accommodate these trees. Overcrowding is often a problem with older pecan plantings. There are dwarf varieties of pecan trees; unfortunately, these cultivars have had limited success here in the Piedmont.
• Pecan trees have no fall color. In fact, the leaves in the fall can be somewhat ugly. If fall color is a major requirement, do not plant a pecan tree.
• The limbs and twigs of pecan trees are brittle. Ice storms in the winter and stormy weather in the spring keep homeowners busy with broken limbs.
• It takes many years before pecan trees will bear an appreciable crop. Most cultivars require eight to 12 years growth before producing a sizeable crop. Smaller dwarf cultivars will producer earlier. Often, pecans are planted as sentimental gestures for young children and grandchildren to enjoy later in life. These trees are very hardy trees; once established, this species is almost indestructible.
• Pecans have insect and disease problems that are difficult to control. Pecan scab is a sooty-type fungus that plagues the nut casings, reducing yield and quality. There are a number of insects that bore into the nut, rendering them unfit for consumption. The sheer size and magnitude of spraying homeowner pecans is questionable.
There are a few varieties that do well in this area. Stuart, Cape Fear, Desirable and Stuart/Mahan are just a few varieties offered by most nurseries or garden shops in this area. Most trees are sold as 2-year-old budded seedlings. Buy trees that are potted in tall, slender nursery pots, avoiding balled trees wrapped in plastic. It’s a good idea to plant at least two varieties to ensure good pollination.
Planting pecan trees is no easy chore because they have a very long tap root. Planting a pecan tree will probably require the use of a post-hole digger.
Admittedly, pecan trees do have many flaws but they can be a very valuable asset, a valuable heirloom to many. Take time to consider your site and other cultural factors before proceeding with this endeavor.
Darrell Blackwelder is the County Extension Director with horticulture responsibilities with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service in Rowan County. Learn more about Cooperative Extension events and activities by calling 704-216-8970 Facebook or online at