Pecan trees may not be perfect, but they are worth a try

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 30, 2012

SALISBURY — Cooperative Extension gets many questions about pecans, especially during the Christmas holidays with the myriad baked goods. Nursery and garden centers receive their annual shipment of bare-rooted trees in late winter or early spring. 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 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 of growth before producing a sizable crop. Often, pecans are planted as sentimental gestures for young children and grandchildren to enjoy later in life. Pecans are very hardy trees; once established, this species is almost indestructible.
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 two-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. Dig the hole deep and wide enough to easily accommodate all the roots. Do not plant the tree too deep and cover the graft; you should be able to recognize the graft and previous planting line. Backfill with a good topsoil and water thoroughly.
Pecan trees should be planted during dormancy until late March.
Fertilization is important because good growth and production are tied together. Mature trees often respond to applications of a complete fertilizer with zinc. Pecan fertilizers are often custom-blended to contain zinc and other major and micro nutrients. These fertilizers are often found in garden shops and farm supply outlets and other retail outlets.
Other fertilizers such as 10-10-10 can also be used to increase growth and vigor of the tree. Two to three pounds of 10-10-10 per inch of trunk in diameter is the rule of thumb for mature trees. This should be spread around the drip line of the tree. Make plans to apply fertilizer when the buds swell in the spring.
Admittedly, pecan trees do have many flaws, but they can be a very valuable asset, an heirloom to many. Take time to consider your site and other cultural factors before proceeding with this endeavor.
Contact Darrell Blackwelder, County Extension Director, at 704-216-8970.