The Best Time To Plant Pecan Trees (And How to Do It) 

Close up pecan tree

Correctly planted and cared-for pecan trees can produce an abundance of deliciously crunchy edible nuts. When growing your pecan tree, the right place to start is to make sure you’re planting it at the best time of year!

Always plant your pecan tree during the winter, specifically anytime between December and March. Planting pecan trees during the winter will allow them to acclimate or adjust to their new home before springtime comes. Then you will pick between bare root planting and container transplanting.

In addition to planting your pecan tree in the winter, you’ll want to follow a series of guidelines to ensure your tree’s health. Read on to learn all about how to plant your pecan tree, when to plant it, and how to care for it to ensure a solid first-time harvest. Let’s go!

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Just What Is A Pecan Tree?

The pecan tree, native to North America, has been around for thousands of years. Initially originating in the Mississippi River Valley, you can now find pecan trees throughout North America and Northern Mexico.

In fact, the southern United States and northern Mexico now produce about 98% of the world’s annual pecan production according to research from the USDA Research Service. That’s nuts! Interestingly, Texas and Georgia are the top producers despite having no native trees.

Not only does modern-day society love pecans, but according to the Missouri Department of Conservation, Native Americans made pecans an essential part of their diets for many years. So much so that the word pecan originated from Native American words meaning “nuts cracked by rock.”

Today, pecans are used for a variety of purposes. They’re perfect for throwing into your pecan pies, baked into sweet loaves of bread, tossed into summer salads, or simply roasted for a lovely afternoon snack.

On top of the delicious fruit you get from a pecan tree, the trees themselves provide many benefits for your yard. Growing anywhere from 70 to 100 feet tall, the pecan tree can provide shade for those hot summer nights, and they’re especially pleasing to the eye.

Now, let’s talk about when to plant your pecan tree and how to care for it so you can reap all its benefits!

The Best Time To Plant Your Pecan Tree For Each Planting Method

Cluster of green pecans

The most common way to plant your pecan tree is by bare root or container-grown transplant. Depending on which route you go, this will affect what time of winter will be best to plant.

Let’s discuss the difference between these two planting options so that you can pick the one that’s right for you!

Bare Root Planting

Bare root pecan trees are just as it sounds, trees with bare roots. This means that they are packed and sent without soil around their roots. These bare-root trees are usually grown in a nursery until they’re about one to three years old.

While in your care, bare root transplants need to stay moisturized until planting, but be sure to plant it as soon as possible! The best time to plant your bare-root pecan tree is while dormant, anytime between December and March, but the earlier in the planting season, the better.

Container Grown Transplants

Container-grown transplants will have all of their roots intact and are a bit more hardy. For this reason, containerized pecan trees can be transplanted later in the season (all the way until May) if you prefer.

However, your container-grown transplant will suffer less transplant shock, offering it a better chance at survival when done while dormant, so it’s not a bad idea to plant them early enough to adjust to their location before springtime.

When planting your container-grown transplant, loosen up the root ball before planting. This will allow the roots to spread out and grow in all the directions they need to.

How To Plant Your Pecan Tree

Now that we know when the best time is to plant our pecan trees and a bit about their rich history, let’s talk about how to plant your pecan tree! From the best kind of soil to how big the hole needs to be, we’ve got you covered.

Choose The Best Soil

Good soil is going to make all the difference for your young tree. Soil gives your tree nutrients, helps it soak up just the right amount of water, and gives it some strong support.

Be sure the soil for your pecan tree is:

  • Well-draining
  • Fertile
  • Free of weeds 

Always prepare your soil by clearing it of any debris and weeds. Be sure to level the land so your tree is not planted in an area that collects any water. Most importantly, you should do a soil analysis to ensure ideal soil conditions.

According to The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, the soil pH for new pecan trees should be 6.0 to 6.5. If you’re not sure how to tell the pH level of your soil, you’re not alone!

This Soil Testing Kit by MySoil, is not only convenient and incredibly easy to use but provides accurate results. We love it because you mail your results in for a professional lab analysis rather than trying to decipher hard-to-read test strips.

For more information on soil pH, check out our article about what pH trees actually like!

Actually Plant Your Pecan Tree

When digging the hole for your pecan tree, you will want to make the hole as wide and deep as the root system. Consider the roots’ horizontal and vertical lengths to ensure the hole is big enough. The taproot should settle nicely, just at the bottom of the hole.

If possible, a good rule of thumb is to try to plant your pecan tree at the same depth it was in the nursery. You can tell by looking for the soil line on your tree and matching it. Be sure to pack the dirt in nice and tight to give your pecan tree the structure it needs.

When planting more than one pecan tree, be sure to plant them at least 50 feet apart. It’s important to note that the roots of two pecan trees grown together will crowd a lot sooner than the branches. For example, in the fourth year of the pecan tree’s life, its lateral roots are typically about two times the size of the height of the tree.

Additionally, pecan trees need a lot of sunlight to produce and stay healthy. Due to their great size, if planted too closely, they can shade each other without allowing proper sunlight exposure, which will be detrimental to your tree.

Things To Know About Pecan Tree Pollination

The pollination process of a pecan tree is quite impressive! One pecan tree produces both male and female blossoms. The pollen from the male flowers needs to be transported to the female blossom to create fruit.

Despite the male and female flowers being on the same tree, they are produced at different times in the season.

The female flower matures at the end of the current season’s growth, while the male flower matures at the end of the last season’s growth. The male flower produces catkins, and a large amount of pollen sits on these catkins.

The wind blows the pollen from the catkins to the immature nutlets made by the female flowers, allowing fertilization to take place. See, pretty amazing stuff!

How Do I Maintain My Pecan Tree?

Young pecan orchard

Irrigation

It’s a great idea to set up your irrigation before planting so that you don’t risk leaving your new tree without water. Young pecan trees need soil moisture to thrive, but too much moisture can be quite problematic.

Drip, micro-irrigation, or flood irrigation systems are great options for younger trees. These types of sprinkler systems help target the root zone, keeping these young roots moist enough to thrive.

Keep in mind that as the trees grow, they will require more water. For example, a one-year-old tree will do well with about 20-30 gallons of water in the hot month of July, while a 4-year-old tree would need about 200-300 gallons in the same month.

The exact water measurements your pecan tree needs vary on region, variety, and soil drainage. However, generally in the cooler months, your pecan tree will need moisture about every three weeks. In the warmer months, opt for weekly or bi-weekly watering.

Weed Control

Weed control is just as important as proper planting and irrigation. Young pecan trees cannot compete with these weeds, so it’s crucial to get them under control right away.

Herbicides are one tool you can use to manage weeds around your pecan tree. The types of weeds will dictate the type of herbicide you’ll need. Contacting a professional before using herbicides around your pecan trees may be beneficial to ensure proper application.

Of course, you also have the option to manage weeds without herbicides. You can do this by keeping the vegetation around the pecan tree mowed or lightly tilled. You can also plant vegetation cover that can out-compete the weeds. Or by using a thick layer of mulch to keep weed seeds from germinating.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer is a way to give your trees and plants the extra nutrients needed for healthy growth. It’s important to note that young trees do not necessarily need or respond to fertilizer, and focusing your fertilization efforts on a mature pecan tree is better.

According to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, nitrogen and zinc are essential for your pecan tree. You can refer to their pound-per-acre recommendations to ensure proper fertilization.

Pruning

Pruning is an important part of proper tree maintenance. For a young pecan tree, you’ll want to use a tip prune method which is done to help the limbs branch out as it grows. When tip pruning, you are just cutting off the tip of the branch.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service suggests tip pruning in early March, cutting off about three to four inches from all growth. Then tip pruning all limbs beside the central leader in mid-summer.

Lastly, they suggest leaving the lower lateral branches on the tree until they are an inch in diameter. Once they’ve reached that point, remove the lower lateral until the central stem is about 9 feet tall.

Harvest 

Now that you’ve set your pecan tree up for success, you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor with a bountiful pecan harvest! Depending on the variety, you may see some pecans three to four years after planting with the best production beginning in the eighth or ninth year.

Pecan trees are typically harvested between the fall months of September through November. When your pecans begin to fall from the tree, it’s a sign they’re ready to be harvested. Shake your pecan tree to get the stubborn nuts off the tree.

It’s best to pick your nuts up immediately when they fall to the ground and leaving them there too long will encourage pests or rot. Plus, the sooner you gather your pecans, the sooner you can eat them!

Brown kernels and hulls that break easily are a sign that you’ve got some ripe nuts. It’s important that your nuts are as dry as possible. So, when you harvest them, give them about one to two weeks to dry by placing them in a cloth bag and leaving them in a well-ventilated room.

Last, but not least, after you shell your pecans, be sure to store them in the freezer to keep them from going rancid.

That’s A Wrap!

There you have it! Pecan trees are an outstanding addition to your yard or orchard. With proper care and planting, you’re going to be so pleased with the results.

Some key takeaways before embarking on your pecan-tree growing adventure:

  1. Plant your pecan tree during the winter months of December and March
  2. Plant in soil that has a PH between 6.0 and 6.5
  3. Allow at least 40 to 60 feet of spacing between pecan trees
  4. Manage weeds by either natural or chemical options
  5. Use the proper irrigation practices to keep your pecan tree watered
  6. Harvest your nuts as soon as they fall to the ground

So, whether you say “pee-cahn” or “peh-cahn,” we’re just happy you’ve trusted us with your peh-can-growing needs!

Happy planting!

References 

Conner, Patrick J. “Pecan pollination.” (2010).

McEachern, G. R., & Stein, L. A. (1986). Planting and Establishing Pecan Trees. Bulletin/Texas Agricultural Extension Service; no. 1545.

Stuckey, H. P., & Kyle, E. J. (1925). Pecan-growing. Macmillan. 

Thompson, T.E., Conner, P.J. (2012). Pecan. In: Badenes, M., Byrne, D. (eds) Fruit Breeding. Handbook of Plant Breeding, vol 8. Springer, Boston, MA.

Wells, M. L. (2009). Establishing a pecan orchard. University of Georgia.

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