Growing a pecan tree from a nut or a cutting can be a fun and inexpensive way of producing many new trees. The process is quite straightforward if you follow the directions I’ve outlined, and with a little patience, you could soon have a mini forest. Read on to discover more about how to grow a pecan tree.
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Are Pecan Trees Difficult To Grow?
Growing pecan trees takes patience, especially if you grow them from seed. It can take many years for a young tree to produce any nuts. So you may ask why you’d bother.
Primarily seedlings are used as rootstock to graft the most desirable varieties of pecan onto. This produces a tree that is both hardy and fruitful.
If you decide to try using cuttings to root, the process can have a fairly large failure rate. However those that do take root will have the identical characteristics of their parent tree, so be sure to pick one out carefully.
They will also mature faster than seed grown trees, giving you a crop of pecans in a shorter time.
To grow your seedlings into healthy young trees you’ll need to water them regularly, especially during a dry period while they are young.
In the first few years, watering them slowly and deeply to keep the soil moist is essential to maintain good health and plenty of growth. Once your tree starts producing nuts, water is key to nut production and determines how many you get and their size.
To help improve water retention, mulch trees by covering them with around two to four inches of your preferred mulch around their root zone. Mulch choices include aged wood chips, pine bark, well-matured compost or manure, dead leaves, and grass clippings.
Don’t use fresh wood chips, wood shavings, or sawdust, as when they start decaying, they leach nitrogen from the soil, depriving your tree of the nutrient.
Young trees need to have fertilizer applied to help them grow. Older trees benefit from fertilizer to improve the quantity and quality of nuts they produce.
Zinc is another essential nutrient for nut trees, and zinc sulfate should be added annually.
Young pecan trees need trimming each year to establish a good shape, while older ones require any dead or diseased wood to be removed.
Where Do Pecan Trees Grow Best?
The pecan tree is native to North America; they are hardy in zones 6 through 9. They can survive in zone 5; however, they won’t produce nuts.
During the growing season, pecan trees like long, warm days with only slight temperature drops during the night.
- Where – Florida, California, Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, and New Mexico are the best pecan-growing states.
- Temperature – A pecan tree can survive short periods of 20°F, but frost damage to the tree is likely. Ideally, winter temperatures range from 45°F to 55°F with the average summertime value of 80°F for optimum tree growth and nut production.
- Location – This is also important. In the wild, these trees grow along creeks and riverbanks where the soil is deep and rich, and the water supply is plentiful.
Where possible, mimicking these natural conditions is ideal, but a protected, sunny area where the soil is deep and rich with a good amount of air movement will be perfect.
Positioning trees on the south side of buildings where heat is reflected can be beneficial in cooler locations. Be careful not to plant them too close to buildings though, as your structure could suffer from tree root damage.
How To Grow A Pecan Tree From A Nut?
Pecan nuts are the seeds of the tree. To produce nuts, pecan trees require cross-pollination from other pecan trees.
Trees grown from a nut have a genetic makeup different from their parent trees. This causes some unpredictability, and it’s something of a lottery knowing what you’ll get. This is why commercially grown trees are grafted, so they are exact copies of their parents with no guesswork.
Grafted trees will also start producing nuts much sooner than those grown from seed, in as little as three to five years, in fact, compared to six to ten years or more for a nut-grown tree.
Rootstock for grafted trees is grown from nuts, and it’s also how new varieties are developed.
Process of Growing a Pecan Tree from a Nut
Growing a pecan tree from a nut is a reasonably simple but slow process.
- Once harvested, the nuts need to be dried as quickly as possible without using any heat. The moisture content should be reduced from around 20% at harvest to below 7%.
- As soon as the nuts are dry, they require stratification. In nature, the nuts would fall from the tree, dry out, be covered by leaf litter, cool down below a certain temperature during the dormant winter period, and then sprout as the weather started to warm in springtime. This process needs to be mimicked artificially to improve germination rates.
- Place the nuts into a polythene bag. You can add very slightly damp sand, vermiculite, or peat moss. It isn’t essential though, and can encourage mold growth. The nuts must then be kept in a refrigerator at a temperature of between 40° to 45°F.
- Never let the temperature drop below 35°F, as allowing the nuts to freeze destroys the embryo inside.
- In late February, carefully remove the nuts from the bags and submerge them in water for 48 hours. Then plant them into moist soil, 2 to 3 inches below the surface of pots that are at least 8 inches in diameter. It’s essential to keep the soil damp and not let it dry out.
- The nutshell will split, and a root soon appears. The root grows approximately ½ an inch per day until it’s around a foot in length. Then a shoot emerges above the soil.
- It can take about four to eight weeks for all of the shoots to come up, as each nut will grow at a slightly different rate. It is usual that not every nut sprouts.
- Once the shoot has grown to a reasonable size and puts on plenty of growth, it can be gradually introduced to its final planting position over a couple of weeks.
- Young nut trees are very susceptible to damage by varmints and will need to be protected and staked into the ground to prevent wind damage.
In this video, you will see a method of planting pecan nuts to produce new pecan trees:
How To Grow A Pecan Tree From A Cutting?
Treated appropriately, pecan tree cuttings will root and grow. They are relatively easy to propagate from cuttings, and this can be preferable to growing them from seed, as a cutting will produce a clone with identical properties to its parent.
This means if you have a particularly good pecan variety that gives an excellent crop of nuts, then rooting cuttings is a good way of getting more of the same.
The process itself is pretty simple and should be done in springtime:
- Before you take any cuttings, you first need to prepare the containers you will put them in.
- Ideally, use biodegradable pots that are a maximum of 6 inches in diameter.
- Fill the pots with a specialist rooting compost or perlite.
- Water the pots thoroughly until the growing medium is good and wet.
- Now take some 6-inch cuttings from the tips of branches. Choose side branches that have plenty of leaves but no flowers, are very flexible and are around the size of a pencil. Make sure you cut on a slant just above a leaf node.
- Take all the leaves off the bottom half of the cuttings.
- Dip the cut ends into some rooting hormone.
- Make a hole in the compost or perlite and place a cutting into each pot. Ensure it is deep enough, so it won’t fall over easily; approximately half of its length should be about right.
- Place the pot outside in a sheltered spot that is light but not in direct sunlight during the middle of the day.
- Mist your cuttings daily, and ensure the soil stays moist well below the surface. If the cutting is dry, it won’t produce roots.
- After a month to six weeks, the cutting should have rooted. To check, gently remove it from the pot and transplant it to a larger container with potting soil.
- The cuttings can be planted out the following spring.
Other Growing Methods
If you want to get a young pecan tree from a garden store, then you won’t have to wait so long before collecting your first nut harvest.
These types of young trees are generally sold as bare-rooted or in pots.
- Bare root trees are less expensive and should be purchased while dormant between December and February. Plant them immediately, as you don’t know how long the roots have been out of the soil. Soak them for 24 hours before planting. And plant as early in the year as possible. This allows roots to get established in spring.
- Container-grown trees are less prone to shock when planting and can be put in during late winter to early spring. Attention needs to be paid to their roots when unpotting, as they can become pot bound. If the central taproot is twisted, try to gently straighten it out and cut off the end to encourage new growth before planting.
Whichever type of young tree you buy, ensure you plant them to the same depth they were at originally. This is harder to see on bare root trees but can usually be identified if you look carefully at the change in the bark.
Don’t allow the roots of young trees to dry out.
How Long Does It Take A Pecan Tree To Grow?
A pecan tree grown from a nut can take ten or more years to grow sufficiently to produce nuts. Grafted trees are much faster, and with some cultivars, you can see nuts after just three or four years.
Pecan trees are reasonably fast growing, putting on 13 to 24 inches per year. This means, on average, a tree can easily reach 23 feet in 15 years. So it doesn’t take too many decades until you’ll have a very large tree indeed. Dwarf varieties are available if you don’t have the space for a 70-foot tree in your yard.
In the right environment, pecan trees produce nuts for 100 years or more.
Growing pecan trees to produce delicious nuts is a lengthy process, but it’s well worthwhile!
The mature trees are quite beautiful with a lovely domed form. They also have attractive blade-shaped leaves and offer good shade during the summer months.
Nut-grown trees are a gamble. You won’t know until the tree starts producing nuts if they are any good or not. You can’t tell from the parent what a nut-grown tree’s characteristics will be like.
For a little less ‘potluck’, you may prefer to try growing a cutting, which will produce a clone of the parent tree.
We will be looking at grafted trees in another article.
To discover more about pecan trees and all kinds of other interesting edible plants and shrubs, head on over to see our other blogs.