How To Take Care Of A Pecan Tree {A Simple Guide}

Pecan trees are a great addition to a large garden to produce nuts for the family or to grow on a larger scale for commercial purposes. The trees require some care and attention to grow a good nut crop. We will look at how to take care of a pecan tree in this article. They are native to the United States and grow best in hardiness zones 6 through 9. 

How Do You Take Care Of A Pecan Tree?

how do you take care of a pecan tree

Pecan trees require a good deal of care while young but generally less so as they mature.

Let’s look at their needs, point by point.

Soil and Fertilizer

The most common macronutrients required by pecan trees include Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K), but they also need Calcium (Ca), Sulphur (S), and Magnesium (Mg). 

These are required to achieve a range of functions, including photosynthesis, sugar transportation, and creating proteins, chlorophyll, and nucleic acids.

Besides macronutrients, micronutrients are needed to help plant development, but in much smaller amounts. These include Zinc (Zn), Boron (B), Copper (Cu), Iron (Fe), Chloride (Cl), Nickel (Ni), Manganese (Mn), and Molybdenum (Mo).

While the tree is young, it requires the correct fertilizer ratio to stimulate a good amount of growth. Look for fruit tree fertilizers that have all the nutrients your pecan needs.

Apply small quantities of a quality nitrogen-based fertilizer monthly during the growing season. We will look at the required amounts later in the article.

Zinc is essential for good nut production. Zinc sulfate should be applied as a foliar spray at a rate of one pound for every inch of trunk diameter to young non-bearing trees and three pounds for older bearing trees. Mix with water and spread evenly around the roots. 

Test your soil before planting your tree and improve it accordingly to your young tree get a good start. Improvement can be made with the addition of well-rotted compost, manure, or fertilizer pellets mixed with the soil. 

Ensure any pellets used are of a type that won’t burn your young tree’s roots and are made especially for nut trees. 

As your tree grows, keep an eye on the leaflets, as foliar analysis can be a good indicator of health. If they start going yellow or getting any spots or brown edges, you know there is a problem.

The perfect soil pH for a pecan is 6.5, but they tolerate soil in a range between 6 and 7. 

Water

Just as all living things, trees need water to survive. Pecan trees require a lot of water to produce a good harvest, and soil should be kept moist but not wet, particularly around the roots of young trees.

Water deeply twice weekly or more depending on weather conditions from March to the end of September.

Apply mulch to the base of the tree to prevent water evaporation. 

Older trees may require watering in dry weather, again water deeply as necessary to keep the tree healthy and green. 

Insects

Young trees need protection from insect pests such as aphids which suck all the nutrients from the leaves. An easy way to remove them is with a strong jet from a water hose. You can also apply ladybugs, as they are natural aphid predators.

Disease

Scab is a common pecan tree disease, although some cultivars are more susceptible. It causes black spots and green warts on the leaves, branches, and nut cases.

Damp and humid conditions scab, and it’s best controlled by increasing the airflow around the tree by pruning and thinning out branches.

A bad case may require the application of a fungicide. 

Pruning

In the first few years, pruning your pecan tree to produce an ideal open shape will set it up for life. After this, only a minimal amount of maintenance pruning will be required at the end of each winter. See our article about pruning pecan trees to find out more. 

In this video, you can see more information on pecan tree care:

Are Pecan Trees High Maintenance?

Pecans are classed as a fairly high-maintenance crop, particularly when the trees are young. They require frequent fertilizer application and watering. 

As they mature, the frequency of both fertilizer and water reduces, but they must still be fed at least once a year.

Unlike many fruit trees, they don’t generally require much pruning, making the need to head up ladders to the uppermost branches of your trees less of a worry.

The only exception to this is if your tree becomes diseased, as then you will need to remove the affected branches.

One last requirement is maintaining the soil at a slightly alkaline level of 6 to 7 on the pH scale. The continued application of fertilizers can turn soils acidic, below 5, as can the natural chemistry of your soil.

TIP: If you test the soil around your pecan and it is too acidic, it can be remedied with the addition of some lime or dolomite.

How Much Space Does A Pecan Tree Need?

how much space does a pecan tree need

Pecans grow into large trees. Before planting your tiny sapling, there are a few things you may want to take into consideration. 

First, try to imagine your tree once it is fully grown. Pecan trees may reach heights of over 100 feet tall and 75 feet wide. However, this will depend on many variables, including cultivar, growing conditions, sun exposure, climate, fertilization, water, and so on. 

Because they grow so large and require plenty of sun, they should be planted 60 to 80 feet apart and also that distance from other trees or structures. Be aware of things like overhead power cables!

If the trees aren’t given sufficient space to grow, they can become deformed, and your harvest will be reduced. 

Proper space allows sunlight to reach all parts of the tree and facilitates airflow around the boughs. If the tree is too close to another tree or a building, this will be compromised.

The final consideration is the future. Is the land you’re planting your pecan on likely to be developed in any way? If so, that’s something else you’ll need to think about. 

How Much Water Does A Pecan Tree Need?

Pecan trees require fairly large quantities of water to produce nuts. From initial planting to two years, 10 gallons per day during the dry period. While mature trees may require more than 400 gallons per day. 

Good irrigation is essential to establish young trees successfully. Although mature trees can tolerate a good deal of dry weather, it will adversely affect their nut production.

The best form of irritation is a drip system with one dripper per tree for the first four years, then two drippers per tree for five-year-old trees and older. Once the tree is established, it will require watering once every other day (weather dependent), less frequently in wet weather and more in dry.

Avoid using overhead irrigation as this will promote leaf diseases, and much of the water will evaporate before the roots have a chance to absorb it. Instead, opt for a ground-level system such as Microjet irrigation. 

Pecans don’t tolerate having constantly wet roots. Rich soil that is free draining, such as loam or improved sandy loam, is best. Pecans don’t do well on clay soils as this prevents air circulation and causes the roots to drown. 

You only have to look at where Pecan trees come from and the conditions they grow under in the wild to understand their needs.

They are native trees to the Mississippi floodplain, where there is well-drained, deep, fertile soil.

Another place to find them growing wild is in the bottom of river lands in Texas or northern Mexico. 

Does A Pecan Tree Need A Pollinator?

Pecan trees have separate male and female flowers making them monoecious. The male flowers (staminate) are long, thin, catkins. They are multi-lobed and appear to grow on wood from the previous year’s growth. However, they are actually produced on short pieces of the current season’s growth.

The female flowers (pistillate) look like small green stars and can be found on the current season’s growth. 

The male and female flowers on an individual tree usually mature at different times, although this can vary depending on the cultivar. Having two trees of different cultivars will often produce a much higher nut yield, as the trees are then able to cross-pollinate each other. 

Ideally, growers should plant two complimentary cultivars, one where the pollen is shed before the stigma is receptive (protandrous) and one that becomes receptive before the pollen is shed (protogynous). 

If you live in an area where there are lots of pecan trees close to your property, then you probably won’t need to plant a partner tree, as there will usually be sufficient pollen in the air already.

Insects don’t play a part in the pollination of pecan trees; they are wind-pollinated.

For anyone wishing to farm pecan trees, the maximum yield is not typically more than 1,500 lbs. per acre under optimal conditions. 

Most cultivars are alternate bearing, meaning they will produce a heavy crop one year and a light crop the next in that pattern, alternating year on year. This is because fruiting heavily deplete the tree’s energy reserves, and they must be restored the following season.

Trees may continue to have low yields for a number of reasons:

  • Pests and disease
  • Poor fertilization
  • Insufficient water
  • Overcrowding
  • Not enough sunlight
  • Lack of pollination

How Do You Take Care Of A Mature Pecan Tree?

how do you take care of a mature pecan tree

As with young pecan trees, fertilizers are essential for growth, nut production, and tree health. The amount of fertilizer needed is based on a series of factors:

  • The age of the tree
  • The tree’s health
  • The cultivar
  • Soil deficiencies

Fertilizing the tree on a biannual (twice yearly) basis is usually enough to ensure it has what it needs. The amount of fertilizer you give and its ratios will depend on any issues the tree, or soil it is growing in, has. 

Nitrogen is good for healthy leaf growth, while phosphorus produces strong blooms. Overall, the tree will require a balanced mix of elements to maintain good vigor and ensure the harvest provides plenty of large nuts.

Feeding with a Nitrogen-based fertilizer just before bud break is one method, or you may prefer to split the application and give half at bud break and the second two to three months later to promote good fruiting.

Be careful how you apply fertilizer, as putting it in one spot will only nourish that small area of the root system. 

Instead, try to spread the application around the entire base at a three-to-five-foot diameter of the tree’s trunk. 

Guard against fertilizers touching the trunk as they can cause burning.

Removing any weeds and grasses growing under the tree prevents competing for the fertilizer.

Weeds can be controlled by the regular application of mulch, such as grass clippings. Or you can apply black plastic on top of the soil around the tree to kill off the weeds for a few weeks prior to application. 

For younger non-bearing trees, fertilizer should be applied at a rate of two pounds per inch of trunk diameter. The correct location to do the measuring is one foot above soil level.

Check your tree’s annual growth rate, and if it’s less than two feet per year, you can apply a little more fertilizer. A leaf analysis may also show any deficiency the tree has.

Older bearing trees require fertilizer applied at a rate of between two to four pounds per inch of trunk diameter in February and June. 

A large tree with a trunk diameter over 30 inches can require as much as 60 to 120 pounds of fertilizer twice a year in early spring and early summer.  

Conclusion

Taking care of a pecan tree isn’t too difficult once you understand its principal requirements:

  • Rich, well-drained soil with a soil pH as close to 6.5 as possible
  • Good nutrient balance with fertilizer application during the growing season
  • Plenty of water
  • An open sunny position
  • Protection from pests and disease
  • Pruning to maintain a good shape and healthy branches

To learn more about pecan trees or to read lots of other interesting farm and animal articles, head on over to our website. Here’s our guide to pecan grafting methods.

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