Originally created 01/16/04

It's time to plant pecan trees



I got several phone calls this fall regarding the poor quality of the pecan harvest.

Pecans got a triple whammy this year.

For starters, powdery mildew infested nuts in early summer. The mildew affects the quality of the nuts later on and causes them to drop prematurely from the tree.

Then came above-average rainfall, which caused another fungus called scab. Scab causes black spots on leaves and on the nuts. Nuts with a bad case of scab rot prematurely.

The third whammy was that it got dry when the nuts were filling out late summer through fall. Even though a tree might not have had scab, the nuts didn't fill out well because they didn't get any rain or watering late in the season.

Even with these problems, many people are still interested in planting pecan trees in the landscape. They like the idea of having a shade tree that will produce nuts for them to eat and use in cooking.

When selecting pecan trees, pick two varieties to ensure pollination (unless there are other pecan trees close by that are of a different variety).

Since you cannot spray your trees like commercial growers do, a factor to consider is whether a variety is resistant to scab. The Georgia Extension Service recommends five varieties that are good for home landscapes because they are resistant to scab.

Stuart is a popular variety. It has large, thin-shell nuts with excellent kernels. People love the thin shell because it makes them easier to crack.

Gloria Grande is a good producer that yields large nuts with excellent kernels.

Sumner is a good producer with excellent kernel quality. It is late maturing, but tolerant to scab.

Two less-recommended varieties are Elliott and Curtis. Elliott is an especially hardy tree that has golden halves and excellent flavor. Curtis also has excellent kernels.

There are many more varieties from which to choose at garden centers and in catalogs, but they will not be as resistant to scab.

The best time to plant is now through March.

When you select a tree, look for one that's 5 to 6 feet tall. This size is large enough to have reserves to carry it through some tough times.

Pecan trees don't grow that fast, but they get big. Don't plant them too close to buildings or power lines; give the trees 40 to 60 feet of space on all sides. Pecans produce nuts on the ends of the branches, so if it doesn't have enough room to grow, it will stop fruiting and grow straight up like a pine tree.

Dig your planting hole about two feet across and three feet deep to get the roots off to a good start. Take note of the dark area that indicates how deep it was planted at the nursery.

Mix a couple of handfuls of lime with the dirt before you put it in the hole. Then spread about 10 to 20 pounds in a 25-square-foot area around the tree. Do not place fertilizer in the planting hole unless it is a slow release. Quick release fertilizer can injure the roots.

In the absence of a soil test, use one pound of 10-10-10 distributed in the same 25-square-foot area around the tree four to six weeks after you plant it.

It is critical that you water your tree if you don't get enough rainfall, particularly the first summer. During the first two years of life, pecan trees should be watered about weekly. Water every five days or so if you have sandy soil. It is best to hand water with a hose and soak it because most in-ground sprinklers aren't set to run long enough to properly water the tree.

Mulching the tree will help conserve moisture and keep weed eaters and lawn mowers away from the trunk. Mulch also keeps down weeds that would compete with the young tree for nutrients for moisture.

Sid Mullis is director of the University of Georgia Extension Service office for Richmond County. Call 821-2349, or send e-mail to smullis@uga.edu.