Pecan Tree Selection

— Written By and last updated by Patricia Burch

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) are large deciduous trees that produce nutritious nuts that are packed full of antioxidants, protein and unsaturated fats. Trees are relatively affordable, and are a way to bring beauty, shade, and food crops to your landscape. If you are thinking of enhancing your landscape with pecan trees, there are a few considerations that should be made before purchase.

Cultivar selection is the most important factor in purchasing pecan trees. For the homeowner, select varieties that are resistant to pecan scab. Pecan scab is the most damaging disease to pecans and is difficult to control because many homeowners are unable to adequately apply pesticides into a large tree.

Pollination is the second most important factor in purchasing pecan trees. Pecan trees are monoecious, meaning they have separate male and female structures on the same tree. Pollen is not released at the same time flowers are receptive; therefore pollination is limited. Cultivars are separated into type I and type II for pollination purposes. For optimum pollination, NC State University recommends planting at least 3 cultivars with different pollination types for homeowners. Type I cultivars include Cape Fear and Pawnee. Type II cultivars include Stuart, Sumner, Forkert, Gloria Grande, Kiowa, Chickasaw, and Elliot. All cultivars have positive and negative aspects, so do your research on cultivars before purchasing.

Purchased pecan trees are a grafted scion onto a rootstock. Nuts that are collected and planted, or seedling trees that grow from nuts will not produce the same nuts as the parent tree. Each nut or seedling tree is a unique species and will have traits from the mother and father tree. This most often equates to extremely variable and low nut quality.

Pecan trees should be planted in late January and early February. Dig the planting hole deep and wide enough for the root system without curling the roots. Plant the tree so that the bud or graft union is at least 2 inches above the soil surface after planting and soil settling.

The last thing you need to know about pecan trees is you shouldn’t expect any nuts for a few years. Pecan trees are slow to establish and do not begin producing nuts in any quantity until the tree is 7 – 10 years old. For more information on how to care and maintain pecan trees, search the web for the NC State University publication, “Growing Pecans in North Carolina” or call the Extension Master Gardener℠ Volunteer Plant Clinic at 910-592-7161 and ask for a printed copy.