Planting Pecan Trees: A Complete Guide to Getting Started

Are you considering establishing a pecan orchard? There are several methods you can use to get started, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article, we will explore the different ways you can plant pecan trees and provide you with essential tips for successful cultivation.

Starting With Nuts

Planting pecans directly in place is the most cost-effective way to establish an orchard. However, this method requires more time for the tree to grow large enough for grafting. It is generally not recommended to plant seeds in place due to difficulties in controlling weeds and varmints, and the longer start-up time.

Starting With Seedling Trees

Another option is to purchase seedling trees from a nursery or grow them from stratified nuts in a nursery block or containers. These seedling trees can be planted in place and grown for at least a year before grafting. The advantages of this method include the ability to choose cold-hardy rootstocks, lower tree costs, and the option to graft a wider selection of cultivars. Seedling trees also offer the opportunity to graft above the soil line to enhance cold hardiness.

Starting With Grafted Trees

Using grafted trees is the quickest way to establish an orchard, but it can be more expensive. With grafted trees, the rootstock may be unknown, and the graft is typically at ground level, which reduces cold-hardiness. Grafted trees can be container-grown or bareroot trees. Container trees are usually more expensive but offer flexibility in planting time. Bareroot trees are dug during the dormant season and shipped for planting in late February to mid-March. Many successful orchards have been established using grafted nursery trees.

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Starting With Transplanted Trees

In native groves, small seedlings often sprout and cover the orchard floor. It is possible to select and mark these seedlings for transplanting. These existing seedlings are well adapted to the area and can be grafted before or after transplantation. Transplanting trees is typically done during the dormant season. This method of establishment can bring an orchard into production economically and quickly.

Seed Preparation

When planting seeds or seedling trees, it is essential to select high-quality seed. Pecans should be collected in the fall, choosing well-filled and insect-free nuts. Stratification is recommended for pecan seeds. To stratify pecans, soak them in tap water for 24 hours, then mix them with moist vermiculite in a labeled plastic bag and place them in a cool area with temperatures between 36 F to 40 F. Stratification should take at least two months and can be kept for up to six months.

Growing Container Trees

If you choose to grow pecan trees in containers, you should have a support system in place to keep the pots upright and off the ground. The pots should have an open bottom to allow for air pruning of the roots. Plant the nuts on their side about 1-1 ½ inches deep in a soilless nursery mix. Regular watering and fertilization are essential for proper growth. Protect the pecans and seedlings from animals and regularly scout for insects and diseases.

Planting Trees in the Field

Late September to mid-October is the ideal time to plant container trees, but they can be planted until May. Plant the tree at the same depth or slightly higher than it was in the pot, tamping down the soil and watering well to settle air pockets. Bare root trees should be planted in the dormant season, with the holes dug before planting. Trim the roots and place the tree in the hole at the same depth or slightly higher than at the nursery. Water the tree to settle the soil.

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Remember to protect the trees from sunscald and herbicides, control weeds and grass competition, and have an irrigation plan in place. With proper care and patience, you can successfully establish a pecan orchard of your own.

For more information and resources on pecan tree cultivation, visit Ames Farm Center.