Growing Backyard Pecans - August 12, 1998
Jeff Schalau, County Director, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
Pecan trees make an excellent shade tree and will produce a good nut crop in several areas of the Verde Valley. In fact, Camp Verde has close to 200 acres in pecans that produce 200,000 lbs of pecans annually production. Pecans are relatives of the hickory and native to the southern United States.
Deep alluvial soils found on river and stream terraces are the best sites for pecans in the Verde Valley. Whatever the soil conditions, good drainage is the most critical factor when selecting suitable sites. Caliche layers should be well broken up before planting. In addition, sites above 3,500 feet in elevation are not suitable for pecans. They may experience spring frost injury, freeze damage and produce poor crops. This includes the cooler, higher elevation sites in Sedona.
Pecan seedlings can produce decent nuts, but there are no guarantees. If your objectives include a high-quality nut crop, then use grafted varieties. More than one (preferably three) proven varieties will increase the nut yield by providing cross-pollination. Some appropriate varieties include: Apache, Burkett, Choctaw, Cheyenne, Mohawk, Sioux, Wichita, and Western Schley. These varieties are grafted to a proven rootstock. Try to buy grafted varieties from reputable New Mexico nurseries. California rootstocks are not well adapted to Arizona growing conditions. Select bare root trees that are five to seven feet tall having a 3/4 to 1 inch diameter six inches above the bud union. In addition, high quality bare root trees should have many pencil sized lateral roots attached to the taproot.
Pecans should be planted between January and mid-March. Never let the roots dry out (not even for one minute). This is the major cause of tree death after planting. When planting, dig a hole at least three feet deep and two feet wide. Fill the hole half full with water, place the tree at the same depth as it was grown at the nursery, then add soil. The soil should force all air pockets out. After 24 hours, check to see if the soil has settled further. If so, add more soil and water again.
Pecan trees need regular watering and should not be considered where water supplies are limited. Irrigation water should not have over 1,000 ppm total dissolved solids to avoid salt burn. On loamy soils, irrigation should be necessary about every 10 to 14 days during the first spring and summer. On sandy soils, it may require irrigation every 7 to 10 days. As a general rule-of-thumb, water should go at least two feet deep and be allowed to dry out on the surface two to three inches between watering. The first year will likely require more frequent irrigations than subsequent years.
The first five years are critical in developing the modified central leader and scaffold branch framework of the tree. Earlier nut production will occur on trees with the fewest pruning cuts. In home gardens, early production could be sacrificed in favor of an aesthetically pleasing tree. Painting the trunks of young trees will prevent sunscald until the canopy is well developed.
Pecans also require close attention to mineral nutrition. Nitrogen fertilization regulates shoot growth. Too little nitrogen results in diminished shoot growth leading to low vigor and reduced photosynthesis. Too much nitrogen results in excessive shoot growth which removes energy from nut production. The correct amount of nitrogen will result in 10 to 16 inches of shoot growth per year and optimum nut yields once the tree reaches bearing age. Zinc nutrition is also critical to pecan growth and nut production. Pecan trees deficient in zinc will have a condition called "rosette". Here, new leaves are greatly reduced in size, have thickened veins, and are brittle to the touch. To avoid this condition, they should apply zinc sulfate mixed with water directly to the foliage when spring growth begins. In some cases, more than one zinc application is necessary depending on site and pecan variety.
These guidelines were developed by Dr. Michael Kilby, University of Arizona Fruit and Nut Specialist. Dr. Kilby has been actively involved with pecan growing in the Verde Valley, and in southern Arizona, for several years. The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County, has several publications on pecan production available in their Cottonwood office at 2657 Village Drive.
Pecan growing may seem like a lot of work - and it is. However, once you've tasted a well-tended pecan, you may decide it's worth the effort. If it sounds like too much work, then head to Camp Verde during the fall pecan harvest and buy them at the orchard.
For more information about pecan pollenation, varieties, fertilization requirements, local pecan orchards, or other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113. Or E-mail us at email@example.com and be sure to include your address and phone number.
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Last Updated: March 15, 2001
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