Pecans bear the scientific name Carya illinoinensis. Despite having “Illinois” in the scientific name, pecan trees can be grown well in much of the Southwest.
Pecan trees are large at maturity, 40 to 50 feet, and large in diameter too. Before you dig your planting hole, look up and out – check any views you might have, plus avoid planting under power lines. Plant pecan trees 30 to 40 feet apart.
Pecans require cross-pollination from another variety of pecan. That said, the ‘Western Schley’ is a variety that is often self-fertile, although an additional tree of another variety will improve fruit set. If you have space for a second tree, select from ‘Apache,’ ‘Burkett,’ ‘Cheyenne,’ ‘Choctaw,’ ‘Mohawk,’ or ‘Wichita,’ because the ‘Western Schley’ will cross with them and vice-versa.
Pecans require well-drained soil and can tolerate rocks, and even clay, but if you have a thick caliche layer in your yard, break through it beneath the tree before your plant, otherwise the roots will drown in the caliche bathtub.
Trees grow and produce best with 30 to 40 inches of water during the growing season. Water is especially important once plants have bloomed and nuts are forming.
Pecan trees are susceptible to nutrient problems, especially low zinc and magnesium. Nip these deficiency problems in the bud by mulching the trees well out to the drip line with compost and watering through this compost layer to get the minerals into the soil. You can also dissolved Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) to deliver magnesium to the tree. A fertilizer with ample phosphorous is required for best fruit production. Yearly application of rock phosphate is a good solution to this issue.
Once they figure out how tasty the nuts are, any wildlife will go for them. Squirrels and pack rats will climb the trees. Wrap the trunk with a metal shield, 5 feet off the ground. You can attach the shield with spikes that you withdraw slightly each year as the tree grows.
Pecan scab is a major disease problem for pecans. Clean up fallen leaves, twigs, and nuts from the previous year and throw them away or give them to a friend that doesn’t grow pecans for composting.
Harvest & Storage
Harvest nuts once they start to drop. You can lay sheets or tarps under the trees and shake the branches to loosen the nuts. Once harvested, cure the nuts to avoid mold problems, even in our arid area. Lay nuts in a single layer in a warm, dry place. I cure in shallow cardboard boxes, like those that soda cans come in, or nursery plant flats, these can be stacked with air spaces between them. Use the nuts within three months for best flavor. You can also freeze nuts in plastic bags until you’re ready to use them.
Want to learn more? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).
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