At heights of 70 feet or more, with a spread nearly as great, pecans are imposing shade trees. For best nut production, most pecan varieties need another tree nearby as a pollinator, so commitment to a pecan crop requires a considerable investment in space.
One word describes the best pecan climate: hot. A tree needs a long summer with hot days and nights in order to produce fully ripe nuts. Outside of native pecan territory in the southern and south central United States, the southwest desert regions (with irrigation) offer congenial conditions. In the upper South and central Midwest, choose from among the short-season cultivars referred to below.
Pecan cultivars fall into two broad groups. The larger and more widely planted of the two is the group often called "papershell" pecans. They are reliably hardy where winter temperatures descend no lower than 0° F, and for nut production they need a growing season of 270 to 290 days. The smaller second group includes the northern or hardy pecans, which grow in regions where winter low temperatures range from -10° to +10° F; these varieties ripen where the growing season is as short as 170 to 190 days.
Papershell pecans are divided into two categories based on resistance to pecan scab disease, which is prevalent where summer weather is hot and humid. The eastern varieties are disease resistant and will grow throughout papershell territory; susceptible western cultivars are limited to desert and dry southwest areas.
Pecans need deep, well-drained soil that is slightly acid (pH 6 to 7 is best). They will not tolerate saline soils, a limitation in some otherwise acceptable desert regions. Within their native range, pecans get plenty of rainfall during the growing season. In dry-summer regions, or where rainfall is skimpy, give trees a deep soaking at least every 14 days so that nuts will fill out well.
See page 49 for pruning and training instructions.
Trees will start to bear at 5 to 8 years after planting and have a productive life extending at least 70 years beyond that.
Where soil is above pH 7 (neutral), zinc deficiency may show in a condition called pecan rosette—clusters of stunted leaves at branch ends. Contact your county or state agricultural agent for the best corrective measures in your area. Harvest time runs from late summer well into fall, depending on the variety. Most nuts do not fall free from the tree but have to be knocked free with a long pole.
Pecan scab is the most serious disease, especially in humid-summer regions. Proper cultivar selection will lessen the problem, though even eastern papershells are not totally immune. Aphids may appear throughout pecan territory. In the South and Southeast, the season's first generation of an insect known as the pecan nut casebearer may damage new shoots; later the second generation may infest the developing nuts. The pecan weevil is the last pest to appear, attacking nearly mature and mature nuts.
'Desirable' This is a heavy cropper with brittle wood. Pollinate with 'Cheyenne', 'Stuart', or 'Western Schley'. Origin: Mississippi. 'Mahan' This produces a very large nut. Pollinators are 'Cheyenne' or 'Western Schley'. Origin: Mississippi. 'Stuart' The nuts are large, and the tree is partially self-fruitful but bears better crops if pollinated by 'Desirable'. Origin: Mississippi.
The United States Pecan Field Station in Texas has developed a number of varieties, all bearing Indian-tribe names, that will succeed in the humid southeastern pecan territory. The following are widely available.
Western Papershell Varieties
'Western Schley' ('Western')
This is a heavy producer of elongated nuts. It has a wide soil adaptability and is less affected by zinc deficiency than other cultivars. Pollinators are 'Cheyenne', 'Mohawk', or 'Wichita'. Origin: Texas. 'Wichita' This produces highly flavored, medium-sized nuts. Weak crotches and brittle wood leave it vulnerable to wind damage, and its blossoms are sensitive to late frosts. The best pollinators are 'Cherokee', 'Cheyenne', or 'Western Schley'. Origin: Texas.
Northern (Hardy) Varieties
'Major' This cultivar is the standard pecan in northern gardens. The nut is medium to small, and cracks easily. It needs pollination from a late pollen-shedding cultivar such as 'Colby' or 'Greenriver'.
Other widely available cultivars are 'Colby', 'Fritz', 'Greenriver', and 'Peruque'. 'Major' and 'Peruque' will pollinate the other cultivars. Origin: Kentucky.
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