All good-hearted Texans know that the Pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) is the honored State Tree of the Great State of Texas. We have the renowned Governor James Hogg to thank for that. On his deathbed in 1906, Hogg requested that a pecan tree be planted at his gravesite. His request encouraged a popular movement to recognize the treasure across Texas and the state legislature to enshrine the pecan as the official state tree in 1911. The name “pecan” comes from an Algonquian word “pacane” that was used for all nuts that had to be cracked with a stone. Technically, pecans are not a nut; they are a drupe – a fruit with a stone pit surrounded by a husk. What we love to eat in goodies or out of hand is actually the pit!
Pecans are native to about 150 counties in Texas, but are capable of growing and producing in every Texas county. They are long-time favorites for landscaping as well as nut production. They are difficult to transplant and need special attention throughout their lives but what a payoff they return! In the wild, pecans live in river and creek bottoms where soils are deep, fertile, and well-drained, but can hold substantial amounts of water. If you choose to plant a pecan, you should look for those same qualities in your landscape. Trying to modify shallow, poorly draining soils by digging large planting holes and adding topsoil or compost often does not work in the long term.
Pecan trees are available as either container grown, bare-root, or as large tree transplants. Always purchase trees from a reliable tree nursery source as pecans need care continuously when young. Buy your tree as soon as they become available at a local nursery or if you order through a mail-order nursery, order your tree at least six months ahead of planting time. Container grown pecan trees are the better bet to survive transplanting and continue to grow well. They are usually smaller trees (best is at least 4’ but no taller than 8’) and locating them is getting easier as they are growing in popularity. They can be planted any time of year, but fall or winter is best to give the tree plenty of time to adjust to its new environment before our Texas summer heat hits. Pecan trees are monoecious, meaning they have both male and female flowers on the same plant. However, they develop these flowers at different times in order to pollinate with nearby trees instead of self-pollination
Bare root trees are the most common pecan nursery tree. They can be difficult to transplant, but December through mid-March is best. Keep the roots slightly moist, not wet, until you get them planted, but try to plant as soon as you get them home. Heel them in with moist soil if you can’t plant immediately and trim off all broken roots immediately before planting. If you are considering transplanting a large tree, know that they require excellent soil to a pretty deep level (3’ or more) and very frequent irrigation. It takes a longer time for large transplants to acclimate to their new environment and they often do not develop any faster than bare-root trees would. They are also quite expensive.
If you are planting mainly for nut production, choose grafted varieties. These improved varieties vary greatly, so you need to select the particular variety that will meet your needs. If you are more interested in their landscape possibilities, plant ungrafted seedlings. Pecans do not come “true” from seed, so each seedling or native is a unique tree. The nut quality is variable and usually takes longer to form with seedlings, but the trees generally have strong, fast growth and a natural central leader without the bother of pruning and training.
Varieties recommended by Aggie Horticulture for home planting in Denton County include Sioux, Choctaw, Wichita, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Forkert, Cape Fear, Kiowa, and Caddo – in that order!
Pecan trees are not suitable for every yard. If you have a postage-stamp-sized yard, admire them from afar – possibly quite far. Pecans can get to be 110’ tall with a spread up to 75’ wide and they need full sun. Any hardscape in your yard needs to be at least fifteen feet away from the tree so the tree gets maximum water absorption. Grass under and around the tree should be kept mowed as short as possible. You just can’t crowd a pecan tree if you expect it to grow – kinda like all other Texans, right? You’ll need to fertilize and spray every spring and you’ll have to be patient as it can take up to ten years before they will bear any fruit.
If you have space, time, and patience to nurture one of the tastiest symbols of our Great State, plant a pecan tree!! We will all thank you in about ten years’ time!
For detailed information on growing pecan trees, one place to start your education might be the sources below, where I pulled the information for this article.