Pecans 101

County Agent’s Corner

When choosing pecan tree varieties, do your homework.

When choosing pecan tree varieties, do your homework.

Sometimes we let our wants and desires out run our education. For example, close to 30 years ago, ole Dan graduated from Auburn’s Department of Horticulture with a master’s degree in horticulture. About the same time he purchased a spot of land and decided to plant pecan trees so that one day he could have some pecans to eat and give to family and friends.

He purchased five trees from a local nursery. He selected varieties that had good names, like Desirable and Schley. Under the right circumstances these are good producers, but unless you have an orchard sprayer and tractor, you should do a little homework. These varieties are good in commercial orchards that have a quality spray program, but not for a homeowner situation.

Once Dan had discovered his mistake, he made an effort to top work the trees. Some of the grafts took, some did not. After a few more years, out came the chainsaw and down came the trees. It was a good lesson for ole Dan and that’s why I want to share it with you.

Before you plant any fruit or nut tree, do your homework! Call on Extension folks, search the Internet, go to the library, find out all the information you can before you plant. This will keep you from making mistakes that may take years to realize. Take my advice, learn from ole Dan.

As my pecan education continued, I finally came to the realization that there is no perfect pecan variety for a homeowner. First and foremost, varieties with scab resistance need to be selected. Varieties that have excellent resistance currently include Gafford (Type I. 56 nuts/pound), Excell (Type II. 45 nuts/pound) and Amling (Type I. 60 nuts/pound).

Excell is a larger nut than the Gafford and Amling, which are both comparable to Elliott in size. Elliott is rated as good for scab resistance, but it is not cold hardy and may be susceptible to cold damage in North Alabama. Kanza is also scab resistant but is strongly alternate bearing. Varieties rated as having good resistance to scab include Elliott, McMillan, Sumner, Farley and others.

Forkert has mediocre scab resistance but makes a large nut. At one time it was recommended for home plantings. Years ago I had it grafted on to a couple of seedlings, which are both now in production. It’s rare when scab doesn’t take the pecans out. I wish I had grafted a different variety now, but we don’t get any do-overs. Do your homework!

One must also understand that the varieties that are resistant today, may not maintain that resistance over the years. The fungus (scab) has the capability to adapt to pecan varieties over time. Keep that in mind.

If you are looking for pecan varieties to plant, search the Internet for nurseries that have those varieties. Most pecan production is in Georgia and Texas, so it makes sense that nurseries in those states would be a good place to search. Yes, you may have to pay a shipping fee, but it’s better to pay a shipping fee and get the right variety, rather than purchase what’s offered locally, and after twenty years decide you made a mistake.

I mentioned “alternate bearing” in an earlier statement. Pecans are considered alternate bearing, which means they are not going to produce a heavy crop every year, regardless of how well they are maintained.

They expend large amounts of energy on reproduction, and after setting a heavy crop, may take a while to recover. In a five-year span, you may have one good crop, one really bad crop, and a fair crop or poor crop. This is normal for pecans. Don’t expect a good crop every year.

Let’s go back in time. In 2007 we had a very warm March and early April, followed by a hard freeze event in mid- April. Every fruit tree and nut tree north of Birmingham lost its crop. The energy stored in the pecan tree wasn’t utilized for reproduction that year. In 2008 every tree, with few exceptions, had a bumper crop of pecans. In 2009 some trees had a fair crop, some a poor crop, back to the alternate bearing cycle of the tree. Some varieties exhibit this trait more so than others, but all express it to some degree.

One last thing about pecans, they bear on one-year-old wood. This means that you are always working and maintaining your trees for next year’s crop, not the current year’s crop. Pull a soil test around your trees, lime if needed, and properly fertilize every year in order to give yourself the best shot at getting some pecans for the holidays. Remember, do your homework!

Dan Porch is County Extension Coordinator with the Blount County Extension Office. Dan lives in and loves Blount County and is available to answer your questions about conservation, agriculture, natural resources, and gardening. He can be reached at (205) 274-2129 or porchdw@aces.edu.