Selecting a Site

If planting several pecan trees, or if planting near other trees, space the trees at least 60 - 80 feet apart so they will not crowd as they reach maturity. Spacing can be closer, say 35 or 40 feet, if trees can be removed as they get larger and overcrowd, which happens within 10 - 15 years at a 35 - 40 ft. spacing. Crowding causes misshapened unthrifty trees and decreased nut production.

Although there are pecan cultivars available which are disease tolerant, plant the pecan tree in a location that has good air movement, as this helps to reduce the spread of diseases common to pecan.

Pecans grow and produce best when grown in a moist, but well-drained soil. Poor aeration in clay soils that do not drain well can injure roots, disrupt nutrient uptake and stunt, or even kill, a tree. Either select a site having a soil with good drainage or correct a drainage problem before you plant a tree.

Preparing the Site

Correct planting of a pecan tree involves more than simply dropping the plant in a post-hole. Pecans have some fairly specific requirements that need to be met for the tree to become successfully established.

Ideally, the site in which you expect to plant a pecan tree should be prepared somewhat like a small flower bed. A 10 by 10 foot area should be cleared of grass or weeds and roto-tilled. When tilling, incorporate 1/3 pound of zinc sulfate and enough dolomitic limestone to bring the pH of the soil to between 6.0 and 6.5. The specific amount of limestone required should be determined by a soil test, although in many Alabama soils 5 pounds of lime per 100 square foot area could provide roughly the amount needed.

A fertilizer containing phosphorus and potassium may be incorporated into the area being prepared, but avoid adding nitrogen, amount added should be based on a soil test. The pecan root system is very sensitive to nitrogen, and even a small amount at planting can cause injury.

Planting Procedures

Once the area has been prepared the actual planting hole can be dug. For planting bare-rooted trees the hole should be made wide enough for the roots to be spread out without bending. Even in a well-prepared soil, bent lateral roots may grow around the hole, eventually girdling the tree. The hole should be a depth such that the tap root of the tree is allowed to be fully extended but the tree will be positioned as it had grown in the nursery.

After placing the roots in the hole fill the hole 3/4 full with backfill soil from the hole. Firmly tamp this soil and then fill the hole with water until it reaches the top of the soil in the hole. This settles the soil, eliminates air pockets and keeps the roots moist.

Fill the rest of the hole with soil, leaving the surface of the soil unpacked to allow better water penetration into the root zone. Prune 1/3 to 1/2 of the top of the tree to compensate for roots that were lost or damaged when the tree was originally dug.

Water is critical to survival of newly planted trees. One to two inches of water should be supplied each week of the growing season (March to November) during the first two years. Insufficient rainfall should be supplemented with irrigation water. Mulch the entire 10 by 10 foot area around the tree with pinestraw, pinebark, leaves, aged sawdust chipped weeds. The mulch will help retain soil moisture, reduce soil compaction, and limit competition from grass.

Container grown trees are planted similarly to bare-rooted trees with a few differences that should be noted. Roots of container transplants are sometimes pot bound. If planted in this condition the roots may continue to grow in a circular pattern without branching into the surrounding soil. Rubbing your hand lightly up and down the root ball will help loosen up the roots so they can grow outward. At planting, the tap root in the bottom of the container should be straightened as much as possible, or cut off to allow a new tap root to develop.