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Early planting decisions important to pecan trees

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

Before you even plant a new pecan tree, you may have already decided its success, says a University of Georgia scientist.

The variety you choose and where you plant it are the most critical choices you can make when planting home pecan trees, said Lenny Wells, a Cooperative Extension horticulturist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

"Homeowners can't spray their trees the way commercial growers do," Wells said. "They need to consider disease resistance as their No. 1 choice when they select a variety."

Six to pick

Backyard trees mainly need a built-in resistance to scab, a major disease of pecan trees, he said. That essentially cuts the choices to six varieties.

Elliott is an especially hardy tree with small, round nuts, golden halves and excellent flavor, Wells said. It's very resistant to scab.

Kanza has very good scab resistance. It's similar to Elliot is much more cold-tolerant. It would be a better choice for areas north of Macon.

Curtis, another very productive tree, yields smaller nuts with excellent kernels. It's very resistant to scab.

Gloria Grande, a good producer, yields large nuts with excellent kernels.

Sumner is a good producer with excellent kernel quality. It's late-maturing but very tolerant to scab.

Stuart, a popular variety, has large, thin-shell nuts with excellent kernels. It's very productive but has started to scab a little more in recent years. But it's still a pretty good variety for homeowners.

"Those are the best choices of disease-resistant varieties," Wells said.

What, when, where

"The best size is normally a 5- to 6-foot tree," he said. "This is large enough to have reserves to carry it through some tough times."

February and early March, he said, are the best times to plant. But once you've got the tree, you still have a critical choice to make. Where will you plant it?

"Make sure they have enough room to grow," Wells said. "It's little now, but it's going to be a big tree. Don't plant pecan trees too close to buildings or power lines. It's best to give them 40 to 60 feet on all sides."

A pecan tree, he said, produces nuts on the ends of the limbs. "If it doesn't have room," he said, "it will stop fruiting and grow straight up like a pine tree."

How

After you've bought a disease-resistant variety and picked a roomy place to plant it, dig a hole big enough -- about 2 feet across and 3 feet deep -- to get the roots off to a good start.

Be careful to plant the tree at the right depth.

"Most people tend to plant too deep or too shallow," Wells said. "Take note of the dark area that indicates how deep it was planted at the nursery. Then plant it at that depth."

To avoid burning the roots of newly planted trees, don't put any fertilizer in the planting hole or apply any on the surface before June. Don't fertilize at all in the first year unless the tree grows by 2 to 4 feet by June. If it does, apply 1 pound of 5-10-15 in a 25-square-foot circle (5- to 6-foot diameter) around the tree.

Getting a good pecan tree started requires one more critical thing: water. "During the first two years," Wells said, "water pecan trees whenever they don't get adequate rainfall."

Anything that will help conserve moisture and lessen big fluctuations in soil moisture will help, he said. Good weed control around the base of the tree is important.

"Mulching is the big thing," he said. "That will pay off more than anything else. It controls weeds and conserves moisture."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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