By: Teo Spengler
Growing pecans from seed is not as simple as it sounds. While a mighty oak may shoot up from an acorn stuck in the ground, sowing pecan seeds is only one step in a complex process of growing a nut producing tree. Can you plant a pecan seed? You can, but you may not be able to get nuts from the resulting tree.
Read on for information on how to plant pecans, including tips on pecan seed germination.
It is entirely possible to plant a pecan seed. However, itis important to realize that growing pecans from seed will not produce a tree identicalto the parent tree. If you want a particular type of pecan nut, or a tree thatproduces excellent pecans, you will need to graft.
Pecansare open pollinated trees, so each seedling tree is unique in all the world.You do not know the seed’s “parents” and that means the nut quality will bevariable. That’s why pecan growers only grow pecans from seed to use as rootstocktrees.
If you are wondering how to plant pecans that produceexcellent nuts, you’ll need to learn about grafting. Once the rootstock treesare a few years old, you will need to graft cultivar buds or shoots onto eachseedling rootstock.
Pecan tree germination requires a few steps. You’ll want toselect a pecan from the current season that appears sound and healthy. In orderto give yourself the greatest possibility of success, plan on planting several,even if you only want one tree.
Stratifythe nuts for six to eight weeks before planting by placing them in a containerof peat moss. Keep the moss moist, but not wet, in a temperature slightly abovefreezing. After that process is complete, acclimate the seeds to normaltemperatures for a few days.
Then soakthem in water for 48 hours, changing the water daily. Ideally, the soakingshould occur in running water so, if possible, leave a hose trickling into thedish. This facilitates pecan tree germination.
Sow pecan seeds in early spring in a sunny garden bed.Fertilize the soil with 10-10-10 before planting. After two years a seedlingshould be around four to five feet (1.5 m.) tall and ready for grafting.
Graftingis a process where you take a cutting from a cultivar pecan tree and allow itto grow on the rootstock tree, essentially blending two trees into one. Thepart of the tree with the roots in the ground is the one you grew from seed,the branches that produce nuts are from a particular cultivar pecan tree.
There are many different ways to graft fruit trees. You’llneed a cutting (called a scion)that is straight and strong and has at least three buds on it. Do not usebranch tips since these can be weak.
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With their spreading habit and sweet-fleshed nuts, pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) serve a dual purpose in landscaping as both a shade tree and edible crop. The trees prosper within U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 to 9, where they will put on 2 to 3 feet of growth each year. Pecan trees grow reliably well from seeds, although you must chill them for two to three months before sowing to satisfy their dormancy requirements. Once chilled, sow them in deep pots and provide them with constant moisture to successfully germinate them one month later.
Gather pecans in late autumn after the hulls dry out and turn a dark brown color. Choose fruit still attached to the tree. Cut around the fruit hull with a knife and pry it open. Remove the hard, oblong seed.
Store the pecan seeds for two to three months in a refrigerator, in a 1-gallon sealable plastic bag filled with moistened perlite, to cold stratify them. Pour 2 or 3 tablespoons of water onto the perlite whenever it dries out.
Sow the pecan seeds in deep, 2-gallon plastic nursery containers filled with a mixture of half loam and half horticultural sand. Bury the seeds at a depth equal to twice their width, which is approximately 2 inches.
Spread a 1-inch-thick layer of mulch over the loam mixture to help insulate the pecan seeds. Use acidic mulch such as pine needle compost or chipped oak leaves. Water to a 5-inch depth to moisten the soil and settle the mulch.
Place the nursery containers inside a cold frame or outdoors against a wall with southern exposure and shelter from cold temperatures. Choose a spot with light shade at midday.
Water the pecan seeds whenever the loam mixture feels dry 1 inch below the surface. Run a garden hose into the nursery containers on low volume so the water soaks in rather than trickling off.
Watch for germination approximately one month after daytime temperatures stay reliably above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Decrease watering by half after germination to promote root growth.
Grow the pecan seedlings under bright conditions for their first summer. Provide 1 to 2 inches of water weekly. Transplant them into a large bed with moist, moderately acidic soil in early autumn.
You should only plant a pecan tree from a seed if you love a challenge. Squirrels, storms and mother nature have centuries of practice growing pecans successfully from seed, but you might need to a little help to do as well!
Pecan seeds, or nuts, need months of cold weather to germinate. You can either plant your seed in the fall and let it germinate naturally over the winter, or germinate it inside. If you select the natural option, make sure to protect the young shoots from spring squirrels who seek out the tender plants. Germinating the seeds inside, a process called "stratification," involves storing the young seed in your refrigerator for 8-to-20 weeks in a bag filled with moist sawdust, peat-moss or sand.
Prepare your soil bed ahead of time. A sandy, loamy soil works best. Once the seed splits, plant it immediately. The young pecan root will emerge from the split nut and grow about 1/2-inch per day. The root will extended down into the soil for a foot or more before the shoot emerges from the 3 inches of soil above the nut. This entire process may take 4 to 8 weeks, so be patient. Tend the seedling as you would any tree until it's large enough to plant in the ground outside.
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Growing Nuts in New England
by Jeanne Sable
At our house, cracking nuts is
as much a part of preparing
a holiday feast as stuffing the turkey.
In fact, walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts are often added to the stuffing.
One November I happened to be visiting my parents in Florida during the peak
of a robust pecan season. On windy days, hundreds of pecans would rain
down, pelting cars and unfortunate bystanders. We collected as many as we
could to cram into our luggage.
Wild nuts are a rare treat to us northerners. But I soon learned there are several
varieties that can actually be grown here in northern New England.
While I can think of several wild nuts growing hereabouts in the Monadnock
Region of New Hampshire where I live, few are worth the bother of harvesting.
Mother Nature wraps the delicious walnuts of the Butternut tree in goose egg-
sized outer packages covered with sticky green fuzz. Under that, the shell is so
hard, it takes a hammer to crack it open, inevitably smashing a good deal of the
edible meat to a pulp.
The more common native beech tree often produces a bounty of small,
triangular twin nuts encased in a spiny, four-sided husk shaped like a tulip. But
they are too small and difficult to extract for all but the most dexterous human.
And the once common American chestnut was all but wiped out here by a
blight introduced from Asia in the late 1800's.
When I first purchased my property over 20 years ago, a visitor made a point of
tossing several handfuls of chestnuts around the woods in hopes they'd
propagate. I thought he was, well, nuts. Chestnuts were doomed around here, I
believed. Besides, who would live long enough to see the results if they
A few years later, I covered a story about a local permaculture community
(short for permanent agriculture—a system emphasizing energy conservation
and sustainable living). At the time, they were nursing some recently planted
nut tree seedlings. I figured they were for the benefit of future generations and
left it at that.
A short decade later, I toured the facility and was surprised to see a dish of
plump, sweet chestnuts offered for sampling along with several heirloom
varieties of apples from the orchard. Yes—the trees were producing. Nuts! I
could have been harvesting my own by then, if I'd planted back when he did!
The fact is, you can grow nut trees around here, and they don't take a lifetime
to produce. In addition, you can experiment with varieties developed for size,
ease of cracking, and other desirable traits. Check out catalogs from hardy
northern nurseries like Fedco Seeds of Maine or surf The Northern Nut
The permaculture community I visited grew various blight-free Asian
chestnuts, hazelnuts, and hazelnut/filbert crosses, as well as assorted members
of the walnut/butternut family. They also had some American chestnut trees
which weren't blighted yet, though they anticipated they would be in time.
The chestnut grove was inter-planted with black locust, a nitrogen-fixing plant,
autumn olive, a fragrant (but now invasive) shrub with small red berries, and
other "nurse plants" for compatibility. The trees aren't as cold-hardy as one
would hope, but can be painted with white latex to reflect sunlight and
encourage early dormancy. That prevents their sap from freezing and bursting
the tree trunk.
The group also experimented with grafting for improved stock. The trees were
planted close together, to be thinned later to the hardiest plants. When they
reached 20 feet high and eight or more inches in diameter, the owner was faced
with the problem of which trees to thin out, a dilemma to which most gardeners
Hazelnuts grow easily from seed, are inexpensive, and produce in three to four
years. The ones I saw were a cross between the North American hazelnut and
filbert. The filbert side of the family boosts size, while the hazelnut contributes
cold-hardiness. They send up numerous shoots which can be divided to start
Though the squirrels make off with most of the nuts, humans can remedy that
by hiding a plastic tube, pipe, or other receptacle in a spot rodents will find
handy for storing nuts. Soon the unsuspecting critters fill the tube with the
cultivated nuts, which the grower can then reclaim (rob?).
So don't let squirrels, chipmunks, or misconceptions about time bar you from
growing nuts. In several years you could be serving up tasty home grown nuts
for the holidays, and saving their decorative shells for craft projects.
There. Now perhaps I’ll practice what I preach and start those nut trees I’ve
been meaning to plant.
About the Author: Jeanne Prevett Sable is an organic gardener, editor, and freelance
writer specializing in farming and environmental issues, with hundreds of articles
published in local, regional, and national publications. She has written environmental
scripts for children's television, live puppet theater, and the Web. She is also the author of
Seed Keepers of Crescentville , her first novel.
Trying to grow pecans in Utah may make you nuts — literally.
Over the past decade I have fielded many questions from gardeners asking about growing these nuts in northern Utah. In a column I wrote 10 years ago, I said, "Pecan trees are large and beautiful specimens reaching 100 feet in height. Pecans grow in Salt Lake Valley, but nut production is low most years. Pollinators are required, so plant two of these giants. Nuts must be shaken down or allowed to fall and be picked up regularly. Remove meats from the hulls as soon as possible."
Yet once in a while I come across someone who is — or more correctly their tree is — defying the odds.
Wayne Bott has lived in his Murray home for 55 years, and for the past 20-25 years a pecan tree has graced his front landscape.
This tree produces a small but regular crop of nuts. Bott originally ordered the tree from Western Garden Center but doesn't remember the variety.
When I asked him why he planted a pecan, he said a friend had planted one in his yard, and he thought it was a pretty tree. "I liked the idea of getting something back from the tree," he said.
While the production from Bott's tree hasn't provided him with a second income, he still enjoys it. Bott said it's a rather carefree tree he did not do anything to it for the first 15 years, but now he has it pruned every five to six years. He also has a nearby maple and flowering pear cut back to give the pecan more growing room.
"I sometimes get a little dripping from the pruning cuts (typical of walnuts and pecans) but not much else," he said.
While he has no problem with what might be one of the worst pests — squirrels — he does admit that "the ravens are the worst problem, and some years they take most of the crop."
Two other birds are also troublesome.
"The magpies and the jays routinely steal nuts and bury them around the yard, and then I get pecan trees growing everywhere," he said.
The pecan is Carya illinoinensis — or Illinois nuts. European settlers found this native North American nut growing along the tributaries of the Mississippi River. The trees are long-lived. (Some that George Washington planted at Mount Vernon are still there today.)
The pecan nut's shape is variable, from oval to a longer, more slender shape. Nut size is as small as a pencil eraser to up to 1 1/2 inches in diameter to more than 3 inches long.
Shell thickness is another important characteristic. Paper-shell pecans can be easily cracked by squeezing two nuts together in the fist. Bott's pecans are a hard-shell variety that requires the use of a nutcracker.
Most pecans need a pollinator tree, but they can be wind pollinated. (The pollen can transfer for up to 10 miles under favorable conditions.) In its native habitat, there are usually enough trees that planting other pollinating varieties is not necessary.
But before you plant your own pecan orchard, remember that although the trees are hardy, they usually fail to produce crops because of spring frosts or early winters. The nuts ripen late in the season, and commercial nut production is not possible here.
Rick Heflebower, the Utah State University Extension Agent in Washington County, names three recommended varieties for his area. The ripening times he has given are for Washington County. Burkett ripens in December, and Choctaw and Western Schley ripen in November to early December. All need cross pollination.
Garden tips and events
English and black walnuts and almonds will produce satisfactory crops in northern Utah in areas where other fruit trees produce well. Like other fruit trees, they require pruning and treatment for various pests to keep them productive.
Red Butte Garden is offering a holiday floral arranging workshop on Nov. 22, 10 a.m.-noon. Cost is $45 for members and $55 for nonmembers. Registration is required. For more information, call 581-8454 or log on to www.redbuttegarden.org.
Larry A. Sagers is a horticulture specialist for the Utah State University Extension Service at Thanksgiving Point.