Pecan Trees: Planting, Growing, and Pruning Pecan Trees

How to Grow a Pecan Tree

Pecan Tree Carya illinoinensis
Photo Credit
Sergio Schnitzler
Botanical Name
Carya illinoinensis
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Hardiness Zone

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Planting, Growing, and Pruning Pecan Trees

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Shade trees with tasty nuts on the side? If you live in a more temperate part of the country, you can grow your own pecan pie! Learn how to plant, grow, and care for pecan trees.

About Pecans

Pecan trees are native to the southern portions of the US and are the state tree of Texas. Carya illinoinensis are large trees that can grow to enormous proportions when planted in the open. However, many smaller varieties have been bred for home and commercial use. Hardy in USDA zones 6-9, a few pecan varieties will tolerate zone 5 winters. 

Pecans are often sold as Type 1 or Type 2, referring to when they flower. Pecan trees will have male and female flowers on the same tree but cannot fertilize themselves. You’ll need one of each Type to get a good crop of nuts. Nuts per pound and kernel content are commonly tossed about terms when talking about pecans. Nuts per pound is pretty straightforward. A lower number of nuts per pound means each nut is larger. 

Pecans are nut-bearing trees but can take a while to start yielding a crop. While a few may start providing nuts as soon as five years after planting, 6-8 years is more common. Remember that they are still small trees at this age, and their size and yield will continue to grow for decades. 

For home growers, select varieties that are resistant to pecan scab. Most of us won’t have access to or want to use large tractor-powered aerial sprayers. Scab resistance is one of the most critical factors for success for a backyard pecan grower.

Pecan Tree. Credit: Nancy Carey-Bradley

When to Plant Pecans

Pecan trees should be planted as soon as possible after you get them home, whether bare root or container stock. The time of year will vary based on your climate but aim to plant in late winter or early spring when your tree is still dormant to reduce transplant shock.  

Where to Plant Pecans

Select a site with full sun, at least 8 hours daily, and well-drained, deep soil. Avoid areas where water collects. While they like moisture, they don’t like permanently wet feet.

Pecan trees can be deceiving, and the temptation to plant them too closely together can be intense. As skinny four-foot tall sticks, it might seem that a 10-15 foot spacing is enough. However, remember these trees will eventually be taller than the house and can reach 50 feet wide when grown in the open. They are genuinely massive trees.  

Give them enough space so they won’t be crowded together when they’re larger. While it may seem excessive at planting time, pecans for backyard plantings should be spaced 60-80 feet apart. 

How to Plant Pecans

Pecans have a taproot, and bare root trees may come with quite a long root pack. Avoid doubling over or bending the taproot. You’ll need to dig deep enough to plant it straight. 

Most pecans sold today are grafted onto rootstocks. When planting, you’ll need to keep the graft union about two inches above the soil level. 

  • Remove all sod from the area.
  • Dig a hole twice as wide as the root ball and deep enough to avoid bending over the taproot. 
  • Remove the tree from its container (if applicable) and prune twisted, broken, and girdling roots. 
  • Test fit the pecan in the hole. Check for depth and ensure no roots are bent over or circling in the hole. Enlarge the hole if necessary. Pay attention to the graft union.
  • Backfill the hole with the soil you removed, ensuring the tree is kept vertical while filling. Stop when the hole is filled halfway and tamp the soil firmly around the roots to remove air pockets, then provide a good drink of water. Continue filling the soil around the roots and firming it with your hands.
  • Create a shallow berm around the tree about a foot from the trunk to help water infiltrate.
  • Mulch around the tree, about 3-4 inches thick. Spread the mulch evenly in a circle extending 2-3 feet from the trunk. Don’t allow the mulch to touch the trunk–keep an inch or two of separation. The mulch should be evenly thick, not heaped in a pile.
  • After planting, cut back the central leader by about a third to encourage better form. The cluster of terminal buds at the end of the leader will result in an overly branchy and weak structure later on.

How to Grow Pecans

If given adequate water, young pecans will grow rapidly in the first few years. While they don’t like soggy, poorly drained soils, they do like water. Plan on providing 10-15 gallons per week during the first 2-3 years while they get established, unless you’ve had rainy weather. 

Fertilizer can be applied evenly under the drip line yearly using a 10-10-10 NPK product. If a young pecan isn’t putting on two feet of growth per year (after the first year), get a soil test and look into fertilizing if needed.

How to Prune Pecans

Pruning pecans involves training a dominant central leader and selecting strong branches with a good angle. Check out county extension publications in your state for diagrams and helpful pruning information. 


For most homeowners, pecans are harvested when they simply plop to the ground in autumn. Once nut fall commences, try to pick them up every couple of days to avoid molding or loss to pests.

Many nut-gathering tools are available to ease the job, ranging from handheld gatherers for under twenty bucks to machines pulled behind a lawn tractor. Once harvested, you’ll need to process and store the nuts.

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Wit and Wisdom
  • Water has a more significant effect on pecan production than perhaps anything else. Inadequate water can cause smaller nuts, suboptimal filling of the shell, and poor tree growth.
  • Deer can still damage a young nut tree by rubbing their antlers on the trunk even if they can’t reach the foliage anymore. Fence around young trees if wandering bucks are a problem. It only takes them a minute to destroy a tree you’ve spent years growing.
  • You can store extra pecans in the freezer, and they’ll keep for up to two years.
  • Pecan scab
  • Pecan weevils
  • Aphids
About The Author

Andy Wilcox

Andy Wilcox is a flower farmer and master gardener with a passion for soil health, small producers, forestry, and horticulture. Read More from Andy Wilcox

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