What variety of pecan tree should I plant on my property?
What variety of tree you choose is perhaps the biggest decision involved in planting pecan trees. Several years ago I talked to a man that was in his 70’s about some trees he had planted on his property. Right away I could tell that he wasn’t really happy with his experience. He had bought and planted cultivars from a local nursery, but he had never had a real good year of nut production. He said that they would grow nuts well but most years the scab would get on them so bad that they weren’t even worth messing with.
And on a similar note, when I was a younger man I planted a seed in my yard that I had gotten from a tree that was growing in my buddies yard. I assumed that because the nuts from his tree were good, if I grew a tree from one of those nuts, my tree would also be good. But the reality is that pecan trees just don’t work that way. And had that tree actually survived, I probably never would have seen a good nut crop from it because there weren’t any other trees around to help pollinate it.
Stories like these and other pecan tree fails are playing out every day, and its kind of sad because with a little bit of understanding and planning they can easily be avoided.
I know your probably saying, “Alright enough of the stories, just tell me what variety to plant”. And I would if I could but there isn’t a blanket answer to this question. To pick the right variety for you and your property you need a basic understanding of pecan trees and you need to identify what you want from them and what your willing to put into them.
SEEDLINGS vs CULTIVARS
Let’s start understanding pecan trees by talking a little bit about the difference between seedlings and cultivars.
A seedling tree is a tree that has grown up straight from the nut and there hasn’t been any form of grafting done to it. Any given nut that is allowed to grow into a tree is going to be unique unto itself. It’s not necessarily going to share the characteristics that its parent tree had. Just like your kids are unique aside from you and your mate, so are pecan trees.
Seedlings are mysterious (as your kids are), and there’s just no way to know what you have until they mature, and you’ve had time to observe them. Now, I’m not saying that a seedling is a bad tree, but it is unpredictable.
Let’s imagine you plant a small orchard with all seedling trees and just let them grow. Well, 10-20 years from now you’re probably going to be really frustrated with your orchard. More than likely you’re going to have all kinds of problems with managing your trees because they are all unique in their characteristics.
You're going to struggle with things like varying nut size, quality, poor pollination, disease control problems, sporadic harvest dates, and that’s just to name a few.
So, what has happened over the years is that farmers and growers started looking for ways to combat these issues. They began to take trees that had the characteristics they desired and, through a process known as grafting, made exact copies of those trees so that future orchards could be full of trees with the same characteristics and therefore be way more manageable.
That’s where we get cultivars from, they are varieties with desired characteristics that have been propagated through grafting.
So, in theory, if you have an orchard full of a perfect cultivar life is going to be easy! All the nuts will fall at the same time and be of the same size and quality. If you did have pest or disease issues, you could be efficient in your treatments because all the trees are the same (they would have the same or a similar issue).
Now don’t hit escape and run off shopping for that perfect cultivar because the truth is, that doesn’t exist. And there are a few more things you need to know before starting your search for trees.
Pecan trees are monoecious (maa-nee-shuhs), which means that male and female flowers occur on the same tree. Now that seems great at first- like you kind of go- Ok this thing will pollinate itself, and, it may a little, but pecan trees always set a better crop of nuts if there’s another tree nearby to help pollinate it.
Why is that? Well, pecan trees exhibit dichogamy which means that the stigma on the female flower isn’t receptive at the same time the pollen is shed from the catkin on the male flower.
So, although one pecan tree will have both the male and female flowers on it, the two flowers don’t do their thing at the same time. To make things a little more confusing, pecan trees come in type 1 and type 2 varieties, where their pollinating and receptivity are reversed from one another.
Type 1 trees produce pollen and then have receptive female flowers. Type 2 trees are going to have receptive flowers first and then produce pollen.
So, when selecting your variety of trees, and you’ll want at least two, you need to make sure that they complement each other in the pollination process. Many times this means that you want to have both type 1 and type 2, so that the pollination is shedding when the stigma is open to receive. But type one and 2 are not necessarily always going to do this, so check the pollination chart by clicking HERE to see what works for the types of cultivars you’re looking at.
Let me tell you one more story about my orchard to help you understand why it’s important to pick your varieties based on your situation.
I live 170 miles from where my trees are planted. I’m not going to be able to monitor my trees well for disease and insects and I’m certainly not going to be able to have a consistent spraying routine to fight off scab. Sometimes I go 3-4 weeks without even seeing my trees. So, it was a high priority for me to select cultivars that were known for being low input, or low maintenance varieties.
Also, I put my orchard in so I can have a place to test harvesters that we are working on at Bag-A-Nut. We purposefully selected cultivars that will have a variety of different sized nuts coming from our orchard so that we can be sure our harvesters are doing their job with different sized nuts.
I found varieties that worked well for my area (central GA), pollinated well together and worked well for my goals and maintenance levels.
HAVE A PLAN PEOPLE!!!
Alright, So what’s the take/away from all this pollination and cultivar talk? Well, as I said earlier, there is no such thing as the perfect cultivar. There are pros and cons to all of them. You need to take a little time to study them and select varieties that work well with each other and are a good fit for you and your property.
There are a lot of ways to mess up but don’t let it intimidate you. If you are still reading this it shows your thinking about these things, so you’re already ahead of the game, and I want to encourage you to keep going.
Take some time and check out your state Universities web sites. I know the University of Georgia has a lot of info on pecan varieties. Also, get in touch with your county’s Agricultural extension office, their services are usually free. If your county doesn’t have one, I bet there’s one in your region that can help you.
Remember Ask yourself!!!
What do you want out of them?
What can you put into them?
And then select varieties that best fit with your answers and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying your pecan tree experience!