ABOUT PECANS: Carya illilnoinensis


Relatives: Hickory, Walnuts

There are about 20 or so species of Pecans and these are native to the eastern USA and Mexico. Botanists believe that they used to grow across Europe as well, but were almost entirely wiped out in Europe during the last Ice Age. Pecan trees were first cultivated for improved fruit quality by the Native Americans, and the name 'Pecan' comes from the Algonquin word pacane, meaning 'nut so hard as to require a stone to crack'. Pecan trees usually require about a 10 year wait before full nut production, and are an important commercial crop in North America. The term 'hickory' is used as a general name for all Carya species, although hickories tend to have harder, rougher shells and are smaller than pecans. They are also hard as heck to crack, and when you do, you only get a small morsel of nut meat. We'll stay with the Pecans, thank you.


Fairly tall but somewhat slow growing (at least initially), Carya illilnoinensis matures into a large and beautiful tree. The bark is gray to gray-black, smooth, and not very thick. Pecan tree branches are not overly strong, so that you will find them 'self-limbing' from time to time. A very, very long lived tree, there are supposededly some Pecan trees in the deep South of the United States that are about 1,000 years old, and still bearing fruit. That's a good investment: buy a Pecan tree and leave it for your next ten generations to enjoy!

Leaves: Deciduous, pinnate (there is a main nerve, called a midrib, from which the other nerves derive), with multiple (7 - 17) leaflets. The leaves are very finely toothed along their edges.

Flowers: In late spring, they emerge as catkins, and are generally on the scene after any spring frosts. Pecan trees are a bit strange in their pollination habits: the trees are monoecious (meaning they have separate male and female parts), but often when the male flower is active, the female flower is not (or vice versa), and to make matters even more interesting, this can vary from year to year. That being said, to insure a good chance at fruiting, plan on planting more than one variety of tree - ideally a Type 1 cultivar (male flowers are active before the female flowers) and a Type 2 cultivar (female flowers are active before the male flowers). Pollination is done via the wind.

Fruit: Mature, ripe nuts are found in cluster of anywhere from 2 to 10 fruits in late autumn, and usually range from 1 - 3 inches in length. Before maturity, the fruits are encased in a greenish-black outer husk; at ripening, the husk splits open and the fruit is exposed. Pecan trees are notorious for bearing well in alternate years- having a meager crop one year and a giant crop the next.


Location: Pecan trees grow best in full sun and do not tolerate wet environments very well. Expect some limb damage in windy areas as the limbs are not very strong.

Temperature: Mature trees grow and produce the best nuts in long, warm growing seasons- hot days and warm nights seem to work best. Sudden changes of temperature can affect Pecan trees.

Chilling: Chilling refers to the number of hours during the dormancy period that are 45 degrees F and under. All fruit and nut trees need a specific amount of chilling hours before they will produce fruit. The amount varies with each variety and the hours need not be continuous. For example as listed: (500 hours).

Soil/water/nutrients: Pecans have very long tap roots and prefer a deep, fertile soil with even moisture; they may benefit from irrigation in dry areas. Spring fertilizing is a useful practice, particularly on younger trees, and many commercial growers add zinc or magnesium (check to see if you have yellowing leaves).

Pruning: Generally speaking, pruning of your pecan tree should be done while they are young to make a single trunk. Pruning of older, mature trees is needed only for diseased or dead branches.

Pests and diseases: Not too much to worry about here, with the possible exception of Pecan scab, which is possible if there is abnormal humidity or rain in the early fruit stage of development. Powdery mildew and several types of gall are occasionally noted, while here in North Carolina most of our complaints run to bag worms in the upper branches. (The old timers used to take long bamboo fishing poles with kerosene soaked rags on the end and burn the nests out. Now it is much safer and easier to use a hose-end sprayer and a good, environmentally safe insecticide.)


While well established Pecan trees are very hardy and long-lived, there are a number of variables (including temperature, moisture, and soil quality) which may impact the growth and fruit yeild of your growing Pecan trees. Here is a link to a good run-down of Pecan tree issues and how to manage them:



Below is an excellent link (with pictures) that is worth the time to read. It is short and spot on.



There are many good Pecan cultivars out there, but they all have different chilling requirements and do best in different climatic zones. Rabbit Ridge Berry Farm currently offers the following cultivars, which will do quite nicely in our area and are currently mature enough to begin fruiting now:

(Click on Pecan Variety to link to that Pecan)