Ask a Master Gardener

Artistic photo of pecans in shell and out

Growing Pecans


I love getting the fresh pecans each fall and am considering planting my own pecan trees. What do I need to know? LS

Growing pecans comes with both challenges and rewards. Let’s talk about some of both.

Pecans are members of the hickory family and are considered native to Oklahoma. You can find native pecans in most of the state with the exception of the far northwest and the panhandle. While there are over 200 varieties of pecans grown in the United States, two of the most popular varieties for our area are Pawnee and Kanza.

Pecan trees can be grouped into basically two categories: native and improved varieties. Native pecans would be those pecans that have grown from seed locally. One of the challenges is that even though the tree was grown from a seed of a particular variety, the nuts produced on that tree won’t necessarily be the same as the nuts from the parent tree. So, if you are looking for consistency, native pecans wouldn’t be the way to go.

Improved varieties are grown by grafting cuttings from one variety onto rootstock from a different variety. The question is “why would you do that?” Several reasons actually. If you are wanting to grow pecans on a larger scale and produce pecans that are consistent with their variety, this is how you do that. Also, cuttings can be grafted onto root stock that is more freeze tolerant than perhaps the variety you are interested in which gives it a better chance of survival here in Oklahoma.

If you are wanting to try and graft your own, you need to collect your graft wood during the winter months while the tree is dormant. Then keep your cuttings in cold storage until April or May when the rootstock will be ready for grafting. We have information on our website about grafting in the Lawn and Garden Help section for Fruits and Nuts (

Something else you should know is that pecans are wind pollinated. Because of this you will need to plant at least two complementary varieties to make sure you get good pollination. Speaking of pollination, pecan trees are what we call “monoecious” which means that each pecan tree has both male and female flowers. One of the challenges associated with pecans is that the male pollen on some of these trees don’t shed their pollen at the same time the female flowers are ready for fertilization. The term for this is dichogamy. To overcome this issue, you should pick a combination of varieties mixed between those with both early and late pollen shedding. This way you increase the likelihood of a larger crop of pecans.

If you are not into grafting your own pecan trees, you can purchase pecan trees as both bare root or container grown trees. Bare root trees should be planted between mid-February and March while container grown pecan trees can be planted in October through May. Both bare root and container grown pecan trees can have a rather large tap root, but you can trim this tap root to about 18 inches before planting. Also remember that pecan trees can grow to about 70 feet in height so you will need to plant your trees between 40 and 60 feet apart.

Now that you have your pecan trees selected and planted, you will need to be diligent in your tree’s nutrient and water needs. The best time to fertilize your pecan trees is February through March. As a rule, pecan trees need yearly applications of both nitrogen and zinc. You should also do a soil test to see if your soil needs additional phosphorus or potassium. Once again, we have information on fertilizing pecan trees on our website.

Irrigation of pecan trees is also very important. You will need to water them well after planting and then plan to water weekly if nature doesn’t do its part. There are several key times you will need to be sure your pecan trees get watered appropriately - in the spring for good shoot growth, from May through July for nut sizing, and most importantly from August through October for nut filling. You need to plan on about an inch or two of water during our Oklahoma summers for your young trees. Water needs increase as the trees age. For example, a 1-year-old tree will typically use about 6 gallons of water per day while a 30-foot tree can use about 100 gallons per day. And remember, these water requirements need to be met from mid-July through early September. So, be sure to factor in the cost of meeting these water needs before deciding to grow your own pecans.

While there are a variety of pests to be concerned with, the need for proper weed management under your pecan trees far outweighs the threat of pests. Weeds and turf grasses will compete with your pecan trees for water and nutrients. Plus, weeds and turf release chemicals into the soil that actually slow the growth of newly planted trees. So, plan on using an organic mulch under your pecan trees to help keep the weeds away.

Now, assuming you have nurtured your trees appropriately, you can expect to be able to harvest pecans from your trees in 3 to 12 years depending on the variety. If you do make it to harvest, splitting shucks are a sign that the pecans are ready for harvest. Some of the early maturing varieties begin to ripen in mid-September while later varieties mature into mid-November.

Knowing all it takes to grow pecans successfully, makes it easier to understand the pricing on commercially grown pecans. So, be sure to support your local growers. See you in the garden!

You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th Street, or by emailing us at  Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service,