By Katie Nichols
Face it: Alabamians are nutty for pecans. The official state nut is the unofficial dessert nut in Alabama and around the South. While Alabama pecans have a reputation for making perfect pecan pies and praline candies, a lot of work goes into growing and maintaining a pecan tree before the nut hits the oven rack.
Alabama Extension Regional Horticulture Agent Chip East said pecan trees are a popular crop for commercial producers, as well as homeowners. To keep trees producing at a high level, proper management is important.
When planting new trees, the spacing should be approximately 80 to 100 feet apart. Commercial farmers will plant much closer but can also spray the trees to manage pests. A wider spacing allows more sunlight and more air circulation.
East said removing trees from an overcrowded orchard can also increase production.
A large weed- and grass-free zone with an approximately 10-foot radius around the trunk is desirable. Mulching trees within the weed-free zone is also beneficial.
“In an established pecan orchard, fertilization is a great way to increase production,” East said. “A soil test is the best way to know how much to fertilize pecan trees. In addition, a commercial pecan grower can have a nutrient analysis run on the leaves to help determine nutrient deficiencies. The local Extension office can help explain that process.”
There are general guidelines to follow for fertilizing pecan trees without doing an analysis on the soil or leaves. East recommends applying:
– 1 pound of 13-13-13 per tree per year of age up to 25 pounds per tree
– 1 pound of 34-0-0 per tree per year of age up to 20 pounds per tree
– 1/10 pound of zinc sulfate per tree per year of age up to 2 pounds per tree
“Basically, if your trees are more than 25 years old, you need 25 pounds of 13-13-13, 20 pounds of 34-0-0 and 2 pounds of zinc per tree each year,” East said. “Apply all of the fertilizer in April for large trees. For younger trees, apply the 13-13-13 fertilizer and zinc in April. Apply half the 34-0-0 in April and the remainder in June.”
Alabama Extension regional agents teach pecan classes in different counties and cover topics such as cultivar selection, plant spacing, proper planting and grafting. For additional information on pecans or to attend a pecan class, contact a county Extension office.