The taste of shelled pecans freshly harvested from the tree makes growing them in Missouri gardens well worth the work. While Missouri's shorter growing season means the nuts from pecan trees tend to be smaller, the meats also tend to be sweeter and less dry than those from other areas. The trees also make a beautiful addition to almost any landscape.
While most people want to grow large pecans, the smaller variety that grows best in Missouri features moderate-size nuts with a high oil content, making them sweet and delicious. These pecans also tend to fill the shell more than the large pecans grown in other states. Missouri can be broken down into five growing zones with cultivars such as Lucas and Wiese growing best in zones 1 and 2 in the north and central areas of the state. Varieties such as Colby, Pawnee and Posey grow best in the other three zones.
Pecan trees grown up to 70 feet tall and 80 feet wide. The leaves are made up of seven to 13 leaflets with branches bearing clusters of yellow catkins that turn into two to five nuts. The nuts ripen in a green husk that splits open in October. As the husk dries, the nuts fall off the tree and are ready for harvesting.
Pecan trees grow from grafted trees, seedlings or from the nuts themselves. The easiest way to grow a pecan tree is to transplant a grafted tree. The trees need to be planted at least 30 feet apart to allow for their mature size. The trees should be watered regularly until they are well-established. Plants may also be grown from seedlings that get grafted to cultivars after two to three years. Growing pecans from nuts requires storing the seeds in a cold area for up to four months before planting in the spring.
Both the tree and the nuts provide a valuable resource for wildlife. Squirrels find the nuts a tasty treat and use the branches of the tree for cover. Wild turkeys and deer also use the tree for food and cover. Other birds use the tree for nesting and temporary shelter.
Pecan trees provide more than just a tasty nut. The large trees also provide shade. In the autumn, the leaves turn delightful colors of yellow and orange, giving the garden another layer of fall color. Of course, the nuts may be harvested to be shelled and eaten fresh or used in a variety of desserts and baked goods such as pies, cakes, crisps, breads and muffins. The nuts are also used a variety of chicken and fish dishes.