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How to Plant Pecan Trees in North Carolina

pecan pie close up image by Allen Penton from

Commercial growers in North Carolina produce 5 to 6 million lbs. of pecans annually, according to horticulturists at North Carolina State University. The biggest problem for pecan growers is North Carolina is the short growing season, as early frosts can damage some pecan varieties. Careful planning and choosing the right variety of pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) can make all the difference in whether you are successful with growing pecans in North Carolina. Recommended pecan trees for North Carolina gardeners include Cape Fear (a North Carolina native pecan tree), Stuart and Gloria Grande. Purchase grafted varieties that are 4 to 6 feet tall and plant the pecan tree in late fall or early winter.

Choose a location in which to plant the pecan tree. The soil should be at least 4 to 6 feet deep and the site should not be located in a depression. Areas of lower elevation tend to draw more frost (known as “frost pockets”) which can damage the tree. Find a location on a higher elevation in the landscape, if possible.

Soak the roots of the bare root tree in a bucket of water while you prepare the planting area.

Dig a hole the same depth and three times the diameter of the pot in which the pecan tree is growing. If the tree is bare root, dig the hole three times the diameter as the root ball. Check the lower end of the trunk for a dark ring. This is known as the soil line and it marks the depth at which to plant the bare root pecan tree.

Place the roots of the pecan tree in the hole and spread them out in all directions. There should be enough room for the roots to spread out without circling back over the rootball. Look for a swelling or bump on the lower portion of the trunk. This is called the graft union, (where the tree was grafted onto the rootstock) and it needs to be 1 to 2 inches above the soil when the tree is planted.

Backfill the hole with soil, tamping down around the base of the pecan tree. Do not add any fertilizer to the planting hole or the soil after planting. Horticulturists at North Carolina State University recommend relying only on native soil when planting the pecan tree.

Water the tree until the water puddles, allow it to drain and then water again. In North Carolina it is important that the pecan tree receives adequate moisture during its first year in the ground, so keep the soil moist.

Add a 6-inch deep layer of shredded bark mulch around the tree, spread out to 5 feet from the tree. Don’t allow the mulch to touch the pecan tree’s bark. The mulch will not only discourage weeds but will shield the soil and the tree’s roots from the warmer summer temperatures in North Carolina.

Cut off the top one-third of pecan tree. According to scientists at North Carolina University, a portion of the tree’s root system is either damaged or removed during shipping and topping it helps to balance the tree with its smaller root system.

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