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How to Fertilize Pecan Trees

By Barbara Fahs ; Updated September 21, 2017

Pecans are nut-bearing trees that are native to the southern United States, particularly in Texas, where it is the state tree. Pecan trees can grow to more than 100 feet tall if given enough room, water and nutrients. While they are heavy feeders, a variety of ways to give the trees the nutrients they need exists.

Fertilizing Pecan Trees

Test your soil before you plant a pecan tree because no amount of fertilizer can make up for poor soil. Pecans need deep, well-drained, loamy soil that is rich in nutrients such as organic plant material or compost.

Avoid fertilizing young pecan trees: They typically grow very slowly during their first year. Applying fertilizer during this time could give them an unnatural boost of nutrients that would result in growth beyond what the root system can support.

Spread a thick (3 to 4 inches deep) layer of compost around the tree’s drip line (the outer edge of the branches) once a year to provide it with a steady source of nutrition. You can use livestock manure for this application only if it is well-composted. Otherwise, it could burn your tree’s root system.

Spread nitrogen-rich fertilizer (ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate), if you do not use the compost method, around a mature tree’s drip line in late winter and early spring. Apply the fertilizer before buds open and reapply it in May. This option grows in its appeal as the tree grows in size. The trees have spreading canopies and a root system that extends far beyond the drip line, requiring you to otherwise cover an increasingly large area with compost.

Fertilize with organic fertilizer if you decide not to use ammonium sulfate or ammonium nitrate. Lava sand, ground cornmeal or dry molasses are the recommended choices for use in February. The application rate varies by substance. If you use this option, apply again, at half strength, in June and September. In addition to these treatments, spray compost tea or liquid compost on the tree’s leaves and branches (foliar feeding) twice a month. To make compost tea, place one quart of compost in a five-gallon bucket, add water and wait one day before using the solution.

 

Things You Will Need

  • Ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) or ammonium nitrate (33-0-0)
  • Compost
  • Organic fertilizers: lava sand, ground cornmeal or dry molasses

Tips

  • Pecan trees require large amounts of water. Water once a week, giving young trees at least seven gallons. Five-year-old trees need about 70 gallons of water each week. Older trees require even more. Growers say "rain doesn't count" and it's nearly impossible to give pecan trees too much water.
  • Pecan trees do not normally need phosphorus and potassium.
  • Do not fertilize pecans after June. This can cause rapid new growth, which can be damaged by early frosts or freezes.
  • Pecans do best if you spread mulch underneath them. Native grasses and legumes are also good choices of living mulches to grow around your pecan.

Warnings

  • Fertilizer spikes are not appropriate to use with pecan trees; they fertilize too small an area relative to the size of a pecan's root system.
  • When you broadcast nitrogen-rich fertilizer, do not allow it to touch the tree's trunk. Instead, apply it several feet from the trunk around the tree's drip line.

About the Author

 

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens" and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to "Big Island Weekly," "Ke Ola" magazine and various websites. She earned her Bachelor of Arts at University of California, Santa Barbara and her Master of Arts from San Jose State University.