Pecan trees: Everything you ever wanted to know about the Texas state tree

November 2, 2021

Discover a few fun facts about the pecan tree and how to plant your own


Pecans on a pecan tree, the Texas State Tree 
Arbor Day is a holiday that celebrates nature while encouraging people to plant trees in their communities. While the national holiday is celebrated in April, Texas State Arbor Day is actually the first Friday in November since the weather in April isn’t always ideal for planting trees in Texas.

To celebrate Texas State Arbor Day, we're putting a spotlight on the Texas state tree - the pecan tree! Read on as we explore a few fun facts about the pecan tree and how you can plant your own! 

Pecan tree facts


The pecan tree is a tree ripe with historical and cultural significance - that's why it's the state tree of Texas and the pecan is the state nut! Let's look at some fun facts about the Texas state tree:
  • The pecan is the only major tree nut that grows naturally in North America, and the U.S. produces 80% of the world's pecans.
  • "Pecan" is a Native American word that was used to describe all nuts that required a stone to crack.
  • There are over 1,000 different varieties of pecan nuts, and they come in a variety of sizes.
  • Pecan trees reach maturity at around twelve years old, and they can live as long as 200-300 years (and continue to produce!) when grown in ideal conditions.
  • Pecan tree height typically ranges from 70 to 100 feet, but some trees can grow as tall as 150 feet or higher.
  • Native pecan trees (those over 150 years old) and non-grafted seedlings can take between 10 to 15 years to produce pecans.
  • Grafted pecan tree varieties take about 5 to 10 years to produce pecans, depending on their variety.
  • Technically, pecans aren't actually nuts but drupes, which are fruits surrounded by a husk with a stone pit like a peach or plum.
  • The pecan tree became the Texas state tree in 1919. And Texas governor, James Hogg liked the tree so much that he asked for a pecan tree to be planted by his grave.
  • Butter pecan ice cream is actually a Texas invention!

Types of pecan trees in Texas


Whether you’re new to Texas or a decades-long native, you have probably seen a pecan tree or two in your city. You may even have one in your yard right now! But if you want to plant pecan trees, you may be wondering which types of pecan trees in Texas are the best to plant.

While there are over 1,000 different varieties of pecans, only 18 are recommended for planting in the lone star state. Here are just a few popular Texas pecan varieties that you might consider planting:

Caddo


The Caddo is a great tree to plant no matter where in Texas you might be. This variety has strong limbs and beautiful dark green leaves, and it's resistant to disease. You'll start to see nuts about 5 years after planting, and the tree tends to produce a lot of nuts each year.

Choctaw


The Choctaw is one of the best varieties with quality soil, water, and management. It has beautiful foliage and bears high-quality nuts that are large and flavorful. However, without proper management or soil quality, it won't produce pecans reliably. It can also have major aphid issues.

Desirable


The Desirable variety is ideal for those in East, South, and Central Texas with more humid climates. If you're looking for faster pecan production, you may want to choose another variety. This tree takes eight to ten years to bear nuts. While it doesn't produce a lot of nuts each. year, it does produce dependably.

Kiowa


The Kiowa is a popular variety that's been around for less than 50 years. It has beautiful, large, dark green foliage and produces large nuts. This tree does well in Central Texas where the water and soil are conducive to planting. However, this variety can be inconsistent and requires good management to thrive.

Maramec


The Maramec is a large, consistent pecan variety that yields best in North Texas where it's closest to its native homeland, Oklahoma.

Mohawk


This tree is another variety of pecan that's ideal for North Texas. This tree does mature early, but the quality and number of pecans decrease as the tree gets older.

Burkett


This is one of the oldest types of pecan trees in Texas. This tree does best in West Texas, and if planted anywhere else in Texas, the Burkett will be more likely to succumb to disease and pest issues. Older Burkett trees don't bear as well as when they're younger.

Western


The Western is another variety that should only be grown in West Texas because it needs a dryer climate in order to lower the risk of Pecan Scab disease. The Western is a very low maintenance tree that's great for beginners.

How to grow pecan trees in Texas


Not only do Texas pecan trees produce delicious nuts, but they also make excellent shade trees for your yard. Planting and managing these trees properly is essential for getting the most out of your trees. Below are a few of the most important considerations you'll need to make when growing pecan trees in Texas.

Picking a variety


You'll want to start by choosing a pecan variety that's most suitable for the area of Texas that you're living in. You'll also want to consider maintenance needs before choosing the best variety for you.

Here are the best varieties for different areas of Texas:
  • North: Caddo, Lipan, Mandan, Osage, Pawnee, Kanza, Lakota
  • West: Caddo, Cheyenne, Lipan, Pawnee, Waco, Western, Hopi, Lakota, Wichita
  • Central: Caddo, Desirable, Lipan, Mandan, Oconee, Pawnee, Kanza, Lakota, Nacono, Sioux, Wichita
  • East: Apalachee, Caddo, Desirable, Lipan, Mandan, Oconee, Pawnee, Prilop, Elliott, Forkert, Kanza, Lakota
It's best to plant two different varieties of pecan trees together. This allows for cross-pollination, which leads to better pecan harvests.

Choosing a planting location


Whether you're planting a seedling tree or transplanting a mature pecan tree, you want to make sure you're planting it in an area where it will have the best chance of thriving. In general, pecan trees should be planted in an area with deep, rich soil. The area should also have good drainage and offer plenty of room for the tree to grow.

Pecan trees require at least 3 feet of well-drained soil above the water table in order to develop strong roots. A pecan tree's root system can extend many feet underground, so you'll want to make sure that there is nothing underground that could interfere like other plants or pipes. Proper drainage is important because pecans are susceptible to rot diseases, root death, and mineral loss.

As for tree spacing, you should plan to plant the trees at least 35 feet apart. When trees are planted too close, they can crowd, experience health issues, or cause poor nut production and quality.

Lastly, whether you're planting a pecan tree or any other variety, it is important to be mindful of its proximity to your home, garage, outbuildings, fences, or any other structures on your property. If a tree grows to large and hangs over your roof, for example, a strong wind can easily cause serious damage to your home. Furthermore, root systems can dig beneath sidewalks, foundations, and even burrow into utility pipes. 

To ensure that your trees won't damage your property, it is usually recommended that you plant larger trees (70 feet or taller) at least 20 feet from a structure, at least 15 feet feet for medium-sized trees, and at least 10 feet for smaller trees. Pecan trees can grow to be quite larger, so make sure to give them plenty of room to grow!

Planting pecan trees


When you purchase trees at the nursery, you'll find container grown, bare root, and large tree transplants. Bare root trees can be challenging to transplant and will need careful handling to prevent death or slow growth. Container grown trees are typically smaller, but they can be planted anytime and are more likely to live and grow well. Large transplanting trees often come from commercial orchards and can be expensive.

Tree roots need to stay moist at all times between the nursery and when you plant them. Before you start planting, trim off any broken roots and soak the roots in water. Container-grown trees should be watered well and left to drain. Bare-root trees will need to have their roots soaked for 24 hours.

When you're ready to plant, you'll dig the planting hole just deep enough for the root system. To avoid settling, make sure you rest the taproot of the tree against the bottom of the hole.

Then, add a native soil mixed with water into the planting hole. Firmly pack the soil to eliminate any air pockets. Immediately after planting, be sure to water the individual trees with at least 5 gallons of water.

Maintaining your pecan trees


One of the most important parts of maintaining your trees is pruning. WIth young pecan trees, you'll establish a strong leader branch as well as a sturdy scaffolding structure. With mature pecan trees, you'll remove dead, broken, or diseased branches periodically.

Proper fertilization is also an important part of maintaining your trees. Pecan trees won't produce a good harvest unless they have the right amount of lime, nitrogen, and zinc. It's recommended not to fertilize your trees after July because it can make them more likely to freeze in the winter months.

Harvesting your trees


Once pecan trees are mature, you'll have a yearly harvest of fresh pecans. Typically, pecan trees in Texas are harvested by early September when the husks reach their full size. The pecans will begin to fall from the trees when the husks begin to split.

Before the harvest season begins, clear the space around your pecan trees so it will be easier to pick up the nuts. Not all of the pecans will fall from the tree, so you'll need to shake the branches to get those that don't fall. Don't wait too long to do this as predators like squirrels, crows, raccoons, and deer can sneak off with your yield!

Sort your pecans by color and size. Those that are not uniform in color or feel light are most likely not worth opening, and you can discard them. Once you've sorted the pecans, keep them in a cool, dry place in a breathable container for a few weeks so they cure, which makes them easier to shell.

Green pecans on a pecan tree, the Texas State Tree

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by Geoff Ullrich

About the Author

Geoff Ullrich is a writer and Content Marketing Specialist at Germania Insurance.