Reasons Pecans Don’t Produce

— Written By Susan Condlin and last updated by

Pecans (Carya illinoensis) will grow in almost any soil in North Carolina, except poorly drained soil, hardpan or stiff clays, or thin sands with a high water table. Pecan trees should be spaced at least 40 feet apart to provide sufficient room for future growth. When selecting a cultivar for your landscape, disease resistance is the most important factor.

The pecan is monoecious, that is, the male (catkin) and female flowers are borne separately at different locations on the same tree. The female flowers are borne in clusters near the ends of current seasons shoots in the spring. The catkins are borne on the base of the shoot and along the length of the supporting 1-year-old wood.

Pecans are pollinated by the wind. When the catkins (male flowers) mature, huge quantities of pollen are shed, increasing the chances that the windblown pollen will land on the stigmas of the female flowers. Should the catkins mature before or after the female flower is ready, pollination does not occur.

Usually, within a pecan cultivar, pollen shedding does not closely overlap the period when the stigma is receptive. This condition is called dichogamy, which tends to ensure cross-fertilization. Pecan cultivars differ in the order that the male and female flowers mature.

To ensure cross-pollination, trees of bloom Types I and II should be included in a planting. Trees in the Type I bloom class are Cape Fear and Owens. Type II bloom class includes Elliott, Forkert, Gloria Grande and Stuart. Cape Fear is a good pollinator for many other cultivars. It has adequate scab resistance but experiences severe leaf scorch in many locations. Desirable is the cultivar most recommended in the southeastern states. Elliott is very scab-resistant. Forkert has high-quality nuts but is somewhat susceptible to scab in wet years. Gloria Grande is a highly scab-resistant cultivar. Owens possesses good tolerance to scab and other diseases. Stuart is susceptible to downy spot and moderately susceptible to scab. The following common varieties are not recommended for North Carolina because of their inability to tolerate the cold, the short growing season, or pests:

Desirable; cold sensitive, weak tree structure, and moderate to poor scab susceptibility
Mahan ; nuts fill poorly, highly scab susceptible, and severe alternate bearer
Schley ; low yielding, highly scab susceptible, and soft shells result in many vertebrate control problems
Success ; variable nut quality but frequently poor, highly susceptible to scab, and severe alternate bearer
*Alternate bearing trees are prone to producing heavy crops every 2 to 3 years.

Care of young, nonbearing trees: To get good growth, prune no more than necessary. The larger the number of leaves left to grow, the more food will be manufactured for more rapid tree growth. Strive for an average terminal growth of about 3 feet annually, by fertilizing in early March with 4 pounds of 10-10-10 plus zinc for each inch of trunk diameter measured a foot above the soil surface. Keep an area at least 6 feet in diameter around the tree cleanly cultivated or mulched to keep down weeds and grass. Many pecan cultivars do not start producing nuts until they are 12 to 15 years of age.

Care of bearing trees: To realize good annual production, trees must be adequately fertilized and insect- and disease-controlled. The recommended fertilizer program is to apply 6 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per inch of trunk diameter. To prevent deficiency, the fertilizer listed above should contain 1 to 2 percent zinc. Lack of enough zinc and nitrogen reduces production more than any other factor!

Zinc deficiency is called rosette. The most noticeable symptoms of rosette are bronzing and mottling of leaves; early defoliation; dead twigs in tops of trees; abnormally small nuts; small, yellowish, chlorotic leaves; short thin twigs growing on older scaffold branches with rosettes of small, yellowish leaves at the tips. An early sign is a wavy margin on the leaflets.

Alternate pecan production (on and off years) is mainly the result of inadequate fertilization. When trees set a large nut crop and there are not enough nutrients for the nuts to mature and for the tree to store enough plant food production will be low the following year. Early defoliation in the fall usually means no nut crop the next year. Diseases and insects affecting the leaves also contribute to alternate bearing by causing early leaf drop in the fall.

To help prevent alternate bearing, use sound cultural practices. These include disease and insect control, adequate use of fertilizer and zinc, and an extra application of fertilizer in late May or June in years when nutset is heavy.

Failure of nuts to fill is caused mainly by insect and disease damage to leaves and an inadequate number of leaves. Drought also causes failure to fill, if it occurs late in the growing season.

In many years lack of pollination causes the greatest loss of nuts. Since pecans are wind-pollinated only, excessive rain during bloom prevents pollination, and the unpollinated nuts fall. Weather conditions in some seasons cause the male and female flowers to mature at different periods, and pollination fails to occur. Some cultivars shed their pollen before the female flowers are receptive. To insure pollination, it is important to plant more than one cultivar in an area.

Insects, such as pecan weevil and hickory shuck- worm, and diseases, such as scab mildew and blotch, also can cause premature loss of nuts.

Drought and too little fertilizer often cause early drop of nuts. Prevent nut loss by harvesting early. Harvesting the nuts as soon as they mature ensures better quality. One of the quickest ways to lose nut quality is to let them lay on wet ground.

Written By

Photo of Susan CondlinSusan CondlinCounty Extension Director (919) 775-5624 susan_condlin@ncsu.eduLee County, North Carolina
Posted on Oct 29, 2015
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