Pecans – A Southern Tradition

As I made a visit back to my hometown in North Alabama I was reminded of the subtle changes from fall into winter, which are not always apparent to me living in Tallahassee: the vibrant palette of leaves as they make their permanent descent until spring, the litter of spent cotton along each highway and county road and the annual pecan harvest that has been a tradition in my family for as long as I can remember.

Due to the variations in climate and topography from upper Alabama to the panhandle of Florida, our seasons can differ greatly. However, I know of one entity that remains a constant and that is the availability of pecans. Pecan trees (Carya illinoinensis) are a common sight throughout the South. They can be spotted as far west as Texas and as far north as Illinois. The pecan tree is native to the Mississippi floodplain, which has deep, fertile, well-drained soils. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans used pecans as a primary food source for thousands of years.

What’s more, pecans have major economic value. The annual value of pecans in the United States is estimated at 200 to 500 million dollars. Florida produces from five to ten million pounds of pecans annually. The majority of that pecan production acreage (6,500 acres) can be found in North Florida. While the nut is the main attractant of the tree, there’s not much that warms the heart more than seeing pecan pie at the dessert table on Thanksgiving.

A well worn recipe for southern pecan pie that has been passed down through my family.
A well worn recipe for southern pecan pie that has been passed down through my family.

Pecan trees are deciduous, which means that they drop their leaves in the winter. An additional consideration for those planning to install pecan trees is to be aware that they are wind-pollinated and that their male and female flowers often do not mature at the same time. Therefore, in order to ensure the possibility of high yields, two or more cultivars should be planted together for cross-pollination.

Be sure to choose a variety like ‘Elliot’ or ‘Curtis’ that has good disease resistance, is suited for North Florida and will cross-pollinate well. Plant pecans during the colder months to allow for root growth before spring. The optimum soil pH for pecans is 5.5 to 6.5. At the lower end of this range, micronutrient deficiency symptoms should be less common. Pecan trees should start producing decent crops in six to twelve years. A tree at maturity can reach up to seventy feet tall so plan spacing and placement accordingly.

Pecan tree planted by my great-grandparents in Monrovia, Alabama.
Pecan tree planted by my great-grandparents in Monrovia, Alabama.

For more information please consult Pecan Cultivars for North Florida or contact your local UF IFAS county extension office.


Posted: November 11, 2013

Category: Horticulture
Tags: Edible Landscape, Fall, Fall 2013, Native Plants, Panhandle Gardening, Pecan Pie, Pecans, Trees

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