Q: Can I grow a Pecan tree in Greene County?
The short answer is, yes, you can. There is a big, beautiful Pecan tree on Gabbard Avenue in Linton that drops a load of pecans every year.
However, there are a few things to consider if you are thinking about trying to grow a Pecan tree in your back yard. First would be that Pecans can get to be huge: as much as 150' tall(!). Although typically much shorter than that, expect the root system to extend twice as far as the width of the canopy. In other words, if the branches and leaves extend 20 feet away from the trunk, roots may work their way under ground some 40 feet from the trunk. These roots may cause issues with sidewalks, driveways, drainage pipes and possibly sewer and septic lines. I wouldn't plant a Pecan any closer than 30 feet from any structure and 50 feet would be safer. Think about limbs falling off 50 years from now. Also consider the stuff overhead such as power lines. How about sunlight? Pecans need full sun: 6-8 hours daily would be good.
Secondly, native Pecan trees developed along creek beds and rivers where there was deep, rich, moist soil. Pecans do best in well-drained deep, loamy soil that supplies adequate summer moisture. About 4-5 feet of good topsoil on top of clay subsoil would be ideal. We don't have much 'ideal' soil here in Greene County. But, I have just a few inches of topsoil before the clay starts and still have managed to get a few Pecan trees to grow.
Third, Pecan trees can be divided into two groups: The southern or 'papershell' types (Giles, Major, Yates and Peruque) and the 'hardy northern' types (Colby, Lucas and Posey). The southern cultivars need 200 growing days between the last frost of spring and the first frost of fall. We don't reliably get that in Indiana, even southern Indiana. And, you will need two cultivars to get proper pollination; doesn't matter which group. When planting two or more trees, space them 40-70 feet apart.
If you still think you have the space and soil for a Pecan tree, the old saying about digging a $10 hole for a $1 tree applies. Dig a hole that will easily fit all of the roots when they are fanned out. Make sure that the roots do not wrap around others or are turned upward in the hole. You do not need to add any soil amendments or fertilizer to the soil. If you have the time and inclination to dig a deeper and wider hole, your new tree will thank you. Pecan trees, like Hickory trees, have a taproot. This taproot can be safely shortened by 1/3 of its length. This will encourage faster growth in the spring and give your tree a jump-start.
Place the tree in your new hole and use the color line on the trunk to determine the depth of the tree in the hole; that is to say, look for where the light colored roots meet the darker trunk. It will be apparent how deep the tree was previously planted. You will want to match that depth -- not too deep and not too shallow. Backfill your hole with crumbled topsoil to 1/2 to 3/4 full, add a bucket of water to move the soil around the roots and remove any air pockets. Fill the hole and gently tamp with your foot or shovel to firm the soil around the tree. A two to four inch deep layer of mulch around the tree will reduce weed competition and help retain moisture. Reducing weed competition in a 30-inch circle around the tree will aid it getting started. Make sure that the mulch layer is pulled back a few inches from the trunk to help avoid rodent damage in the winter.
Good luck if you decide to plant a Pecan tree or two! If all goes well depending on soil, moisture, sunlight, nutrient availability, cultivar type and the size of your seedling/tree transplant, you should be harvesting pecans in three to eight years. March is a good month to plant. So, better get started now so the kids can have pecan pie from your backyard.
Additional information on planting trees in Indiana can be found at: www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/FNR/FNR-IDNR-36.pdf.
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This month's question is answered by David B. Hughes, Vice President, Greene County Master Gardeners. This is one in a series of question-and-answer columns from the Greene County Master Gardeners. Send your garden related questions directly to the Master Gardeners for consideration to be answered each month. Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or send by mail to 'Ask a Greene Gardener", c/o Greene County Extension, 4513 W St Rd 54, Bloomfield IN 47424.