A Pecan/Acorn Question For Scott & Others

Okiedawn OK Zone 7August 20, 2008

Scott (and any others knowledgable about nuts),

I have green husks on my native pecans, so presumably, there are nuts inside of there????? Do you know how much rainfall it would take for the nuts to fill out? I'm not so worried about pecans for us, but for the wildlife because I don't know what they'll eat this winter, and we have oodles of wildlife.

I know the acorn crop is going to be sparse, because most of my oak trees were hit with severe freezes right around or right after they bloomed. Pecans, though, bloom a little later and I can't remember if they had formed nuts before the last 2 late freezes occurred in late April and early May. If my trees weren't going to make pecans, would the husks have formed? I know that some years I have had pecan husks and shells, but the nuts didn't fill out and I can't remember if that was in years with a late freeze or drought or what.

I already have up to 10 deer per day (including the most darling set of little spotted twin fawns that are too cute for words) cruising the yard looking for food and water, and tons of squirrels as well. If there isn't a good mast crop for them this fall, what in the world will they eat this winter???? My shrubs? I hope not.

I am an "accidental" pecan grower. We didn't plant any of the pecan trees, but have a few dozen native ones scattered around the acreage and most years we just leave the nuts for the wildlife, although in a year with a huge crop, we gather some and have them cracked and blown.


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If you still have pecans on the trees, then the spring freezes didn't get them. (They would have died immediately when they froze.) Take a look at 4 or 5 of the trees and look at how many pecans you generally see up there. If each cluster has 3 or 4, and if you see pecans at the end of about half of the shoots, then it is a really big crop for that native tree. If you see 1 or 2 pecans per cluster and only one cluster per every 6 or 7 shoots, then it is a small crop for that tree.

It is likely that you do not have a large crop this year since last year was such a big crop year in your area and since they are alternate bearing. However, if the Easter freeze happened to get yours last year (generally it did not for everyone south of I40) you may have a big crop currently. If your crop is small, then the pecans should fill out fine without a lot of rain. If the crop is large, they need quite a bit of water in the last half of August and first part of Sept. Even if you don't get a lot of rain, the trees can often get enough water to partially fill out the nuts if the soil is deep, or the water table not too deep. Five or 6 inches of rain between Aug 10 and Sept 10 will do wonders for filling the pecans. (The lack of availability of water during June and July will often cause the native pecans to not get very big, but they will not abort unless it is extreme and the soil doesn't hold much water.)

These few weeks are a critical time for your pecan crop. In addition to the lack of rain, there are two other things that could wipe out what you currently have on the trees. First, look at the ground around your trees and see how many little green pecans have dropped from the tree compared to the crop still in the tree. I am guessing there will be quite a few and the cause will be a couple of insects that may have high numbers this year because of the large pecan crop last year in your area. The good news, though, is that the damage by these two insects (casebearer and shuckworm) has already been done for the most part and not many more will be falling compared to what fell in the last 10 days. Second, the pecan weevil will be coming into your trees in the next week since the rain has loosened the soil for them. If you had many of these worms in your pecans in 2006, then their offspring will be getting you this year. In your situation, there is not much you can do about it at this point, but if you ever see a lot of these "worms" and "worm holes" in you pecans late this year or any future year, let me know and I can give you some suggestions for the future years. I am up at this late hour because of this little pest and because of a shortage of insecticides to kill the tens of thousands of them that I have in my trees at the moment.

By the way, last year I had a good acorn crop on my red oaks despite the Easter freeze. This year I have not seen a single acorn on any red or white oak on either of my acreages. I have not looked closely, but I have looked enough to know that it is likely a total acorn crop failure, caused by the Easter freeze of 2007. That freeze was after most pecan trees budded out so we had almost no pecan crop north of I40 last year, but are looking fairly good this year with pecans. Funny how that worked out for oaks versus pecans.

Good luck with your wildlife. I will not share my pecans with squirrels and crows, but I will share with deer and turkey. Corn is too expensive to buy for them this year, and not great for them anyway.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 2:45AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Thanks for the very helpful pecan and acorn info.

After the sun comes up and maybe after the light drizzle ends (if it ever does), I'll go out and look up at the big pecan tree in the front yard, and the big ones on the edge of the woods near the house, and see what the clusters of pecans look like. It is encouraging to think that there may be enough of a crop to help the wildlife.

Most years we don't have many squirrels (surprisingly), and the deer ususally don't "show" themselves much this time of year, so I don't really understand what is going on with them. The "hunters" are making their annual appearance, too, crusising up and down our rural road on ATVs and in pick-ups, looking for deer. No one around us allows hunting on the land around their homes, but a certain amount of poaching goes on anyway, and not everyone waits until the season officially starts. Once the season opens, the deer go into hiding, so maybe the deer are trying to "stock up" and eat what they can while they can. However, they usually don't do that.....and they've been coming to the yard around 10 a.m. and around 3 p.m., which is more typical of Jan.-Feb. behavior than August. The coyotes are out of their dens and running, so maybe that accounts for the abnormal deer behavior.

I put out henscratch for my domestic free-range poultry, and black oil sunflower seeds for our large, resident flock of doves, and the deer eat that when they can. (The guineas and the cats are territorial and try to chase off the deer, but the deer just ignore them.) I have been putting out three little piles daily for the doe and the twin fawns, so maybe the word is out in the deer neighborhood.

Deer corn IS too expensive this year, and I don't know what they will do, although I suspect they'll eat whatever they want all winter long while we are sleeping. Most winters they come through the property daily on their way to the currently-dry pond, and they eat whatever they find, but I don't know what they'll going to find in light of the current drought. Our pastures are just pitiful looking.

I hope the pecans fill out, and guess I need to look at the trees on the edge of the woods to see if I can see acorns. With about 10 acres of mostly post oaks, but some red oaks, blackjack oaks, and a few other oaks and hickories as well, maybe there will be enough nuts for everyone.

For what it is worth, I don't willingly share our nuts with the crows OR squirrels, but it is hard to chase them off. Someone near us has one of those little cannons that goes off to scare away the birds.....I don't know if it really works, but listening to it does annoy me!


    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 7:06AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I went out in the drizzle to get the mail and stopped to look at the big pecan tree in the yard near my veggie garden.

It has tons and tons of clusters of pecans, mostly in 3s or 4s but occasionally only 1 or 2. They are not on half the shoots, though, but probably on about a third.

The trees on the edge of the woods don't have as many, but then they never do.....probably because the woods are overgrown and too crowded.

I didn't take time to look at the acorns, but think there may be some on the red oaks since they bloom so late. Unfortunately, we have far more post oaks than red oaks, although I do dig up red oak seedlings and transplant them into open areas every year in an effort to increase our number of red oaks.

Thanks again for all the helpful info. I feel a little better now about the wildlife having some stuff to eat in the winter. Oh, and there's not hardly any pecans on the ground, so I guess that's a good sign?

The heaviest crop our trees have produced was in 1999, our first year in this house. My whole family came for Thanksgiving and Christmas that year, and spent every spare moment on those afternoons outside picking up bags and bags of pecans. They were so excited. I was excited too.....because every pecan they took home with them (and they took grocery bags full!) was one less I had to crack and one less I'd have to pick the nutmeat out of. (That was before we discovered cracking and blowing, and the shaker-type pecan harvester machines.)

Also, now that I know the timeframe during which soil moisture is so critical, I'll be sure they get enough moisture to cause the nuts to fill out.

I am sorry to hear that the pecan weevil is "at large and in charge" in your pecan orchard. We have never had them here as far as I know, but I bet it is more likely that we have had them and I just didn't know it. Is the insecticide shortage an on-going problem? Or, is is just that the stuff is so in-demand at this point in time that the suppliers are "sold out". What do you use for peacan weevils?

I hope you got some sleep. I was up very early this morning but went back to sleep and slept for almost 4 more hours. DH and DS work the oddest shifts and I am a light sleeper so, between one of them coming in late, and the other one getting up early...I feel like I never sleep.

One of these days I may plant some good pecan trees in the small open area of our property that is not already forested. I love the flavor of our natives, but miss the named varieties we used to have in Texas like Caddo and Kanza and maybe Pawnee? Well, I remember they all had Indian-type names, at least.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 2:18PM
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So much of the extra water needs of your yard tree are determined by the specific soil you have there, so it is hard to say just how much water you may have to give it in addition to the rainfall. My best guess in order to make the nuts on that one tree fill out well is to see how you stand when the rain is over in the next couple of days. If you only got two inches in the last few weeks, then you may need about two inches more of water by Labor day in the entire canopy area to give you the best chance to get the crop through to the end.

1999 was the biggest crop ever in the state. Last year was close for the southern half of the state. What happened with your yard tree was that it likely had no crop last year and the soil was deep and saturated enough through last July to easily get the tree through this spring in good shape. Since it doesn't compete as much with other trees like the crowded ones in the woods do, there is less water competition and fewer other problems that might prevent a good nut-set or might make the nuts abort this dry year.

If you still have the pecans in the trees, and if you did not have much of a crop or any weevils in 2006, then you will probably end up in great shape as long as the tree gets a few inches more of water in the next few weeks.

Sevin in agricultural form is not available right now around here, and nobody got their shipments they were expecting the last two weeks. I found some and am having some shipped in (fingers crossed) this week so I think I am safe. It's a complex thing with weevils and timing of applications. I hate paying for it and spraying for it, but half of the crop would be lost if I didn't this year. Fortunately the beneficials re-populate and travel more than weevils so after a few years it will get better.

Pecans are just an extra income (net loss most years actually) for us, so I try not to worry to much about it.

You are in a location that provides you with more cultivar options than we have here. Water is the thing you will have to supplement almost every year to grow "papershells" there.

I suggest you get someone to remove one or two from your deer population this fall and give you some of the venison. Hard to do I know, but they will die eventually anyway. Plus, the land can only support so many in a healthy state without good rainfall. Just have the people take them as far from the house as possible. Not going to happen I am sure! :)

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 3:48PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I didn't know 1999 was the best year! Of course, it was our first year here, and we didn't know a lot about the local area yet, except that the people were exceptionally warm and welcoming and we were so happy we'd moved here.

You're right. Our pecan tree had no crop last year, but did the year before. I seem able to "thwart" the fruit trees' natural inclination to be alternate bearers somewhat, but not that of the nut trees.

My one pecan tree in the yard is in the narrow band of sandy soil (about 20' wide and 40' or 50' long) that cuts across our property like a little "stream". It is VERY, VERY sandy/silty with almost no organic material, so it drains incredibly fast. I pile up all the mulch underneath this tree that I can every fall and winter in the hope that the earthworms will carry the organic material into the soil, and I think my plan is working, if slowly. The four o'clocks and cannas under the tree suvive even the worst drought with no irrigation and so does the tree. This tree had just begun to have a slight yellowing of a few leaves, and the dropping of a very few leaves, when the August rain apparently ended our drought. Nearby trees in clay soil had been dropping leaves for 6 or more weeks, so clearly the roots of the pecan tree can better access deeper soil moisture in the sandy soil, right?

Also, because it is the only tree in the "yard" that provides substantial shade, both the guinea coop and chicken coop, and their fenced-in runs are there so they can benefit from the shade. However, since the poultry free-ranges all over the property all day long, I don't know that the pecan tree is benefitting from the poultry's natural 'fertilizer' as much as I had thought it would.

I was going to tell you that if you couldn't find agricultural Sevin there and get it shipped, just let me know and I'd try to find some locally and get it shipped to you.

I know it is hard to use Sevin, but sometimes Mother Nature doesn't leave you many options. I don't know of anyone around here who successfully grows pecans organically. I am sure it could be done, but I bet it would be incredibly difficult, time-consuming and expensive. Although I prefer to be organic and use as few chemicals as possible, I know it isn't always possible, especially with a monoculture orchard (not that ALL you have is pecan trees, but you know what I mean). If I had only 5 tomato plants, for instance, instead of over 100, I probably wouldn't have foliar disease or pests (stink bugs and leaf-footed bugs) to the extent that I do. All "pests", whether disease or insect (or those darned crows!) congregate where their target plants exist in larger numbers.

I am glad you are keeping your pecan trees going as a viable (if not always economically successful) operation. When we first moved here 10 years ago, there were still quite a lot of people growing pecans commercially (generally as a sideline to raising wheat, hay or cattle). Ever since then, though, the number is less and less every year. It is more profitable, economically, to sell the land and its trees to people like us who want to live on acreage in the country. At least most folks like us keep the trees and don't cut them down, but a lot don't manage and harvest the pecan trees like folks used to. I used to see those pecan shakers traveling down the road every year and I haven't seen any in 2 or 3 or maybe even 5 years now. Most people around us have 2 to 5 pecan trees from which they still harvest nuts, even if they have let the "forest" grow up around/between the other trees.

I need to pick your brain for pecan and blueberry recommendations for a 2009 planting, but we'll worry about that later when you aren't so busy with the pecans!

Rain seems to be ending here, but I am a happy camper (and gardener) again.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 5:04PM
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Starting in about 1999 the price for natives dropped so much that it wasn't worth managing them for most people. Starting in 2004 the price recovered and has been good enough to get new people back into the business. The input costs are so high now that the higher pecan prices will have to stay to keep people involved. You also have to have cattle in the native groves to really make a good living with it.

Because of insect and disease problems, it isn't feasible to go organic with pecans in the eastern half of the pecan belt. Out west it would work much better, except for the fertilizer needs in those ares.

I would normally say the trees in sandy areas would drop leaves sooner because of less water-holding capacity, but I suspect you have the best of both worlds with your yard tree. The water easily penetrates the top with no runoff, and then the lower clay soils hold it well. The key would be what happens between 3 and 9 feet down. Plus, there is just a lot of variation between native trees and the likely reason your yard tree was never cut down was because it produced better and was more robust compared to all the others that grew up around it many years ago.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 6:02PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I love this tree. When we built the house, we chose a building site that would let us be close to the tree, but not close enough to damage its' roots. It is a grand old tree and the location of everything.....house, garden, flowers beds, chicken coops, etc. was planned around the tree.

When cotton was raised on this land, they tell me they plowed around the tree and left it for shade. By the time we bought the land, cattle had run on the land for many years and all kinds of underbrush had come up around it, including tons of cedar, winged elm, roughleaf dogwood, wooly buckthorn, poison ivy, virginia creeper and greenbrier. We took all that stuff out and kept the tree. Our only other 'shade' tree that predates the house is a post oak that is now about 30' tall. We are beginning to get shade from the dozen or so red oaks and bur oaks we transplanted from the woods when they were about 12" to 18" tall. Most of them were transplanted 7 to 9 years ago, and the tallest is a little over 20' tall. Perhaps the entire 2-story house will be shaded in another 20 years or so.

From digging in the nearby soil, though not too close to the pecan tree roots, I think we have clay in places beginning only about 2.5' down. It is a less dense clay, though, than what we have near the house....it is more of a sandy-clay blend. About 4' down it becomes denser with more clay and less sand.

Based on your comments about 1999, at least I know now why it seemed like so many people suddenly "abandoned" their pecan trees, at least as a commercial crop. We almost bought 40 to 60 acres of Red River bottomland near Jimtown with pecan trees before we bought the land we ended up with, but it was too flood-prone. Last year, when it flooded, I was glad we talked ourselves out of that one. I would have loved to live amidst those grand old pecan trees though.


    Bookmark   August 20, 2008 at 6:24PM
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After reading the above posts I decided to check out my pecan trees. I have 2 that are in the 16 to 20 foot tall size. There are also 2 more that are chest high and progressing VERY slowly. The two larger trees(trunks about 5 inch diameter) have absolutely no pecans at all. There is an abundance of ants and they are busy running up and down the trunks and out onto the leaves. The ants seem to run out onto the end of a leaf, then back to the stem and on to the next leaf, out to the end of it and back to the stem and on to the next one.

We have never gotten more than about 5 pecans from either tree and I am sure that the squirrels from the wooded area across the street from us have been raiding the trees before the pecans fall each year. In past years there have been a fair number of pecans on the trees but by the time the hulls start to open, the pecans just disappear.

I would appreciate comments from you folks on what I need to be doing with the trees and especially the ant population. I have the feeling that these ants are foretelling something to come in a weather pattern fairly soon in the future.

I am located just across the South Canadian River South of Norman.

Thanks, Bob (Goldsby OK)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 7:25PM
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I would not worry about the ants. I don't know of any damage they could be doing unless something else is wrong.

If your pecans stay on the tree all the way until October and the shucks split normally but no pecans are left, then birds, squirrels, or other rodents are getting them before or just as they fall. Once October 10 (about) gets here, check the pecans every other day by squeezing them slightly to see if the shucks are splitting. This way you can get them immediately when they just start to split. This will only work for a small tree of course. Generally, keep an eye on the trees just after daybreak to see if something is getting them.

Native trees usually don't produce pecans for the first 15 years or so, so yours are making earlier than most at that size. Good for you!

For the little trees, the best two things you can do for them are to keep all vegetation at least 3 feet away from the trunk and keep this same area mulched with a few inches of something. I have used shredded or chipped bark, straw, and grass clippings successfully. Anything to keep the soil from drying and something that adds organic matter is even better. These two thing can double the tree growth even without doing anything else.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2008 at 3:56PM
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