When new customers call to talk about starting an orchard, they typically think as long as they fertilize their orchard, they will grow high quality pecans. Most are surprised to find that we tell them water, not fertilizer, is the number one ingredient to growing pecans.
We encourage customers, wherever possible, to make every effort to install irrigation to ensure trees receive adequate water throughout the season. Even in our own orchards where we have non-irrigated sections and irrigated sections, there is a distinct difference each year in not just the crop yield but also the quality of the meat.
Field work in Georgia has shown that up to 3,600 gallons per day per acre for mature trees (at 12 trees to the acre) during August and September make a significant impact in increased pecan yield at harvest. Pecan trees need water not just during the late summer and early fall but throughout the growing season.
Pecan trees take up most of their water from the top 32 inches of the soil. Studies have found that stress on trees typically correlates to soil moisture. The more soil moisture in that upper 32 inches the less stress on the tree. Even though pecans trees have deep roots, the water below that level is not useful for fruit production. It merely acts as survival water for the tree itself.
Non-bearing (young) trees need water too – about 100 gallons per week per acre. The young trees should be mulched to keep soil moisture and, as an added benefit, eliminate weeds. Irrigating young trees helps grow the trees larger at a faster rate which in turn leads to increased production at an earlier date.
But what about rainfall, you say? From April through July, the trees need one inch of rainfall every three days. During August and September, that number increases to two inches of rainfall every three days. Pecans can require as much as 60 inches of total water (rainfall and irrigation) during the growing season to grow high quality nuts.
Do you put in irrigation first or after planting the trees? We have done both and have found, for us, it is easier to put irrigation in immediately after planting the trees.
Solid-set sprinklers, spray stakes, soakers, drip, micro irrigation, well water, pond irrigation – the terms and choices can be overwhelming. Don’t know how to get started? Come to a MS Pecan Growers Field Day where the group talks about best practices in pecan growing and you can usually find your answer. MS Pecan Growers can be found on the web at MSPECANS.ORG.
When you pick up your trees at our nursery, ask to look at our irrigation system and what we have found that works for our orchards. We can point you in the right direction to get you started growing high quality pecans with increased pecan yields.