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It's Time to Consider Fertilizing Pecans

Posted Mar. 11, 2007

Native pecan production in Oklahoma and north Texas is often considered a "Christmas bonus." If folks are fortunate enough to make a crop, it's great, but not something they have much control over. This mind-set is most prevalent in native pecan groves where cattle production is the emphasis. There are many producers who diligently manage their native groves, and these are the ones most often able to produce a crop.

Providing proper soil fertility is the first step and one of the few we can control to produce a pecan crop. Pecan fertilizer management, particularly timing, is a subject of much debate, and consistent recommendations are difficult to come by. Forage grasses in the grove that have different nutrient needs than pecans further complicate the issue. These forages are often more efficient than pecans in using the available nutrients.

Pecan leaf sampling and soil sample analyses are the most useful management tools for developing a fertilizer program. Leaf sampling is the preferred method for determining the nutrient needs of pecans. The soil test is used to determine the soil pH, buffer index, residual nitrogen, phosphorus index and potassium index for the forage. The soil test results serve a dual purpose by providing a starting point for pecan fertility and annual recommendations for forage production.

While we normally use yield goals to recommend nitrogen rates in most crops, pecan nitrogen rates are based on the leaf analysis from samples collected the previous July. Put it on your calendar today to collect these samples the week of July 15. In the absence of this leaf analysis, rates can be based on tree size, age or a predetermined standard. Depending on the information source, the standard amount can be from 60 to 150 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre. The nitrogen needs of the pecans are in addition to that required for the forage yield goal.

Most producers, as well as researchers, have their own theories about the number and timing of nitrogen applications that produce the best yields. We know that pecans have at least two critical times when adequate nitrogen needs to be available. First, during the early part of the season for foliage production and nut set, then later in the season for kernel filling and food storage. I normally recommend using a split application approach. Apply 50 percent to 75 percent of the total nitrogen recommendation for the pecans in late February to early March or, at the latest, during the bud break stage. This provides adequate nitrogen to stimulate early foliage growth, catkin (flower structures) development and nut set. This application is early enough to give the pecans access to the nitrogen before warm-season grasses germinate or break dormancy. Apply the second application in May or early June to provide adequate nitrogen for kernel filling and food storage. This second application should include the remaining 25 percent to 50 percent of the pecan nitrogen recommendation plus the nitrogen needed to obtain the warm-season forage yield goal. In the event of a crop failure, withholding the remaining pecan nitrogen recommendation is an option to reduce costs.

Soil fertility is only the first step toward producing a native pecan crop. Other factors that must be considered include tree spacing, weed and pest control, grove sanitation and livestock management, to name a few. This article is not meant to imply that native pecan production will be a significant source of annual income. With good management, however, you have a much better chance of earning that "Christmas bonus."