Pecans' delicious, buttery taste allows us to delight in a sweet and savory flavor in cakes, fudge, candies, salads and, of course, pecan pie.
Whether you eat your pecans alone, in a dish or as a decorative and tasty garnish, pecans are a healthy snack that many people enjoy. Packed full of nutrients and flavor, pecans are delicious to eat and great for your body.
So, where do pecans come from, how are they grown and, most importantly, where can you find those delectable treats?
Where Do Pecans Grow?
Native Americans were the first people to utilize pecans. Pecans come from North America and are the only native tree nut located there. Their origins trace back to the 1500s, when they were valued because they were easier to crack open than other nuts while still having a delicious flavor. They were a reliable food source that was easily accessible and packed full of nutrition. Native peoples even used pecans as currency at one point.
Colonists soon began to cultivate pecan orchards. In 1772, a pecan orchard was planted in North America for the first time in Long Island, New York. Their popularity grew, and the nut found itself growing in land owned by the likes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.
The United States produces most of the world's pecans, but Mexico and South Africa also lead in production globally. Small amounts of pecans are also grown in Australia, China, Argentina and a few other countries.
How Are Pecans Grown?
If you're wondering how pecans are grown, you're not the only one. Pecan trees take a while before they produce any nuts. They can grow quite tall and spread up to 70 feet across.
Pecans can be grown in orchards, but they also grow naturally in groves. Although it can take up to 5-8 years for a pecan tree to produce, once it starts, it keeps producing, sometimes for over 100 years.
Where Do Pecan Trees Grow Best?
Planting a pecan orchard is no easy feat. The process starts with soil with a sandy, loam texture and a clay subsoil. The soil has to be able to hold an ample amount of water while also being deep and well-drained. Typically, the land should be level, but gentle slopes can work just as well.
After finding the right soil, the land has to be clear of all trees and brush, and planters have to plan carefully to ensure the orchard will grow in a thought-out design such as triangle, rectangle or square, which is the most common. Square orchards provide straight rows that help when it comes to orchard operation.
When it comes to planting, bare-root planting is the most common method, although some choose to plant container-grown transplants.
Planting Bare Root Trees
After the plants arrive, they can be stored for a few days before planting as long as they are watered regularly.
Once they're ready to be planted, the process begins:
- Deep holes: Planters must also ensure there's enough room for the root system, so they dig holes deep enough to accommodate it.
- Planting: The color change in the tree bark typically signifies how deep workers should plant the trees, ensuring they don't die from a lack of oxygen.
- Pruning: Pecan trees grow best when workers cut the root to 18-24 inches and prune off any lateral branches. Pruning the tops of the trees helps to make up for the roots that are lost when the trees are dug up.
- Watering: After the tree is situated, planters can fill the hole about a quarter full with water before filling it with dirt, leaving it unpacked and level.
- Protection: Pecan trees need to be protected, especially during the first three years of life. Damage from the cold, wildlife and insects can be detrimental.
It's not always safe planting when it comes to pecan orchards. Weevils and other small insects threaten pecans and can cause the nuts to drop prematurely. In commercial orchards, a fungal disease called pecan scab is especially common. Growers can use a fungicide spray to fight this or plant pecan varieties resistant to pecan scab.
How Are Pecans Harvested?
Typically, pecans are harvested in September or October in the eastern U.S. Western states can harvest later, sometimes even as late as March in places like Arizona.
It's common for a pecan tree to produce many nuts one season and fewer during the next. Once pecans start to fall from their trees, planters can determine if they're ready to be harvested.
When it comes to pecans, the husk says it all. Mature pecans will have intact shells and are pale brown. A black husk is typically a sign that the pecan is rotten, and a green husk that is hard to crack often means the nut is not mature.
If the nuts are ready, shaking the tree with a machine can help it to drop more nuts. Farmers then use machines to pick up all the nuts from the ground, and workers clean them until just the mature pecans remain.
Before storing the nuts, workers must dry them and remove the hulls. In dry, cool areas, pecans can last for several months in air-tight containers. When kept in a freezer, pecans can last for two years or more.
Where Do Most Pecans Come From?
Many people have used and enjoyed pecans throughout their history, and their popularity continues to grow.
Now, we can find pecans thriving in many locations worldwide, including the U.S., which is the leading producer. Currently, 15 states grow pecans commercially:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Historically, Georgia is the leading producer of pecans, usually producing about 33% of pecans in the U.S.
The U.S. alone can produce up to 300 million pounds of pecans. Of those harvested in America, Georgia harvests over 100 million pounds of pecans.
Shop All Things Pecans
Pecans have an exciting history and require much attention and care to thrive. Lane Southern Orchards started in 1908 and has continued to grow pecans and other local produce for over 100 years. We know a thing or two about those nuts you love so much. We have 6,000 acres of orchards dedicated to the tasty treat and use them to make candies, oils and samplers.
At Lane Southern Orchards, we have something for everyone. If you're a pecan lover, or you know someone who is, shop all things pecans from people who grow them!