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Pecans and Hickory: Designing with this plant




  • DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
    USDA Hardiness Zone:

    • Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) – Zone 6-9
    • Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa) – Zone 6
    • Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) – Zone 4-7
    • Hican (Carya x hybrids) – Zone 5


    AHS Heat Zone:

     
    • Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) – Zone 9-1
    • Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa) – Zone 8-1
    • Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) – Zone 8-1


    Chill Requirement: 650-1,550 hours/units depending on the species/variety.


    Plant Type: Large to very-large Trees
    Leaf Type: Deciduous
    Forest Garden Use: Canopy Layer
    Cultivars/Varieties: A few very worthwhile species. There are quite a few cultivars and hybrids available.

    Pollination: Self-Sterile (although a few varieties are self-fertile). Requires cross-pollination by other cultivars for the nuts to be produced. Pollinated by the wind. Trees can be pollinated by the wind carrying pollen from other trees up to 10 miles away!
    Flowering: Late Spring to Early Summer.

    Life Span:
    Years to Begin Bearing: 3-10 years for Pecans (sooner in the south); 40 years for wild Hickories (only 3-7 years if the tree was grafted)
    Years Between Major Cropping: 1-2 years
    Years of Useful Life: minimim of 100 years, but most will be productive for at least 200 years. It is not uncommon for trees over 400 years old to still produce large yields.

    Shagbark Hickory Nuts
     
    How the Shagbark Hickory got its name…
     

    PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
    Size:

    • Pecan (Carya illinoinensis) – 75-120 feet (22-36 meters) tall and wide
    • Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa) – 70-85 feet (21-25 meters) tall and 30-50 feet (9-15 meters) wide
    • Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) – 70-85 feet (21-25 meters) tall and 30-50 feet (9-15 meters) wide
    • Hican (Carya x hybrids) – 75 feet (22 meters) tall and 50 feet (15 meters) wide


    Roots: Single, large taproot
    Growth Rate: Slow. Some improved varieties grow at a bit faster rate than the wild species.

     
    Shellbark Hickory (Carya laciniosa)
    Check out this site for a great photo resource on Carya species: 
     

    GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
    Light: Full sun
    Shade: Some species tolerate light shade; the Shagbark Hickory (C. ovata) can tolerate a bit more shade than the other species. The Pecan (C. illinoinensis) doesn’t like any shade.
    Moisture: Medium soil moisture preferred. The Shellbark Hickory (C. laciniosa) can tolerate more wet soils. The Shagbark Hickory (C. ovata) can tolerate some fairly dry periods and doesn’t like wet soils or flooding.
    pH: most species prefer fairly neutral to alkaline soil (6.5-8.0)

    Special Considerations for Growing:

    • Almost all of these trees are slow growing during their first few years.
    • Most species/varieties require a hot summer to thrive.
    • All species tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut and its close relatives… Pecans and Hickories are more distant relatives of the Walnut). Consider using this tree as a buffer between your walnuts and other plantings.


    Propagation:
    From seed – needs at least 3 months cold stratification to germinate. If starting from seed, make sure to use deep pots to give room for the taproot. Get the seedlings into their permanent spots as soon as possible to avoid damaging or stunting that taproot. Ideally, if you can protect the seeds from mice, the seeds would be planted where you want the trees to grow. Named varieties are available from grafting.

    Maintenance:
    Very little. Once established, almost none.

    Concerns:
    Truly none. However, I have my own personal concerns about the grafted varieties. The majority of Pecans are grafted onto only a few rootstocks. Granted, these rootstocks are very hardy and resistant to many diseases, but I don’t like the idea of putting all my eggs in one basket. What if a disease came along that knocked out those few rootstocks? It is highly unlikely, but what if? My goal with my (future) forest garden is not to be a commercial producer of one thing (in this case, Pecans or Hickory Nuts). My goal is to create a bountiful and resiliant ecosystem. So what will that mean in practice? Well, I will certainly have a number of named varieties of Pecans on the standard rootstocks, but I will also likely grow some of my own trees from seed. This may delay the onset of nut production for many years, but I think it is a great legacy to leave. To know I planted something that my children and grandchildren will enjoy, even when I did not, sounds pretty great to me.

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