Planting Guide

Site Selection

Select the best site to establish an orchard to give this long-term investment the best possible chance of success. More orchards fail due to poor site selection than for any other reason.

Site selection includes the following:

  • Climate and microclimate.
  • Soil type, soil depth, water holding capacity and fertility.
  • Water availability


Pecan trees require sufficient sun exposure. The more sunshine days available in a year the more the trees will benefit. Acacia trees are a good indicator of sufficient heat units. A Pecan needs a frost-free growing season of at least 210 days but preferably between 240 to 300 days. During this period, it should build up in excess of 2500 heat units above 10 ̊C between October and April. Heat units in excess of 2700 in this period is preferable. Historically prime production areas have the following growing season days: Hopetown 263; Prieska 273; Boegoeberg 330; Upington 308.

Recommended chill units for pecan trees are between 250 and 400 hours below 8 ̊C, for maximum production, depending on the cultivar.

Soil Type

A deep well drained sandy loam soil is ideal. Pecan trees do well in alluvial soil on river banks and in the deep red Kalahari sand, found in many of our Western irrigation schemes. Heavy clay soils or soils that are brackish and not well drained, present more challenges to Pecan production. Calcareous soils are more difficult to manage, due to Zinc being tied up by the Calcium in the soil. Regular Zinc foliar applications is successful in addressing this challenge.


Pecans need a good supply of high-quality water. Ensure that a strong water source is available to sustain the trees at a mature age. Depending on the microclimate, tree size and irrigation system, 1000 mm to 1500 mm is required per ha per year for mature trees.

Soil Preparation

Soil preparation is a long-term investment and is crucial to the economic success of an orchard. Ensure that layered soil, like many of the alluvial soils along the river beds are properly mixed before planting. A TLB or excavator can be used to dig planting holes of about 1,8m – 2m deep and 1m – 1.5 m wide, this soil is mixed before backfilling to get uniform soils, for good water and root penetration. Additives for soil correction can be incorporated into the big planting holes as required.

Ripping of the subsoil with a bulldozer will break a hard pan in the soil, but will not mix any sand and clay layers.

Before planting, soils should be recompacted lightly, by means of irrigation, to prevent newly planted trees from ending up skew or too deep in the planting holes.

Planting Young Pecan Trees

The most important factor in establishing young pecan trees, is to ensure that the roots do not dry out in the planting process. Side roots can be trimmed to stimulate new growth. The taproot can be cut back slightly. Planting the tree to the right planting depth is very important, that is why the nursery gives the tree a white paint ring on the original soil level. Planting too deep can be just as fatal as planting too shallow. If the crown of the root is exposed to the sun, above the soil level, the tree will die. If the tree is planted to deep, the upper side roots will fail to anchor the tree properly and the entire tree may be blown over in a strong wind after a couple of years. There should be good contact between roots and the soil. Loose clumps of soil in the planting hole may result in poor root contact and roots drying out. It is recommended that water should be used in the planting hole. For the best results, trees should be planted as soon as possible after leaving the nursery and soil moisture must be managed carefully.

Cultivar Selection

The most successful Protogynous cultivars in the Western growing region, where scab does not present a challenge, is Wichita and Choctaw. They shed pollen after their female flowers have become receptive.

They need to be used in combination with pollinators in a ratio of approximately 10% to 20 % pollinators (The Americans feel that 20 % is required). The distance between pollinator rows should be limited to 50 m to 60 m according to American researchers. Most commonly used protandrous pollinators in the North West are: Navaho, Western Schley and Pawnee. Because of different chilling requirements and changing climate between seasons, the cultivars do not flower in exactly the same sequence every year, it is therefore preferable to use more than one pollinator.

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