Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

How can I start a pecan tree?

Because of cold winters, late spring frosts, hot, dry summers, and a shorter growing season, Southern pecans are difficult to grow in Missouri except in the southeastern part of the state. To succeed with pecans, select cultivars that are grafted onto hardy, northern grown rootstock. The nut size of Northern cultivars is about half the size of the southern pecan, but the flavor is nonetheless outstanding. Recommended varieties for the St. Louis area include Colby, Major, Hardy Giant, Posey, Peruque and Giles. For the extreme southeast part of the state, Stuart and Desirable may be planted. Most pecans are not self pollinating, though Major is partially self-fertile and can produce some nuts in the absence of another tree.

Plant at least two different varieties which flower at the same time to assure pollination. Colby is best pollinated by Major, Peruque or Hardy Giant. Major and Hardy Giant are best pollinated by Colby. Posey is best pollinated by Giles, Major, Peruque or Hardy Giant. Peruque is best pollinated by Colby, Giles or Major, and Giles is best pollinated by Major and Peruque.

Pecans usually require a minimum of five or six years before nuts are produced. They grow best in deep, rich, bottomland soils with high organic content, but adapt well to a wide range of soil types, including clay. Select a location that receives full sun and has good soil drainage. Avoid low areas which are prone to late spring frosts, as well as those that are excessively windy. The presence of a nearby windbreak is a plus for young trees.

A healthy pecan can eventually become massive. Trees should be spaced at least 20 to 40 feet apart at planting to accommodate their eventual mature spread.

Pecans are generally free of pest problems in most years, but several factors may effect nut quality and bearing. Trees growing on alkaline soils may develop nutrient deficiencies, and low soil fertility and summer drought may also effect nut development. Fungal leaf spots, scab, and powdery mildews can cause premature defoliation. There are a host of leaf-eating caterpillars, and casebearers, weevils and shuckworms that feed on the nuts. For home gardeners, the first line of defense against these pests is good sanitation. Rake up and destroy all infested plant debris each fall to prevent overwintering pests. During the growing season, remove and destroy any nuts that fall prematurely as these usually have worms in them.