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The information presented on this page was originally released on October 30, 1997. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Mississippi Proudly Claims First Pecans
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Hernando Desoto discovered pecans' wonderful taste in 1541 in what became Mississippi, and Jean Penicaut wrote about them in Natchez in 1704.
The most widely planted variety, the Stuart, originated here, as did Desirable, Success and Schley. Despite criticism over irregular crops and insect problems, the pecan is a survivor and worthy of a place in the landscape as a shade tree.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the 1997 Mississippi pecan crop to be 4 million pounds. This compares to 2.6 million pounds in 1996 and 2.2 million in 1995.
The USDA estimates a U.S. pecan harvest of 275 million pounds in 1997, compared to 221.5 million in 1996. Georgia is expected to have the largest crop at 90 million pounds, followed by Texas with 70 million and New Mexico with 40 million.
Despite an increased harvest this year, market demand looks good for growers as there is very little inventory in storage.
Whether you have a small grove or just one tree in the landscape, taking care of the nuts once they hit the ground is important. The quality of fallen fruit won't improve, so protecting the nuts produced is important.
Pecans last a long time, particularly when frozen, and can hold their freshness for up to two years. Store them shelled or unshelled in airtight containers in the freezer. This prevents them from absorbing other food odors.
Nuts in the shell retain quality longer than shelled pecans. Large pecan pieces or halves store longer than tiny pieces. Thaw the pecans before using them. If kept cold, your pecans will last for weeks after thawing and you can even refreeze them once or twice.
If you are not growing pecans, here are some tips on buying. To select the highest quality, nuts in the shell, choose those that are clean and free of splits, cracks, stains or holes. The kernel should not rattle in the shell.
When selecting shelled pecans, look for plump nutmeats fairly uniform in color and size. The best pecans have a golden-brown color. When roasted, they are great for snacks at football games or during the holidays.
If all this talk of pecans has you wanting to plant one or two, you are just a few months away from the best planting time. Most pecan trees show up at your garden center or nursery after Christmas. They have been field dug and are bare root.
Getting a bare-root pecan to grow is relatively easy. Before planting, prune off all broken or bruised roots with a sharp pair of pruning shears.
Cut the top of the tree by 50 percent. This is hard for some people to do because they believe they will have a larger tree quicker if they don't trim. Actually, there are not enough roots to support all the growth that will emerge from your bare-root tree. The tree will most likely die if you do not cut it back.
An equally important key is to dig the hole just wide and deep enough for the root system without bending the roots. Plant the tree at the same depth it grew in the nursery. Planting too deep causes the tree to die.
The tree will have to grow roots and live in the native soil where it is planted, so backfill the hole with the soil that was dug. Leave a small berm, or basin, to fill with water during the growing season.
For information on the best pecan varieties as well as cultivating tips, contact your local county extension agent.