Pecan Nut Development
By understanding the phases a pecan nut goes through to mature, you’ll recognize harvest time no matter where your trees are growing in USDA plant hardiness zones 5 through 9. In most years, it will arrive sometime between late September and late November.
The first phase of nut development lasts from the time female pecan flowers are pollinated until the resulting nuts’ shells have hardened. Pollination typically occurs by mid-spring, with shell hardening completed by late summer. The nuts will reach their full size, although their kernels (nutmeats) are just beginning to form.
Factors affecting nut size include:
- Tree age. Young trees typically produce larger nuts than older ones.
- Soil. Pecan trees growing in well fertilized and watered soil produce the largest nuts.
- The nuts’ canopy location. The smallest ones usually come from the lowest branches.
- Harvest size. The fewer nuts a tree produces, the bigger they’re likely to be.
During Phase II, the nut kernels expand and ripen inside their shells. The green husks covering the shells gradually brown and dry out. At the end of this phase, the husks split along four seams, releasing the mature nuts to fall to the ground.
What to Do When Your Pecans Start Dropping
After you’ve spotted nuts on the ground around your trees, speed the harvest along by shaking the branches within reach with a long pole. For easier collection, spread tarps beneath smaller trees before starting. And for safety’s sake, wear protective headgear.
Expert gardener’s tip: Once they start, the nuts continue falling at their own pace. Pick them up them several times daily, or the wildlife will enjoy the bulk of your crop. Prompt retrieval also keeps them from going rancid if they land on wet ground.
How to Dry Your Harvest
You need to dry the pecans before using or storing them. Remove any husk remnants and spread the nuts in a single layer on a clean, flat surface. Stir them daily for even air circulation.
After 48 hours try cracking a few. If their shells snap without resistance, the pecans are dry. Refrigerate them in their shells for up to one year or freeze them for up to two.