Recently, I’ve been getting calls and emails about people wanting to buy an orchard or develop native/seedling trees into a marketable crop. Just when i think I’ve seen it all, somebody calls and they have a completely different problem or question. Planting and harvesting pecans is a passion of mine, so helping you is an extension of that passion. So for the prospective pecan grower these are my recommendations for criteria that you need to look for in regards to finding the best pecan site to develop into an orchard.
First off, pecans love deep, well-drained soil. Pecans have a very large and extensive root system. Their roots often extend twice the diameter of the drip line of the tree. Pecans also have a strong tap root to give the tree support. Many people say that the reason a pecan tree does so well is because of the tap root. In actuality, the truth is the most important roots of the tree are in the top three feet of soil. These feeder roots give the tree the water and nutrients that they need to survive. If a grower is to effectively grow a crop, then the top of the soil must be managed well. In Texas, it is not uncommon to have 30 feet of rich fertile top soil in a river bottom setting.
Soil structure for your pecan site is important. If water stands on the property, be leery of it because the culprit could be too much clay. Clay does not let the moisture from rainfall or irrigation permeate the soil profile. On the other hand, sand could also pose problems. Sand is very porous and does not have much water-holding capacity. There are many pecan orchards planted in Texas and the United States with soil that is either predominantly clay or sand.
Since you are at the beginning stages of your orchard development I highly recommend that you select a pecan site with an ideal soil structure. The optimum soil for growing pecans are a combination of both clay and sand, or what is referred to as a loamy soil. Loamy soils have the water-holding capacity similar to clay, but also have enough sand to make them well drained. This type of soil is also great at allowing air to circulate below the surface. Air is a critical component of soil structure, which makes loamy soil ideal for pecan production. The bottom line is that before you plant your orchard or before you purchase an existing orchard make sure that you take soil samples.
As a general rule of thumb in Texas, if a healthy native pecan grove is on the property, similar soils would be suitable for pecan production.