Pecans are a favorite nut, both in mixed nuts and recipes such as pecan pie. The Choctaw papershell pecan tree is a hybrid that was developed in Texas in 1946. It is a good tree for residential yards because it is attractive, resistant to disease and produces a huge crop of delicious nuts. This tree produces its creamy colored nuts in the fall and is adapted especially well to the south-central United States. If you live in Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina or east Texas, and if you love pecans, this would be a good variety to consider purchasing and planting. Trees can grow to 30 feet in height, so if you are considering planting one, be sure you have sufficient space.
Texas is at the top of the list of pecan producing states and it is the state tree. Pecans are a native species found in the American south into northern Mexico and nowhere else in the world and were a staple food of many American Indian tribes. At times, this nut was the only food source the Indians had, sometimes subsisting on them for up to two months at a time. These indigenous people had many other uses for the pecan: they used it to season and thicken other foods and to aid in the fermentation of an alcoholic beverage. As early as the 1530s, Spanish explorers ate and enjoyed the pecan. Cabeza de Vaca called it a "wonder walnut." The name pecan was given to this nut in the 1700s. Today, all varieties of pecans are named after the tribes that relied on them for sustenance, but the Hopi, Sioux and Choctaw pecans have all been created through cross-breeding the native species.
How to Grow Choctaw Pecans
Because the Choctaw pecan is a grafted hybrid, you must purchase it at a nursery rather then attempting to plant nuts from an existing tree. December through March is the best time to plant a bare root pecan tree. In their native range, pecan trees favor the rich alluvial flood plains of rivers and streams. This gives an indication that they will thrive best in well-drained, nutrient rich soil. Before you plant a pecan tree, make sure the area you have chosen has three feet or more of soil above the water table because pecans do not survive when their roots are waterlogged. Also, plant your tree at least 30 feet from any buildings, other trees or utility lines. All pecan trees need small amounts of nitrogen-rich fertilizer that you apply on a periodic basis. Recommended fertilizers include ammonium sulfate (21-0-0) and ammonium nitrate (33-0-0). Do not fertilize after June because the rapid new growth this causes can make your tree subject to frost damage later in the year. Compost is also a beneficial nutrient you can spread around the tree's drip line. If you live along the gulf coast, the Choctaw pecan tree can be difficult to grow due to the humidity and fungal diseases that attack it. Although you rarely need to prune mature pecan trees, late winter is the best time to do so. However, you can prune at any time of year. Do not severely top this tree because this practice can possibly introduce insects and diseases. Be sure to apply a tree wound product over all cut areas to prevent the introduction of microorganisms that cause disease.
If pecan nuts form that are fuzzy with shriveled meat inside, it could be due to poor leaf management. If insufficient healthy leaves exist on a tree, this can result in a disappointing harvest in the fall. If your tree drops its leaves earlier than September, the cause could be a fungal disease called scab or downey spot. However, the Choctaw pecan has been bred for resistance to scab.
Some insects are known to attack pecan trees. These include aphids and mites, which cause it to drop its leaves before the end of summer when it normally should defoliate. Because of its large size, the pecan tree is difficult to spray. An insect called the twig girdler can cause much damage to pecan trees. To help control them, dispose of any twigs or branches that fall to the ground and prune out affected branches. Insecticides are sometimes needed to control the twig girdler insect. Buying a variety of pecan such as the Choctaw helps to prevent certain insects because it has been developed for its hardiness and resistance to them. Woodland creatures also like to eat pecans. Watch for and control squirrels, deer, wild turkeys, raccoons, crows and many other types of wildlife.
Hints and Tips
Fall is the best time to purchase pecans for consumption. To keep pecans as fresh as possible, store them in a freezer until you're ready to make that Christmas pecan pie. If you buy pecans that remain in their shells, they will stay fresh for a longer time than if you buy them already shelled. Pecans are a nutritious food source—they give us protein, phosphorus and thiamine, iron, vitamin A, potassium and niacin. Think about giving them to children as snacks for the crunch they usually associate with potato chips and other less healthful foods.