I want some pecans to eat. Can’t I just plant a pecan?
Sure you can. Just be aware there are multiple factors in play.
Proper stratification is the first factor to consider. In the wild, pecans fall from a tree and lie on the ground; the ones that aren’t eaten by wildlife get a chance to grow in the spring as long as they don’t completely dry out (kept moist, but not drowned), which requires at least shallow burying, and go through a period of cold. This whole process is stratification, so if you’re producing your own, the same conditions should be mimicked. Germination rates without good stratification range from 20 to 50% success rate, depending on variety; so, you may or may not get a tree at all.
Next, is a question that even if answered won’t tell you what kind of pecan your tree will eventually produce…who’s the daddy?
Pecans are dichogamus; the simplest way to understand it is this: type 1 sheds pollen first, type 2 is receptive to pollen first; then they switch, and type 1 is receptive to pollen and type 2 is shedding. There is no flower on pecan trees with nectar, so bees are no help in pollination—it’s all wind-driven. It’s very unlikely that pollen hangs around from the shed time until the tree switches over to reception time—so for a tree to bear nuts, the pollen has to come from somewhere, and some sources will tell you that pollen can travel over 2 miles in the right conditions.
What does that mean and why does it matter? For the seed (pecan) you’re planting, you know the mother (tree it came from), but like the offspring from the dog that escapes your yard while it’s in heat and stays gone for a suspicious amount of time—you don’t know what you’re going to get at ‘harvest’ time.
Seedlings, any ungrafted pecan tree, have nut sizes that can vary widely from as big as a thumbnail to up to an inch or two, but until the tree starts producing nuts (usually 10-12 years), you won’t know.
All of the above is why nurseries graft trees; grafting is a method of clonal propagation. Buds are cut from a known, producing variety with desirous traits; then it’s joined onto pecan rootstock (seedling trees) and grown out. The result is a tree that will produce the same nuts as the tree that the bud was cut from—and, it will start producing nuts within two years (some precocious varieties have nuts on them the same year they are grafted).
Please keep in mind, the number of nuts produced is very low (one or two), until the tree is planted and grows quite a bit bigger (six to seven years), but since you’re using buds from a tree that’s already mature enough to produce nuts, it ‘fools’ the tree into thinking it’s older than when grown from seed.So, the answer to question we started with is…”Yes, you can. But you have a much higher chance of success, and will be much happier with the results if you start with a grafted tree.”