Fertilizing Pecan Trees          Applying Zinc To Pecan Trees       Watering Pecan Trees

I hope you have already read our section on watering pecan trees.  If not, there is a link above to take you there.  Watering and fertilizing pecan trees go hand in hand, and utilizing sufficient quantities of either offsets the need to over-apply the other.  This knowledge offers you the opportunity to make some decisions that might make the difference in making a profit or going 'in the hole' from year to year.  Before we continue, I insist you read the section on Zinc application just as soon as you've finished this page.  Next to watering your pecan trees, there is not a more important chore than applying zinc to your pecan trees...even more important than applying fertilizer!
I've not typically been an advocate of over-fertilization throughout the years,  basing my beliefs that the world's greenery survived for millions of years prior to the introduction of fertilizers, and did quite well without them.  However, fertilizer does have it's place in pecan production.  I'm going to start by taking a look at the lawn, yes sir, the front yard.  For years and years, I was adamant that my lawn did not need commercial fertilizer, and on a DAILY basis throughout each summer, I drug a sprinkler around the yard to keep it green.  One spring my wife brought home a bag of lawn fertilizer and a spreader and told me to fertilize the grass.  (That's how it works, isn't it.)  Throughout that summer I found there was little need to water more than once a week, and as a matter of fact, there was little time to water between the bi-weekly mowing chores of our lush green lawn.  I now fertilize our lawn yearly. 
The same is very true when applying fertilizer to your pecan trees, whether it be a single tree in your back yard, or an entire orchard of pecan trees.  Yearly application improves both the amount of pecans your tree produces and the size of the nuts.  However, if you're a business-minded person, the economics of the process must be taken into account.  The 'experts' (nut gurus) that study the art of pecan tree production recommend we apply un-imaginable amounts of fertilizer to our trees.  We must keep in mind that while they are conducting their research, making a profit from their pecan crop is the last thing on their mind.  I have read research articles that recommend anywhere between forty and sixty pounds of fertilizer PER TREE.  While this may be optimal, it certainly is not in our best financial interest, especially if we have an entire pecan orchard to fertilize.  It has been my experience in the past that supplying ample water to your trees can, to an extent, make up the difference in applying meager amounts of fertilizer.  Where we live, the cost of watering is by far less than the cost of fertilizing.
The pecan trees in our orchard are approximately twenty years old, and stand between twenty and thirty feet tall.  I plan to apply twenty pounds of fertilizer to each tree this spring, a third of the amount the 'nut gurus' recommend.  To compensate for the 'under-fertilization,' I will water, water, water.  In the past, this process has resulted in ample crops of pecans, and we have been able to make a profit on our operation each and every year.

What pecan fertilizer to use and how to apply it.
When you research the 'kind of fertilizer' to apply to your trees, you find 10-10-10 or 13-13-13 is the suggested fertilizer.  I'm like you, that doesn't help me a bit in knowing what I'm suppose to put under my trees.  What you need to know is that pecan trees require NITROGEN to produce their nuts.  Finding the right pecan fertilizer is as simple as running down to your local Farmer's Co-op or other fertilizer dealer, and telling them you want AMMONIUM SULFATE, which is typically accepted as a suitable pecan tree fertilizer.   I have purchased bags of Ammonium Sulfate at home and garden centers (Lowes, Home Depot, etc.) but find it to be a lower grade which tends to clump and does not dissolve as it should.)  While there are other specially formulated fertilizers available, again, you are looking to make a profit, or at least keep expenses to a minimum.  Ammonium Sulfate is available either by the bag or in bulk, which is less expensive.  If you decide to purchase your fertilizer in bulk, you need to have a method of transporting it to your trees, as well as a method of applying it to your orchard.  Fertilizer facilities typically have commercial spreaders available for lease ( or they may let you borrow one if they value your business.)  This solves the transport and application problem.  Before you decide on this solution keep in mind that using a commercial broadcast spreader will prevent you from being selective in exactly what you will fertilize.  If you orchard consists of young trees, you will fertilize large areas of land  between your rows, great for the weeds, not so great for your trees and your pocket book.  If you have young trees, you can always dig the lawn spreader out of the shed and simply broadcast fertilizer beneath you tree canopy.  This puts the fertilizer exactly where it will benefit the tree.  In the early years, when our orchard was young, I applied fertilizer using a coffee can.  It works just fine on young trees.
When to fertilize
Again,the 'nut gurus' tell us to make our first application in mid-February.  Hummm.  Your pecan trees will not burst into spring bloom until... April?  Keep in mind that the fertilizer you apply to your topsoil will work its way deep into the soil, beyond the reach of your pecan trees' feeder roots.  If you apply fertilizer before the feeder roots have awakened from their winter hibernation, AND then receive a substantial rainfall that leaches your fertilizer deep into the soil, you have wasted your fertilizer and your money.  We always plan our first application for somewhere towards the end of March.  We purchase our fertilizer, then wait for the weatherman to give us a substantial promise of rain.  Our goal is to apply fertilizer just prior to a spring rain (not a promised four-inch downpour, just a nice spring shower.)  A second fertilizer application should be planned for mid-May.  To be sure we're clear on this, if we decide to apply twenty pounds of fertilizer per tree, we will apply ten pounds at the end of March and another ten pounds at mid-May.  I do not recommend fertilizer application past May.  The chance of it causing damage at this late date outweighs the benefits of the nutrients it provides.   Keep in mind-this is typical for West Texas pecan production.  These timeframes may or may not apply for wherever you are located.
Pre-fertilizing preparations and post-fertilization maintainence
To get the 'most bang for your buck,' we suggest you plan your fertilizer application to maximize effectiveness.  Just prior to the application, I recommend you water your trees deeply.  The purpose is to provide them an ample supply of water to maintain their needs for a few weeks..  Once you apply fertilizer, water only lightly to dissolve the fertllizer into the soil (thus the spring shower we try to plan around.)  For the next two to three weeks, maintain a light watering schedule to prevent your fertilizer from leaching beyond the reach of the trees' feeder roots, and to allow the roots to absorb as much of the nitrogen as possible.  Beyond the three week timeframe, it will be necessary to resume a regular watering schedule to supply the needed moisture to your tree.  Fertilizer application will not only encourage your pecan trees to grow, but will spur weed growth beneath your trees.  This is where orchard floor maintenance becomes an important part of your program.  Be sure to visit our section on maintaining your orchard 'floor' for specifics and it's importance.
I firmly believe that pecan tree fertilization is indeed a necessary part of your orchard maintenance.  It will result in satisfactory tree growth, a larger crop of pecans, and larger pecans.  However, it is possible to 'cut corners' in fertilizer application if the need arises.  Make a determination what your budget will stand and still provide you with an exceptable profit.  If you can afford to apply sixty pounds of fertilizer to your mature pecan trees, then do it.  However, if you are going to have to skip a mortgage payment in order to fertilize your orchard, you may be better off cutting back on your fertilizing procedures.   It is my opinion that under-fertilizing is the lesser of the evils when it comes doing whatever it takes to make your pecan orchard profitable.
Equipment for fertilizing pecan trees can range from using a coffee can to a commercial broadcast spreader