Designing A Pecan Orchard: Tips and Techniques

Designing a pecan orchard is an exciting endeavor that requires careful planning and consideration. Whether you are a seasoned farmer or a beginner with a green thumb, selecting the right orchard design is crucial for the success of your pecan trees. In this article, we will explore four popular orchard designs and discuss important factors to keep in mind when designing your own pecan orchard.

The Square System: A Classic Planting Method

The square system is perhaps the most widely used method for planting pecan trees. In this design, a tree is planted in each corner of a square, with a constant distance between trees in each row. The typical distance between trees is 30′ x 30′. As the trees start to crowd, alternate rows can be removed, resulting in a rectangular spacing of 30′ x 60′. This design offers simplicity and ease of management.

The Quincunx System: Maximizing Space and Productivity

The quincunx system is a variation of the square system that introduces a filler tree in the middle of each square. This design allows for increased tree density without excessive crowding. If the permanent trees are spaced 30 feet apart, the filler tree should be placed at a distance of 21.2 feet from each permanent tree. The filler trees can be early-bearing and productive varieties or pollinator trees for the permanent varieties. As the orchard matures, alternate rows can be removed to manage overcrowding effectively.

The Rectangle System: A Less Common Approach

The rectangle system is not as popular in New Mexico as the other designs discussed. The goal of this design is to achieve a final density of 24 trees per acre. Temporary trees are initially planted at 30′ x 15′ spacing and removed as they start to crowd. When trees from alternate rows are removed, the final tree spacing becomes 30′ x 30′. Additional thinning can be performed later when the remaining trees begin to crowd further. Removing every other tree in every row results in a spacing of 41.5′ x 41.5′.

The Triangle System: Maximum Utilization of Space

The triangle or hexagon system allows for approximately 15% more trees per acre, maximizing the use of orchard space. In this design, all trees are equidistant from each other. Although not commonly used in New Mexico, this system offers high tree density. However, it is challenging to lay out and may not be well adapted for fillers or temporary trees, as optimal distances between trees are compromised when removing every other row.

Pecan Orchard Design Systems

Orchard Density and Thinning

When designing a pecan orchard, it is essential to consider the orchard density and the ability to thin the trees while maintaining a uniform distance throughout the orchard. Orchard density refers to the number of trees per acre and directly impacts tree health, fruit production, and long-term orchard management.

  • Ultra: 15 x 30 spacing, 96 trees/acre
  • Standard: 30 x 30 spacing, 48 trees/acre
  • Thinned: 42 x 42 spacing, 24 trees/acre

Extra-high-density planting is becoming increasingly popular. Planting precocious varieties in rows as temporary trees can boost orchard production during the early years. When trees start to crowd, every other row is eliminated, transitioning from 15′ x 30′ spacing to 30′ x 30′. The removed trees can be transplanted to establish a new orchard. Further thinning involves removing every other tree in every row, resulting in a final spacing of approximately 42′ x 42′.

Another strategy is to plant only permanent tree varieties and transplant trees from alternate rows when overcrowding occurs (typically after 8 to 12 years). With proper care, transplanted trees will regain full production within around four years. Orchard thinning can be repeated when trees start to crowd again and production begins to decline, noticeable by lower limb dieback due to shading.

Designing a pecan orchard requires thoughtful consideration of various factors, including orchard layout, tree density, and thinning practices. By selecting the right orchard design and implementing proper management techniques, you can create a thriving pecan orchard that will yield bountiful harvests for years to come.

To learn more about pecan orchard design and find additional resources for your business, home, or family, visit the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at pubs.nmsu.edu.