Back to February 2021

New Pecan Varieties to Consider When Planting

Here are some new cultivars to think about when answering the question "What variety should I plant?"

A comparison of a new pecan cultivar 'Zinner' to older varieties 'Desirable' and 'Stuart.' Each cultivar is laid out in a row that shows the nut inshell, halves, and top view of a kernel.

(Photo by Patrick Conner, UGA)

The age-old question for pecan growers is “What variety should I plant?”

We have a lot of options in the Southeast. And truthfully, there is no single answer out there that will be suitable for everyone. Every cultivar has its good and bad points. The real question you need to ask yourself is “What am I looking for in a cultivar?” Are you looking for disease resistance? Volume? Quality? Size? Precocity? Early harvest date? Increasingly, growers need to consider how well the cultivar shells out into complete halves.

With this in mind, I want to share what we know about a couple of relatively new cultivars. ‘Zinner’ and ‘Avalon’ are not brand new but they are new enough that unless you are from Georgia and maybe Alabama, you probably haven’t heard many details about these cultivars.

‘Zinner’ is a seedling selection from Alabama. We have been evaluating ‘Zinner’ at the University of Georgia since it bore its first crop in 2005. It seems similar to ‘Desirable’ in regard to precocity; however, in years 8 to 10, the yields for ‘Zinner’ improve quickly. We averaged 33 pounds per tree as compared to 25 for ‘Desirable’ and 32 for ‘Sumner’ over the first 15 years. Excellent nut quality and consistent production are distinct advantages for ‘Zinner.’

A cluster of 'Zinner' pecans has developed three nuts. The shucks are still closed tight.

‘Zinner’ cultivars generally average about 2.5 nuts per cluster. (Photo by Patrick Conner, UGA)

‘Zinner’ has averaged 56 percent kernel and 48 nuts per pound. This makes it an excellent nut for both the domestic shelling and export markets. While nut size is 48 nuts per pound, the nut is not quite as round as ‘Stuart’ so you end up with most of the nuts grading out 15. It has a thin shell, but we have not seen a problem with suture split in this cultivar. ‘Zinner’ also shells out well into complete halves.

The characteristic I like most about ‘Zinner’ is that the kernel holds its color better than just about any other cultivar I have seen. I have picked stray ‘Zinner’ nuts up while walking through the orchard in later February/early March and found the kernel color as bright and golden as it was in early November, while the adjacent ‘Desirable’ nuts had turned darker.

One of many new pecan varieties, 'Zinner' soaks up sun in a mature orchard in the Southeast. The tree has a full, dark green canopy.

An example of foliage on a ‘Zinner’ tree. (Photo by Patrick Conner, UGA)

Production on ‘Zinner’ is about as stable as you can get in a pecan tree. At least up through 15 years, its production remains consistent, and while I am sure fruit thinning mechanically or by hedging can further enhance this at some point, you don’t see a lot of big swings in production with ‘Zinner.’ This cultivar also has an optimal cluster size of around 2.5 nuts per cluster, which suggests this trend of consistency will continue throughout the tree’s life. Normally, when cluster size is 3 or greater, you will get more alternate bearing.

While ‘Zinner’ is not totally scab resistant, it can currently be grown with far fewer sprays than what we see with ‘Desirable’ or ‘Pawnee.’ In a no-spray situation, scab can be severe in a wet year, but with even a modest spray program of five to seven sprays, scab can be managed on ‘Zinner’ in most locations. Areas with high scab pressure—such as low-lying orchards or orchards surrounded by woods or with little air-flow—will require a couple more sprays.

As for pests, black aphids do like ‘Zinner’ so you will have to scout and manage this insect similar in manner to what you will have with ‘Sumner,’ ‘Oconee,’ or ‘Caddo.’

A 'Zinner' tree grows relatively straight in a mature orchard in Georgia. The tree has split off into three branches near the trunk with one central leader growing from the original three. The tree exhibits several other forks on those main branches.

Although ‘Zinner’ trees typically grow upright, they have shown a tendency to split out from the central leader if left unpruned. (Photo by Patrick Conner)

As I mentioned earlier, there is no perfect cultivar. The most significant problem I see with ‘Zinner’ is that you have a relatively high percentage of shucks that sometimes fail to open, despite a fully filled nut.  We have seen this in our orchards, but it has only been a minor concern and yields have been good even with some shuck-sticking. At the Fairhope Station in Alabama, it has been reported as a more serious problem in the past, but they report that with age and a better shuckworm spray program, the problem has improved.

‘Zinner’ is a type II (protogynous) cultivar. ‘Caddo,’ ‘Cape Fear,’ ‘Creek,’ ‘Desirable,’ ‘Gafford,’ ‘Mandan,’ ‘Pawnee,’ and ‘Oconee’ make good pollinators for this tree.

Tree growth is upright, similar to ‘Stuart,’ which may facilitate closer spacing in orchard design. ‘Zinner’ does create a lot of forks on the central leader that can split out if left unpruned as a young tree. This new variety takes some training for the first 3 to 4 years to get the central leader under control, but the tree structure is good thereafter.

This cultivar has been on our “for-trial” list for some time. Since more ‘Zinner’ have been planted in Georgia, we have grown more comfortable with the consistency of what we see from it and we are moving it to the fully recommended list. With the current economic environment for pecan production in the Southeast, we need cultivars like ‘Zinner’ that can be grown with less input cost, produce good quality, and can fit both shelled and inshell markets.

'Avalon,' a relatively new pecan cultivar developed at UGA, sits on a table near a label with its name. There are inshell nuts and halves.

(Photo by Patrick Conner, UGA)

Another new pecan variety, ‘Avalon’ is the first release from Dr. Patrick Conner’s pecan breeding program at the University of Georgia. It is the result of a controlled cross of ‘Gloria Grande’ X ‘Barton’ made in 2000. The original tree grown from the nut first fruited in 2007. Following that, Dr. Conner top-worked it onto several trees in Tifton and later began trialling it at various locations throughout the state. ‘Avalon’ has shown good precocity averaging as much 53 pounds per tree for years 6 to 8 under optimal management as compared to 13 pounds per tree for ‘Desirable’ and 32 pounds per tree for ‘Zinner.’

An 'Avalon' nut cluster enters shucksplit. The cluster has four shucks. One of several new pecan varieties, 'Avalon' averages 2.5 nuts per cluster.

‘Avalon’ generally averages 2.5 nuts per cluster, though this one has four. (Photo by Patrick Conner)

While ‘Avalon’ has good precocity under the right management, it shows no indication of severe alternate bearing so far and fruit thinning should not be a major issue for this tree. Its production stability so far is up there with ‘Zinner’ as one of the best. Cluster size is good at 2.5 nuts per cluster, and the cultivar has not shown big swings in production to date. In fact, yields have increased from one year to the next. This variety’s harvest date is about one week before ‘Desirable.’ ‘Avalon’ shells out well into complete halves and the kernels have a bright, golden color. ‘Avalon’ has averaged 47 nuts per pound and 54 percent kernel.

One of the many advantages of ‘Avalon’ is its excellent scab resistance, which appears similar to ‘Elliot.’ As such, it would be suitable for planting throughout the humid Southeast. Like most scab resistant cultivars, black aphids do like ‘Avalon,’ so growers will have to monitor for this pest on this cultivar and spray when necessary.

‘Avalon’ is a type II (protogynous) cultivar with early stigma receptivity and mid to late pollen shed. It will be pollinated by ‘Creek,’ ‘Caddo,’ ‘Oconee,’ ‘Desirable,’ ‘Pawnee,’ ‘Whiddon,’ and ‘Tom.’ Tree structure and growth appear to be good with no major problems with limb breakage or tree training. To date, we have seen no serious issue with ‘Avalon,’ which always makes you nervous when evaluating these things. Still, ‘Avalon’ appears to be a superb cultivar so far. Like ‘Zinner,’ the reduced cost of growing ‘Avalon’ along with the consistent production and quality it produces are the characteristics we should be looking for in the current economy of pecan production in the Southeast.

Although there is no perfect cultivar, relatively new pecan varieties like ‘Avalon’ and ‘Zinner’ offer some solutions to growing challenges and are another option for growers to consider when planning new plantings.

Author Photo

Lenny Wells

Lenny Wells is an Extension Pecan Specialist, University of Georgia, Tifton, Georgia.