Some people have green thumbs. Some don’t. Some have an elaborate garden while others just have a few flowers. Me? Well, I’m trying to grow pecan trees. Just a couple pecan trees, but it’s proving more of a challenge than I thought. I’m not going to give up. One day, I will have my own tree producing its own nuts, but in the meantime, I’m learning the lessons that little pecan trees can teach.
I’ve been trying to grow a pecan tree for years. My grandparents have trees lining the side of their house and I thought it would be cool to grow another tree from it’s seed. In college, I took a single pecan, soaked it in water for a while, then planted it in dirt just to see if I could get it to grow. It did! But I somehow killed it…maybe too much water? I didn’t transplant it to a bigger pot? Part of me thinks its because I wasn’t too serious about growing it. I mean, I lived in an apartment in my college town. Where was I going to put this tree? So, the little guy didn’t make it. I wanted to try and grow another one, but my grandparents live over a state away, and with college stressing me out, I wasn’t be able to get another pecan for a while. When I could get one, I got multiple to increase my odds of growing one to full maturity.
It was spring 2019 when I got my pecans and got more serious about growing them. My grandpa had just passed away and when my grandma found out I wanted to grow trees like she and my grandpa did, she saved a few sprouts that were growing in her yard for me. When we left the funeral for home, I had six tree sprouts in the backseat.
I planted them in bigger pots right away and they were doing great! Getting bigger and leafier, I was very excited! People kept asking me: “where you going to put these pecan trees?” And my answer was always the same: “I dunno! I’m just trying to grow them first!”
All my trees bundled together on the back deck that summer. They were in a good spot where they would get a good amount of sun, but not too much. I loved checking on them every day to see how they were doing. Yet, one day, one of them disappeared. It was devastating! A hole was in the place the tree should’ve been. A squirrel dug it up, stole the leaves, the roots, and especially the nut. After that, my trees got caged in fencing.
A few days later, I decided to name my trees to help me tell them a part. The first was named Little Diek (pronounced “dee-k”) because Diek was the name my grandfather went by. The second one is called Cardinal, because my grandma loves cardinals. Then there were Putt Putt and Sequence, two games my grandparents liked to play. The final one is called Double Shift, the topic of the last conversation I had with my grandpa before he died.
Throughout the summer, my trees grew really well, each got big and leafy, even Little Diek, who was always smaller than the others. Then, one day, Little Diek got snapped by a squirrel. I don’t remember how or why. I just remember checking on my trees to find Little Diek as less than a stump. I was worried he was gone for good, but his roots were still intact, so I held out hope, and you know what? He bounced back! He grew a new stalk and new leaves and was much smaller than the others now, but I was just happy I didn’t lose him.
Fall came around and I heard that it’s best to plant trees in the ground in the fall. So, I planted my little trees. Cardinal and Double Shift went into my mom’s backyard since they were the strongest of the five while Putt Putt and Sequence went out to my brother’s acres. I didn’t have a place for Little Diek and I didn’t want to plant him outside while in the midst of his recovery. So, he hung out in the garage when the temperatures dropped. Once I had my trees in the ground, I put hay around them to keep them warm through the winter (and fences, of course–stupid squirrels).
Winter of 2019 wasn’t bad, but dormant baby trees are just twigs sticking out of the ground. I’m not a tree expert, so I don’t know how to tell if a dormant tree is still alive. Seeing them as sticks always had me questioning if they were dead, dying, or just not going to come back in the spring. Plus, I wasn’t sure how well my older brother was taking care of Putt Putt and Sequence. I thank God that my worries were in vain. Come spring, my trees started showing new growth again!
2020 was a messed up year for all of us: Covid, job closings, stay-at-home mandates. We can all agree that it just sucked. Well, honestly, I think my trees felt the weight of 2020 too, because they weren’t growing as well as they did in the previous summer. I kept them watered, but something didn’t feel right. Their leaves got pretty big, but they were crinkled or spotted. I sprayed bug spray on them to keep the pests off, but no matter what I did to help them, something always felt wrong.
I expressed my concerns to my grandma and she told me all about the sprouts that are growing in her flower beds and gardens (the soil at her house must be blessed by God since she can get these trees to grow without even wanting them and I’m struggling to grow five). She said my dad was going to come out one weekend, so she’d have him bring many of the sprouts with him.
I ended up getting a lot of sprouts from her. More sprouts than I knew what to do with (I definitely counted over twenty of them)! However, they hadn’t been dug up properly. Out of all of them, only two had their main roots intact (which was fine by me because I had no idea where I was going to put twenty trees). With how small these two new trees were, I put them in a pot together. They’re named Vandalia after a bus company my grandpa worked at for years and Patchwork, because my grandma is really good at making quilts.
In the fall of 2020, my mom had tree guys come out to do an estimate on how much it would cost to take down a few dying trees in the backyard (it was a long time coming. We were watching them fall apart. One of them had a completely hollowed-out stump). My mom ends up bringing up my pecan trees and proudly shows them off to the tree guys. Well, one of the guys is a tree expert and he takes a look at Cardinal and Double Shift and goes: “Oh…huh…well…those aren’t going to survive the winter…”
Remember when I said I felt like something was wrong with my trees? Turns out, I was right. From what I understood, they weren’t injured, they weren’t sick, but they were vulnerable–extremely vulnerable. The tree guy looked at the little bumps on my trees (natural bumps that are the zones for growth. They’re where the leaves sprout from), and he said they needed to get covered up or the frost was going to freeze them out. As much as I wanted to believe my trees could power through, I knew they needed my help. So, I dug up Cardinal and Double Shift and brought them inside. However, I never made it to my brother’s to get Putt Putt or Sequence.
The dying trees in my mom’s backyard were taken down that fall and they left wood shavings and chips all over the place. Decomposing organic material is usually really good for trees, but just to be sure, I looked it up. Turns out, unprocessed wood shavings–just like the ones laying around our yard–is great for trees! So, I scooped up as much as I could and added them to my trees’ pots. Then, winter came, a much harsher winter than the year before. I’m glad I brought my trees inside, but they returned to being twigs sticking out of the ground and I could only hope that they’d survive.
Winter ends. The fresh breath of spring graces the land. My family and I headed out to my brothers for dinner and I went to his back field to check on Putt Putt and Sequence. I hoped that even though I wasn’t able to dig them up, the hay and fencing we put around them would help them power through the winter storms.
Both Sequence and Putt Putt were undoubtedly dead. Putt Putt was dried out and even snapped when I gently tested its flexibility while Sequence had disappeared. I dug through the hay trying to locate Sequence, but I have a feeling it dried out and snapped long ago. It was heartbreaking. Two more trees from my grandpa’s funeral were killed. I definitely planted them in the ground too early. They weren’t ready for the harsh weather of the Midwest and because I forced them to be, they perished. I decided that my other trees aren’t going into the ground until I’m sure they’ll make it through the winter on their own. My brother still wants pecan trees, so when Vandalia and Patchwork get old enough, they’ll be going out to him.
As for the trees at my mom’s house, we got them outside as soon as the weather got warmer and staid warmer. I stared at my trees like a hawk just searching for signs that they were alive. We kept them in the garage all winter, but even our garage can get pretty cold. Vandalia and Patchwork were the first to shows signs of life and growth, but I expected that from them. It was Double Shift, Cardinal, and Little Diek I was worried about.
Cardinal was the first of the three to show signs of growth. She had always been an overachiever and the strongest of my trees, so once one little leaf sprouted, all her little leaves sprouted. Little Diek was the next to show signs of growth! However, Double Shift kept me waiting.
If I hadn’t learned my lesson before, I’ve certainly learned it now. One day, I went to check on my trees and Little Diek was gone! I forgot to put fencing around them and the stupid squirrels came back and snapped Little Diek at the base of his trunk AGAIN! It wasn’t fair! He had survived the harsh winter, but the squirrels still had it out for him! I was devastated, but I refused to give up on him. I mean, his roots were still intact, so maybe he could bounce back again? That same day I discovered the crime scene, I caged my trees. Each one got wrapped individually in fencing and then I wrapped them all together with more fencing. No stupid squirrel was going to get to them again!
I kept watering them over the next couple days. Every time I got home from work, I’d go check on Little Diek for any signs of life. Cardinal had little leaves all over her, she looked like a really small baobab tree. Vandalia and Patchwork had even growth all over them and they were definitely competing to see who could stand straighter than the other (Pathwork was winning and he rubbed it in by growing a couple more trunks). Yet, Double Shift and Little Diek weren’t showing any signs of growth. The back of my mind told me to give up on them. I could use their pots for Vandalia and Patchwork when the two got big enough. But, Little Diek and Double Shift were two of my favorites out of all my trees. Their pots weren’t in the way of anything, so I didn’t give up on them yet.
Fast forward to a day my family’s working in the yard. I’m hanging over Little Diek and Double Shift like a scientist at a microscope and I’m observing every millimeter of them for any signs of change. And you know what? One of the zones of growth on Little Diek was slightly green. I held my breath in daring to hope. I couldn’t be 100% positive, but I was 99.3% positive that he was going to bounce back!
“But, Nikki, it was slightly green. Are you even sure you knew what you were looking at? What if it was a trick of the light?” You’re right. It could’ve been a trick of the light, my hopeful mind trying to see something that might not have been there, but I kept going back to him everyday and everyday he grew a little bit greener, until one day I came back and Little Diek had a little leaf growing from that zone of growth!
He survived the squirrels AGAIN! Little Diek shot toward the the sky after that! The photo featured in this post is actually of Little Diek a week after I spotted that slight bit of green on him. A few days later, he was taller than all my other trees! Even Cardinal! And I guess his growth inspired Double Shift, because after Little Diek bounced back, Double Shift sprouted leaves as well! I couldn’t believe it! All my trees were alive and well and growing beautifully!
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had our share of hardships this summer. There was a week where we got nothing but rain so I had to constantly pour water out of my trees’ pots else they’d drown. Then, we got blazing sunshine for a week, so I was constantly watering them. During those times, I was worried about Double Shift and Cardinal. They used to be the strongest of my trees, but now they’re not as full as the Little Diek and the others. Now that the weather has–for the most part–calmed down, they’re all doing pretty good. I actually had to take Little Diek’s personal cage off of him because it was stunting his growth. Now, he only has one protective layer of caging, but I’ve made sure the squirrels won’t be able to get to him again. Vandalia and Patchwork are still in the same pot together, but over the next couple of days, I plan on splitting them apart into separate pots. As competitive as those two are, it’s not healthy to get too competitive.
Looking at my trees today, Little Diek still has the most luscious growth out of all of them. Double Shift is getting fuller with his leaves and Cardinal is actually growing more branches down at her base. Like I said, Vandalia and Patchwork need to be split apart, but they’re both doing amazingly well (Pathwork is still straighter and taller than Vandalia and now has multiple branches growing at his base–the show off). I’m hoping I can get them all in the ground this fall, but I’m worried about how harsh the winter may be. We’ll just have to see how things go when we get there.
So, I started off with six pecan trees. Lost one. Then, gained two. Lost two, and now I’m down to five. It’ll probably be Little Diek and Cardinal that go in my mom’s backyard. Vandalia and Patchwork will go to my brother, and we’ll just have to see what happens to Double Shift. I’ve definitely learned a lot from these little pecan trees. They’re sturdy and resilient–especially Little Diek. Life can throw squirrels at you, storms, and drought, but taking care of yourself, getting help from others, and being patient in hope can lead to some massive growth. I believe, someday, my little sprouts will be producing pecans just like my grandparents’ trees and when the storms of life come at them, they’ll be strong enough to stand on their own. I’m super excited to see how they’ll grow from here.