What is Your Marketing Plan?

You might be surprised to find out that this is usually my first question when someone says they wish to put in a planting of fruiting crops.  Not soil types, not cultivars, not cultural management, and not diseases.  All of those things are critically important, and believe me, I would I could stick only to those things (because that is my knowledge arena).  However, the world of growing and selling fruit is not an easy one to navigate. Overproduction and excess supply of some fruit make selling it difficult.  Sure, you can be a great grower, but if you are not a good marketer then you might as well forget it.

I don’t know how many times I have talked about marketing to the many, many growers I have dealt with. It is so crucial to understand that growing the fruit is not enough. The thought is, “If you build it, they will come.”


It should be, “If you build it, you better hustle and work to make sure they can find you.” Upfront education and the willingness to develop a marketing plan that is adaptive to change is key, because doing the same thing year after year (also called stagnation) is also a losing proposition.

I’m not a marketer. It is not my area of expertise. But, if you are planning to get into fruit production you need to become an expert or have the help of one in order to survive.


Winter is a Great Time for Education

Most of us are quite content to ignore our fruit plantings during the winter. At least I know I am guilty of that. Winter brings about other challenges for me — end of year reporting, conferences to attend, data to analyze, papers to write, etc. I know that everyone has their own stuff to deal with too making it difficult to keep your mind on something that isn’t growing (or at least appears that way). Of course there are a myriad of things that could be done to improve the planting, of which pruning and sanitation are some of the most important. However, I believe the most important thing to do during the time when it is too cold to get outside and you would rather bundle up in a blanket next to a warm fire is to learn. Education is a never-ending process. New things are discovered every year about fruiting crops. New pests, new varieties, new methods of management, etc. The great thing is that you no longer need to drive somewhere during sleet, snow, or icy drizzle to get to a meeting. Extension is starting to embrace online education techniques like webinars and blogs to keep clientele apprised of new discoveries. I would also encourage social media interaction. There are lots of Extension specialists and agents on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.  These are all platforms to interact with us. If you don’t know how, just ask and any of us would be happy to help you learn these new things.  The world is digital and not going back. If we can find common ground with our learning environments we can all be so much better informed. So, what to do during this winter? Try something new and learn, learn, learn.

Pecans Drop Leaves in Drought Conditions

We are in a drought in south Mississippi. Sure, some areas have had more rain, some less, but things are very dry overall. By my calculations (with data from Weather.com which may or may not be the most accurate) since June 1 we are 20.75 inches in deficit from the average in Poplarville.

Month     AVG     2015     Deficit

June       5.3 in    0.88 in   -4.42 in

July         6.4 in   1.35 in    -5.05 in

August    5.4 in   0.93 in    -4.47 in

Sept.       3.9 in   1.13 in    -2.77 in

Oct.         4.1 in   0.06 in    ????

So, as you can tell things are not good in terms of rainfall.  Pecans, in particular, need a good bit of rain especially during the crucial time of nut filling.  Which, as it turns out, is when the rain stopped falling this year.  Un-irrigated orchards suffered tremendously, with many trees having no nuts at all and then eventually losing a massive amount of leaves, like the tree below.

A defoliated pecan tree. Leaves dropped due to drought conditions.

A defoliated pecan tree. Leaves dropped due to drought conditions.

Unfortunately this is a common sight around south Mississippi. I hear that things are a little better in central Mississippi and not bad in north Mississippi in terms of pecan production this year.  Many trees have also tried to send out new growth to compensate for the lost leaves.

New leaves appearing in October on drought stressed pecan trees.

New leaves appearing in October on drought stressed pecan trees.

These new leaves and shoots have a high probability of being damaged by cold weather when it finally comes for good. This new growth will not have time to properly harden off for the winter. Defoliation can lead to poor return bloom next year as well as overall tree stress which can affect yields and fruit quality.

If your tree is in this shape what can you do?  If you have the capacity to water the tree do so.  If not, then there is nothing to do but hope for more rain.

MS Pecan Fall Field Day 2015

Pecan Fall Field Day 2015

When to Harvest Pecans
Harvesting of Pecans
Post-harvest Cleaning and Storage (Food Safety)
Winter Care of Trees
Grading Pecans for Sale
Nursery Tour

Thursday, October 8
Registration 1:00 – 1:30 p.m
Program 1:30 – 5:00 p.m.

Pecan Hill Farms
19470 Highway 18
Raymond, MS 39154

For more information, please call Max Draughn 601-594-4393

A Year with No Fruit

This year I have received several calls wondering why certain trees and vines produced little or no fruit this year.  It is a fair question — what would cause this problem?  Assuming there really was no fruit or the fruit failed to develop properly (rather than a disease issue) the answer points to pollination.  Will all the rain and cool temperatures we had this spring, conditions were poor for pollination in some crops in some locations.  Some crops that I have seen with poor or no crop this year are pears, peaches, pecans, and muscadines.  I’m sure there are plenty of others as well.  Rain and cool weather deters pollinators from visiting open flowers.  Rain also dampens the pollen itself and makes it so that it cannot readily be dispersed. Timing is the critical thing, as one cultivar may have a full crop and another nothing.  It could even vary from plant to plant of the same cultivar, and also from field to field (i.e. a neighbor might have a good crop whereas you have little or nothing). So the interaction of rain and flower opening is where things can go wrong.  Of course other things can reduce pollination (lack of pollinator insects, lack of pollinizer trees, disease, frost, drought, excess heat and humidity, etc.) but this year I put my money behind the wet and cool conditions.

This pecan tree, located in Poplarville, MS, has no nuts at all

This pecan tree, located in Poplarville, MS, has no nuts at all.

It is not just trees that had a hard time this year.

'Fry' muscadine with no fruit

‘Fry’ muscadine with no fruit.

Some cultivars were impacted but were able to set some fruit, although it will not be a full harvest by any means.

'Janet' muscadine with some fruit, but limited by poor pollination conditions.

‘Janet’ muscadine with some fruit, but limited by poor pollination conditions.

Is there an upside to not having much fruit this year?  Well, bud fruitfulness should be increased for next year, especially in the pecan trees.  So, just like the mantra of the Chicago Cubs — There’s always next year!

Crow Away!

I want to start off upfront with a few things: First, I am not an expert on crow behavior, Second I am a fan of The Black Crowes, Counting Crows, and A Murder of Crows, and Third, I know crows can be a nuisance.

I’m not sure what programs exist in Mississippi to control these bird pests.  I know the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Oklahoma had a program for control, but I am not sure if Mississippi has anything similar. In Oklahoma crows are a significant pest of pecans.

I found a couple links with information on controlling them in Mississippi and it looks like they can be killed if needed to protect crops.


“Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal act resulting from a formal treaty signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, under this act, crows may be controlled without a federal permit when found “committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.”

States may require permits to control crows and may regulate the method of take. Federal guidelines permit states to establish hunting seasons for crows. During these seasons, crows may be hunted according to the regulations established in each state. Regulations or interpretation of depredation rules may vary among states, and state or local laws may prohibit certain control techniques such as shooting or trapping. Check with local wildlife officials if there is any doubt regarding legality of control methods.”


“Statute Text

  • 49-1-39. Killing animals or birds injurious to agriculture; exception as to migratory birds

The commission may issue permits to kill any species of animals or native, nonmigratory birds which may become injurious to agricultural or other interests in any particular community. All migratory birds, including hawks, owls, and eagles and their nests and eggs are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and federal regulations promulgated under this act. All species of blackbirds, cowbirds, starlings, crows, grackles, and English sparrows may be killed without a permit when such birds are committing or about to commit depredations on shade or ornamental trees or agricultural crops.”

Now, eliminating (killing) crows is not always necessary.  Often exclusion is the best option if possible.  Scare tactics or repellents can also work, but usually only for a limited time period as the crows become wise to it.

My suggestion, if elimination is necessary, would be to contact the US Fish and Wildlife folks in Jackson for more info: http://www.fws.gov/jacksonwildlife/.  Also available is The Center for Resolving Human-Wildlife Conflicts at Mississippi State University which can be found at this website: http://www.humanwildlifeconflicts.msstate.edu/#&panel1-1

Beware Buying Fruit Plants at the Big Box Stores

I only write this as a public service message.  Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily blaming big box stores for their inventory.  I don’t know how some of the varieties are chosen and how they are labeled, but the consumer must be wary when shopping at these locations.  This past weekend I visited a big box store for a few items I needed.  I didn’t need any fruit plants, but I decided to take a look at what was available.  Needless to say, I was dismayed at the selection.  Where do I begin?

Available grape vine varieties: Concord, Flame Seedless, Black Monukka, Mars, Thompson Seedless.  Problem: All of these are not resistant to Pierce’s Disease and will die within a couple of years at most. There were no muscadine varieties available at this location in south Mississippi.  It boggles the mind. Solution: Do some serious research before buying grapes in the Deep South. Muscadines are the best option.  Some bunch grapes do have potential, but are not usually very common in the nursery trade.

Available blueberry varieties: Legacy, O’Neal. Problem: There is no problem with these per se, except that one was mislabeled as a rabbiteye variety (Vaccinium virgatum) and the other a wild blueberry species (Vaccinium darrowii) when they are actually southern highbush (Vaccinium spp.).  I did not see any rabbiteye varieties (although I did not look at every plant).  Rabbiteye varieties are the best option for a homeowner here.  Solution: Southern highbush blueberries are partially self-fertile but will do better with a pollinizer.  Rabbiteye varieties require planting two different varieties with overlapping bloom times.  None of this information was available on the labeling at the store.  Local nurseries will have a better selection.

Available pecan variety: Elliot. Problem: There were two tags on the tree.  One said ‘Elliot’ pecan and the other said “ungrafted seedling”, which means it is NOT Elliot, but seedling of Elliot. This is very misleading.  Someone thinking they were getting an Elliot may end up disappointed.  A seedling of Elliot may or may not have some of the Elliot traits that make it desirable to grow.  Pecan trees also need to have two different varieties with overlapping bloom periods in order to produce nuts.  In this case there was only one type available. Solution: Local nurseries may not have the best selection.  The internet is your friend in this case.  Most pecan trees come from AL, GA, or TX, although if you search hard enough you can find some in MS.  A homeowner should choose varieties that are resistant to pecan scab.  If you don’t and do not plan to control the disease, it is really a waste of your time, money, and effort.

Available bramble variety: Boysenberry. Problem: Boysenberry is a hybrid raspberry x blackberry cross that originates from the west coast of the U.S. and is not especially tolerant of high heat conditions.  Coupled with the high humidity and prodigious spring rainfall it is a recipe for poor plant production.  It was also mislabeled as Rubus ursinus. Solution: Many blackberry varieties are available that will grow and produce in the Deep South.  Raspberries fair less well because they too do not tolerate the heat as well as blackberries.  I have seen blackberry varieties available at local nurseries recently, namely Kiowa, Apache, and Brazos (!).  These are far better options than Boysenberry in our area, although the thorny types will have problems with rosette (double blossom) fungus.

There were probably other fruiting plants that I didn’t look at too closely at to see if there were problems with them as well.  The real lesson here is this:  Know what you are looking for and why.  Realize that all blueberries or grapes or pecan are not created equal.  Some do well here and some do not.  Mislabeling is not a new thing in the nursery trade, but seeing the grievous errors in these examples made me cringe.   Before buying at the big box store near you, educate yourself on the crop you wish to purchase, talk to the folks in the garden center, and if you are not satisfied go somewhere else.  Contact your local county Extension office for more information on fruit crops for your area.  Or feel free to contact me.  I can help.

Pecan Budbreak: The Last Holdout

Pecan trees are really attuned to the continental climate we experience in the middle of the U.S.  They are almost always the last tree to break bud in the spring.  Why is this? Dr. Darrell Sparks from the University of Georgia published a study back in 1993 that suggested both chilling and heat accumulation were responsible for budbreak timing in pecan (The link to the paper is here).  Below is a short description of pecan budbreak that I wrote for a conference back in 2007:

“Pecan trees, like most temperate fruit species, exist under a physiologically mandated rest period.  This rest period, also called dormancy, helps to regulate the timing of budbreak. The start of dormancy generally begins in late summer when shoot growth stops and apical dominance ceases.  Amling and Amling (1980) stated that rest is a growth-inhibiting physiological condition that can develop internally in buds.  The rest period can be satisfied by the exposure of buds to periods of cold temperatures.  Temperature, as well as hormones such as abscissic acid largely control the activity of the buds along with light intensity and day length (Nesbitt, 2002).  The hormone levels that induce dormancy dissipate during the process of chilling accumulation which generally occurs when temperatures are below 45 F, but above 32 F.  After the required number of chilling hours have been met (and this varies among cultivars and genotypes), an accumulation of heat over time will activate the buds and growth will begin again.  The in-between period when chilling has been satisfied, but heat accumulation has not been met, is known as quiescence.

Budbreak during the spring is closely associated with the chilling requirement.  Trees with a long chilling requirement will normally begin growth later than trees with a short chilling requirement. Budbreak regulation by heating and chilling is an evolutionary survival mechanism  derived through adaptation resulting in pecan being native throughout a large area of the United States.  In cold winter regions the high chilling received in the winter enables buds to break with minimum heating in the springtime.  Growth commences within a short period of time, thus increasing the probability that the fruiting cycle will be completed within the abbreviated growing season associated with cold areas.

Conversely, pecans are one of the most adapted plants to the southern U.S. because they have a relatively low chill hour requirement, but a high heat unit requirement. However, there are some cultivars that break bud very early which increases the danger of bud damage to spring frost (Nesbitt 2002).  The lack of a mandated chilling requirement contributes to pecan’s survival in regions with little or no chilling (Sparks, 2003). In these cases, the dormant period is prolonged in the absence of chilling temperatures; however, a deficiency of chilling temperatures can delay foliation, increase fruit drop, and reduce yield when pecans are grown in warm climates that lack sufficient chilling hours (Smith, 1994). The need for greater heat unit accumulating temperatures delays budbreak and minimizes the chance of damage from late spring freezes (Smith et al. 1992).  The mechanism of increased heat unit accumulation is evident in the southern U.S., where pecan is one of the last deciduous tree species to breakbud in the spring (Sparks 2005).

Budbreak in pecans is described as being under the interaction of chilling and heat accumulation.  Problems begin when sufficient heat is accumulated for the re-initiation of growth, leading to budbreak, in early spring when the chance of cold weather and damaging frost conditions has not yet passed.  The typical continental climate that exists in the Southwest, with wildly fluctuating winter temperatures, can pose a threat to those pecan trees that awaken from their quiescent phase and initiate budbreak because the heat requirement has been satisfied.

 Literature cited

Amling, H.J. and K.A. Amling. 1980. Onset, intensity, and dissipation of rest in several pecan cultivars. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 105:536-540.    

Nesbitt, M. 2002. The pecan tree in winter. Pecan South 34(12):4-5.

Smith, M.W. 1994. Freeze injury to pecans. Proc. 28th Western Pecan Conf. pp. 155-157.

Smith, M.W., B.L. Carroll, and B.S. Cheary. 1992. Chilling requirement of pecan. J. Amer. Soc. Hort. Sci. 117:745-748.

Sparks, D. 1993. Chilling and heating model for pecan budbreak. J. Amer. Soc. Hort Sci. 118:29-35.

Sparks, D. 2005. Adaptability of pecan as a species. HortScience 40:1175-1189.

One aspect of this I do not hit upon is tree response to day length (photoperiod). Although timing of budbreak is highly heritable, other factors can influence it, such as shorter photoperiods.  Pecan trees are great survivors in our highly variable climate because they are native to the region.  In some ways they are very conservative in the spring, with late budbreak, but dangerously reckless in the fall (with late fruit ripening).  It is an interesting crop to observe and work with.  Right now (at the end of March) they are just beginning to show some green whereas other native and non-native trees have long since broke bud.  I wonder if such late budbreak is in some way a contributing factor to alternate bearing.

Pecan tree in south MS, just beginning budbreak at the end of March

Pecan tree in south MS, just beginning budbreak at the end of March

Buds begin to show green on pecan tree  at the end of March in south MS

Buds begin to show green on pecan tree at the end of March in south MS


Reported Fruit Problems in Mississippi 2014

The list below illustrates the types of pathogens/problems found on fruit plants submitted to the Mississippi State University plant diagnostic lab in 2014. The general format of the list shows the common name for the disease, followed by the scientific name of the pathogen, followed by a number in parentheses that indicates the number of times this problem was diagnosed in the lab.

Apple (Malus x domestica)
• Apple Scab suspected (Venturia inaequalis) (1)
• Cedar apple rust (Gymnosporangium juniper-virginianae) (1)
• Diplodia canker (Diplodia mutila) (1)
• Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) (1)
• Flyspeck (Schizothyrium pomi) (1)
• Phoma Leaf spot (Phoma sp.) (1)
• Russetting (Abiotic) (1)
• Sooty Blotch (Gloeodes pomigena) (1)
• Undetermined (mummified fruit ) (1)

Blackberry (Rubus sp.) ‘Arapaho’
• Abiotic (Freeze damage) (4)
• Blackberry Rust (Phragmidium violaceum) (1)
• Cane blight (Coniothyrium fuckelii) (1)

Blueberry (Vaccinium sp.)
• Abiotic (Cold injury) (1)
• Abiotic (Possibly Glyphosate) (1)
• Leaf spot (Cercospora rubi) (1)
• Leaf spot (Septoria sp.) (1)
• Fruit Spot (Exobasdium maculosum (1)
• Twig Blight ( Fusicoccum sp.) (1)

Cherry (Prunus sp.)
• Insufficient sample (Vascular disruption suspected) (1)

Fig, Common (Ficus carica)

• Diplodia canker (Diplodia sp.) (1)
• Rust (Cerotelium fici) (1)
• Undetermined fruit rot (1)

Fruit Trees (Prunus sp.)
• Black knot (Apiosporina morbosa) (1)

Grape (Vitis vinifera)
• Abiotic (Magnesium deficiency suspected) (1)
• Abiotic (Freeze injury suspected) (2)
• Black Rot (Guignardia bidwellii / Phyllosticta ampelicida) (2)

Grapefruit (Citrus x paradisi)
• Borers suspected (1)

Jujube (Ziziphus jujube)
• Leaf spot (Cercospora sp.) (1)
• Fruit injury undetermined (1)

Mayhaw (Crataegus aestivalis)
• Insect infestation (1)
• Sooty mold (1)

Peach (Prunus persica)
• Brown fruit rot (Moilinia fructicola) (2)
• Peach leaf curl (Taphrina deformans) (1)
• Root rot (Armillaria sp.) (1)
• San Jose Scale (Quadraspidiotus perniciosus) (1)

Pear (Pyrus sp.)
• Abiotic (Chemical root injury suspected) (1)
• Fireblight (Erwinia amylovora) (2)
• Phomopsis Twig Blight (Phomopsis sp.) (1)
• Quince rust (Gymnosporangium clavipes) (1)

Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

• Abiotic (Possible Nitrogen Burn or nutritional issue) (1)

• Animal injury suspected (1)

• No pathogens (1)
• Pecan phylloxera (Phylloxera devastratrix) (2)

Plum (Prunus sp.)

• Abiotic (Sunscald suspected) (1)
• Black knot (Apiosporina morbosa) (1)

Plum (Prunus spp.) ‘Shiro’
• Bacterial spot (Xanthomonas campestris pv. pruni) (2)
• Brown rot (Monilinia fructicola) (1)
• Plum curculio (Conotrachelus nenuphar) (1)
• Scale insect (1)

Satsuma (Citrus reticulata)
• Root/Stem injury suspected (1)

See the entire list here: http://msucares.com/lab/2014list.pdf

Pollination in Pecans

Pecans are wind-pollinated.  Trees are monoecious, meaning both male and female flowers are on the same tree. Thus, self-pollination is possible, but ultimately undesirable.  There are two main pecan flowering types: protandrous and protogynous.  When male flowers release their pollen before female flowers are receptive, those flowers are protandrous (also called Type I).  When female flowers are receptive to pollen before pollen is shed from the male flowers on the same tree it is called a protogynous flower or Type II.

Some protandrous (Type I) pecan trees include Caddo, Cape Fear, Cherokee, Cheyenne, Creek, Desirable, Gafford, Giles, Jackson, Oconee, Oklahoma, Pawnee, Peruque, and Western.  Some protogynous (Type II) pecan trees are Burkett, Candy, Choctaw, Elliot, Forkert, Kanza, Kiowa, Mahan, Maramec, Mohawk, Mount, Oakla, Podsednik, Schley, Shoshoni, Stuart, Sumner, and Wichita.

Pecan has what is called dichogamous flowering, when male and female flowers mature at different times.  Dichogamy promotes cross-pollination within and between species.  It is also known as heterodichogamy.  Dichogamy may be an intermediary step between synchronous dichogamy and dioecy (male and female flowers on separate plants).  The degree of dichogamy is variable within pecan trees and can be affected by weather.  Moist, warm springs favor male flowers, whereas cool, dry springs favor female flowers.  Some members of the hickory family may switch flowering type depending on the environment in the year.  This has been documented in Shagbark (Carya ovata) and Mockernut (Carya tomentosa) hickories. Complete dichogamy means that no self-pollination is possible.  Incomplete dichogamy results in some level of selfing.  Dichogamy encourages cross pollination and discourages self-pollination.  Self-pollination can lead to inbreeding depression in some plants.

Inbreeding depression occurs when two closely related individuals mate.  Some species have a strong negative response to this situation, whereas some have an intermediate response, and some little to none.  There can be ramifications of selfing, including fruit abortion, suppressed kernel development, and low plant vigor.  The unfit do not survive, thus resulting in a reduction in the number of successful mating individuals within a population.  Selfing also limits the gene flow from other populations.  Genes from other populations help to perpetuate individuals that adapt to environmental stresses.  Species with a strong tendency against self-pollination have greater genetic diversity within populations.  Within pecans, the level of inbreeding is low or inbred seedlings die early and never enter the mating process.

Thompson and Romberg (1985) reported that a single gene determines dichogamy in pecan trees.  This means that the trait is qualitative, or is controlled by a single gene or very few genes.  They reported that protogyny is the dominant trait and protandry is recessive.  This is common throughout the hickory family.  Beedanagari et al. (2005) found that protogyny and green stigmas were linked traits as were protandy and red stigmas.  These traits were tightly linked with little recombination.  This means that the more tightly linked the traits are, the rarer the recombination possibility will be.

There are benefits to dichogamy, with the largest being genetic variation.  More genetic variation leads to better pecan tree survival, continued evolution, and better climate adaptation.  Inbreeding, mating of close relatives or selfing, tends to bring out bad traits and thus ultimately makes the tree non-competitive with its non-inbred neighbors.


Beedanagari, S.R., S.K. Dove, B.W. Wood, and P.J. Conner. 2005.  A first linkage map of pecan cultivars based on RAPD and AFLP markers. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 110:1127-1137.

Thompson, T.E. and L.D. Romberg. 1985. Inheritance of heterodichogamy in pecan. Journal of Heredity 76:456-458.