The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

February 8, 2013

“Ask A Master Gardener”

Ask A Master Gardener

ROCKY MOUNT — Ronnie E. (Conetoe) asks: What is the best temperature and method to store fresh pecans?

Answer: Lowering the moisture content of pecan kernels is an important step for maximum storage life of pecans.  Pecans should be stored at a moisture content of about 4 pecent. Shelled pecans stored at non-freezing temperature should be maintained in an atmosphere of about 65–70 percent relative humidity to hold the 3–4 percent moisture content. Humidity above these values can cause kernel molding and pecan texture deterioration (pecans become soft and rubber-like), whereas lower humidity will cause excessive drying. In-shell pecan kernels will darken under high humidity as a result of the tannic acid being dissolved from the shell lining.

Lower temperatures usually result in longer storage life of nuts. Pecan pieces have a shorter shelf-life than pecan halves. This time reduction is in proportion to the surface exposure of the pieces. Storage of nutmeat pieces should be limited to 1 or 2 months at temperatures about 32°F. The greatest benefit of storing at low temperature is retention of fresh flavor, followed by color, aroma and texture.

Because pecan meats absorb odors and flavors readily from the surroundings, a storage area free of odoriferous materials and commodities is necessary In-shell pecans can remain good for 4 months at 70°F, but can be stored successfully for 18 months at 32°F to 36°F. Storage life of in-shell nuts may extend to 5 years or more when stored at 0°F.   Learn more at:

Don A. (Leggett) asks: (While we’re on the subject of pecans), How many years will it take for a Stuart pecan to bear nuts? We live in the southeast and just planted one.

Answer: Stuart is a good disease-resistant variety of pecan for the southeast, although the variety Elliott might have been a better choice (smaller pecan but higher quality). Stuart takes a long time to bear pecans, at least eight to 10 years. If you take good care of it by watering, fertilizing, and controlling weeds, this time will be shortened somewhat. Elliott comes into production in six to eight years.

Brenda E. (Tarboro) Asks:  I have a delightful winter bloomer in my yard that a friend gave me when she thinned a shade bed in her garden a few years ago, and don’t remember its name?

Answer: The plant is a Lenten Rose, Helleborus orientalis, and, yes, they usually are blooming in February and March.  The evergreen foliage is glossy and grows 6”-10”and has blossoms of pink, white, lavender, green, or even burgundy that last for about 6 weeks.  As well, it is a shade loving plant that grows best in fertile, well-drained soil.  Rich organic matter such as that from decomposed leaves provide the needed nutrients. The Lenten Rose is also a plant that deer will not chew on, is drought tolerant and heat resistant, bugs don’t like it.

The name “Lenten rose” comes from its bloom time, near the Lenten season, although due to global warming they are tending to begin blooming earlier in January.  These “roses” are great plants to cut to bring inside where the blossoms will last about a 7-10 days — and the hearty foliage will last even longer.

Now, while the plants are blooming and the desired color can be selected, is a good time to thin them out and share with fellow gardeners or can usually be purchased this time of year, but they are somewhat pricey ($5-$6 dollars per quart size plant).  They do reseed and provide dozens of seedlings the following spring although they tend to slowly get started.  

These plants and many others are collected from among the Master Gardeners and are sold at plant sales in the spring; maybe even earlier.  Contact the Extension Office at 641-7815 to find out when the Master Gardeners will have any lenten rose plants for sale.

Katie S. (Tarboro) asks: I have number small mounds of soil beginning to develop in the turf in my back yard - what is causing this and what can I do?

Answer: The most likely culprit to cause soil mounding that matches your description would be earthworms.  Earthworms are clearly beneficial in soil for aeration, water penetration, thatch control, addition of bacteria, organic matter and other benefits. Most soils are probably lacking in worm populations and much has been written about the benefits of worms and using

them for soil improvement. Extremely high populations may disrupt roots or create so much upturned castings on the surface as to smother low growing blades and create a bumpy surface.

Learn more about this problem at:

“Ask A Master Gardener” is a weekly column providing our readers solutions to common problems concerning horticulture, gardening, and pest management. Trained Extension Master Gardener Volunteers have access to the research that provide answers.

Submit your questions by email to, or call the local Extension Center at 641-7815 and tell them you have a question for a Master Gardener; a volunteer will return your call with a solution to your problem, or write to “Ask A Master Gardener”, c/o The Daily Southerner, P.O. Box 1199, Tarboro, NC 27886.