Why prune your pecan trees at planting? Here’s the answer

Published 6:23 pm Friday, January 29, 2016

By Kyle Brown
Special to The Post-Searchlight

For many things related to agricultural production, there are many different opinions out there about how to do something, however this can be even more so in pecan tree planting techniques. When growers, particularly new to growing pecans, purchase trees and put them in the ground, the thought of cutting off a portion of the trees causes them to cringe. However, below is a statement by UGA Extension Horticulture Specialist Dr. Lenny Wells regarding the pruning of trees:

“Based on both scientific results and practical experience, I can tell you without question, that if you do not prune the tree at planting you are doing that tree and yourself a grave disservice.”

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When trees are dug from the nursery, they lose a portion of their root system and undergo “transplant shock.” Pruning the top of the tree by 1/4/ to 1/3 relieves the stress this generates for the tree and allows the root system to more effectively support the growth that tree puts on as it grows. In contrast, trees that are not pruned at planting usually take longer to begin growing and develop shorter shoots as it struggles to survive.

We used to recommend (and many growers still follow) the practice of pruning no more of the trees root system at planting than you have to in order to get the tree in the hole. However, based on research done by Dr. Mike Smith at Oklahoma State, recommendations have changed and for several years, we have promoted the pruning of roots at planting.

When you prune a tree, whether the stem or the roots, you are stimulating growth. Pecan trees will grow without pruning the roots, however Dr. Smith’s work showed that when you prune the taproot to 18”-24” and remove the lateral roots (by at least ½ the length), the tree grows much better. The reason for this is the tree’s new roots develop from the cut surface and tree survival and growth depends on new root development, not the existing root system (See Pictures Below). Planting pecan trees by these proven methods will do a lot more for getting your pecan trees off to a good start and will do better than any amount of fertilizer or snake oil product you can use.