Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Promote a central leader

    I've been doing a lot of pruning around the farm, so it seems that every time I look at a tree, I pay close attention to the details of tree form. Some trees seem to have a perfect central leader form--strong straight trunk with well-angled lateral branches (photo at right). This young tree is about 14 feet in height (the pole pruner is 13 feet long) and has been producing a hand full of nuts each fall for the past 3 years.
    For the most part, I like to do most of my pecan tree pruning during the growing season. Summer pruning allows me to shape the way a tree grows much better than dormant pruning. However, during the late dormant period, I like to work on keeping a well focused central leader.
    Here's a close up photo (at left) of the top of the tree pictured above. Looks like I've got three branches competing for the role of central leader. It also appears that I have some pretty strong lateral branches that may try to compete with the central leader.   
    The first step in pruning this tree and to preserve its central leader is to remove two of the three upward growing branches.  Next, I'll remove all lateral limbs within 2 feet of the top of the central leader. Moving down the tree, I will head back some of the strong laterals to reduce competition with the central leader.

    With just a few pruning cuts with the pole loppers, I've redefined the central leader (photo at right).
    This may be the last time I'll be able to preform detailed pruning on this tree. By the end of this summer,  the top of this tree will be out of reach for pruning from the ground. However, because I've worked on building a strong central leader for at least 14 feet in height, I have a tree that should develop a strong, straight trunk that will easily bear the weight of future nut crops.