I was driving through my orchard when I noticed a young, grafted tree that looked more like a tree straight out of a Dr. Seuss book than a pecan tree (photo at right). As strange as this tree looks, this type of growth pattern is not that unusual for a pecan tree. During late summer of the previous year, a cluster of closely spaced buds formed at the terminal of each branch (including the central leader). This spring, these buds began growth and formed a profusion of new shoots right at the ends of each branch. Left to grow unchecked these shoots will compete for predominance and you will end up loosing your central leader.
At this time of year, a few judicious pruning cuts will help direct the new growth of this tree and help maintain a strong central leader.
I always start at the top of the tree and select a single new shoot to be my central leader (photos above). Before pruning you can see the top of this tree has 5 actively growing shoots. I selected one of these shoots to be the new central leader and pruned off all competitors. In fact, I removed all shoots within two feet of the apex of my new central leader. This helps preserve the dominance of the new leader.
Next, I move down to the side shoots. Once again several buds broke at the terminal of last year's wood. For side branches, I remove any upwards growing shoots (red arrow) and retain outward growing shoots. After these outward growing shoots grow two feet of new growth, I'll tip prune the terminal bud to slow down the extension growth of these side limbs.
The lateral branch on the left side of the tree had two upward growing shoots that needed to be removed (red arrows). With just a couple of snips with my pruning shears, I was able direct the growth of this lateral branch outwards rather that upwards (upward growing shoots will compete with the central leader).
Standing back away from this tree, it looks like I have a tree with a lot of blind wood (branch area not supporting new foliage). However, on close inspection, many buds along these stems were beginning to break bud (photo at right). As the growing season progresses, these new shoots will continue to grow, helping to fill out the canopy of this young tree.
After directive pruning, this young tree has lost the heavy profusion of leaves at all the terminals. I now have a single central leader and outward growing lateral limbs. By mid summer, this tree should develop additional lateral branches that will help fill out the tree's canopy