Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Top-working a large pecan tree

    Today, I decided to attack a seedling pecan tree we have growing amongst a block of grafted trees (photo at right). Several years ago, this tree suffered severe limb and trunk breakage in an ice storm and the tree responded by growing a new shoot from below the original graft union. Since the tree had large and well established root system, the new top has grown like mad and is now too big for a single bark graft.
   Armed with a bag of scions, I drove our hydraulic lift out to the tree and prepared myself for top-working the entire tree.
     My first step was to cut every major limb in the tree from top to bottom using a chainsaw and hydraulic lift (photo at right). Each limb was cut so I would have a 1.5 to 2.5 inch diameter stump in which to place a bark graft. I left several small branches on the tree to provide some leaf area to help feed the root system.

    Standing in the lift, I ended up placing nine bark grafts on this tree (photo at right). In the past, I've grafted trees from the top step of a ladder but then I  always seem to drop a tool or roll of tape just when I needed it. Working from the hydraulic lift made this job a lot easier. However, it still took me an hour to graft this one tree.
    Placing 9 grafts on a tree is actually the simple part of top-working (photo at left). I'll have to watch each graft carefully to make sure they take and protect growing grafts from wind damage. I'll also need to prune off all the sprouts that will develop below the grafts to ensure that I don't end up with a tree canopy that produces both improved and seedling pecans.
    This summer, I plan on visiting this tree every three weeks and I'll keep you posted on my progress.