Thursday, May 26, 2022

Directive pruning last year's grafts


      Once I finish up grafting for this year, I turn my attention to pruning last year's successful grafts. The photo at right illustrates the typical appearance of a young grafted tree in its second leaf. Last year, I carefully pruned the graft to ensure a single, strong central leader. But this spring, the tree popped multiple new shoots from the terminal of last year's growth.  If allowed to remain for the rest of this summer, these multiple shoots will create what is commonly known as a crow's foot and I will have lost my central leader. That is why I'm such a strong proponent of directive pruning. By pruning during the period of active shoot grow, I can "direct" the tree's new growth into maintaining a single leader.

   The photos above shows the terminal of my young grafted tree. Three shoots have developed at the very top of the tree. I identify the strongest growing shoot among the three and then prune out the others.

     To help focus the tree's growth energy into my new central leader, I also remove all lateral branches that arise from the main stem within the top 2 feet of the tree (measuring from the top of this year's new shoot growth). (photo above)

     Since I still have the bamboo stake in place from last year, I tied the tree upright to encourage to formation of a straight tree trunk. Later this summer, I'll probably replace the bamboo with a longer (and stronger) tree stake that will help me keep this tree growing the way I want. I allow lateral branches to develop lower down on trunk (but above the graft union). Lateral branches will increase tree leaf area helping to capture more sunlight to produce the carbohydrates needed to sustain rapid tree growth. These lateral limbs also catch more wind which in turn promotes trunk diameter growth.

    The photo at right is another example of a graft in its second leaf. In the past, I've called these trees "lolly-pop" trees because of the ball of new growth at the top of the tree. This tree also needs directive pruning.

     Whenever I go to prune a young tree, I always start at the top and work my way down. In this example, I have three shoots growing at the terminal but it appears I already have a strong central shoot. However, to reinforce the dominance of this new central leader, I'll prune off all competitors. Again, I stick to the 2 foot rule--No lateral branches within the top 2 feet of the central leader.

    Once I finished pruning I noticed that I already had a couple of lateral buds breaking further down on the stem (photo at right). I make sure I leave these in place for now. 

    Many grower make the mistake of pruning all lateral branches off as soon as possible. Their thought is that by removing low limbs the tree will grow taller, faster. However this is not the case.  Removing all laterals only serves to create a tall thin tree that bends over under it own weight, often snapping in a good wind storm. Nut production will also be delayed by over-pruning lateral limbs. 

    On my trees, I leave lateral branches on the tree until the tree has developed a nice full crown. At that point, I start to remove one or two low limbs each year. My goal is to develop a tree with 8 to 10 feet of clear trunk. However, it usually takes 12 to 15 years to get to that point.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Notes on pecan pollination

     Last weekend I took advantage of calm winds and sunny skies to photograph pecan flowering and pollination. I also like to scout my orchard at this time of year to get a feel for this year's nut crop. During the month of May, my trees are always covered with catkins--the long worm-like structures that hang down from last year's shoot growth. Male flowers (pollen sacs) cover each catkin and eventually split open to release millions of yellow pollen grains into the air to hopefully find their way to a receptive female bloom.

    Pecan female blooms are not very showy (photo at right) and can be found at the terminal new spring shoot growth. Look carefully at the flower cluster in the photo and you will note that the ends of each flower (the stigmatal surface) has started to turn dark brown-black indicating these flowers have been pollinated. The flower cluster pictured here is from a Kanza tree. Kanza is a protogynous cultivar meaning the female flowers on the tree become receptive early in the pollination season while Kanza pollen is released late.

     When scouting my orchard for yield potential, I concentrate on counting the number of terminals on a tree that have developed female flower clusters. The good news for my orchard is that the 2022 crop looks very promising at this point.

On my trip around the orchard, I decided to concentrate recording the flowering habits of the pecan cultivars originating from my breeding project. I took 2 photos of each cultivar. The first shows the entire fruiting shoot. The second is a close-up of a female flower cluster. All photos were taken on May 14th. I've noted the flowering habit of each cultivar.


Caney was actively shedding pollen at the time this photo was taken.

Caney pistillate flowers were still growing and not yet receptive. The stigmas will be bright red at receptivity.









Earlton has long slender catkins typical of protogynous cultivars.

A Earlton flower cluster shows signs of already being pollinated.


Look carefully. See if you can spot the female flower cluster held at the end of the new Labette shoot.

Labette female flowers look ready to receive pollen.


Liberty was shedding pollen and should make a good pollinator for Kanza.

Liberty female flowers were still growing in size. Stigmas will be red in color.


Pleasanton catkins are starting to turn yellow in color. It won't be long before pollen sacs start to open and release their pollen grains.

Pleasanton female flowers have started to turn brown indicating pollination has occurred.


St. Paul catkins were shedding pollen. So much pollen that I had to clean off my camera lens.

St. Paul female flowers were still not fully formed. These females will have green stigmas.


Thayer catkins have shed most of their pollen and have turned brown in color.

Thayer female flowers are still growing. The stigmas will be bright red when receptive to pollen

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Grafting time

Preparing a scion for grafting
     During a normal year, I usually starting grafting pecan trees during the first week of May. However, last week (the first of May) we received over 7.5 inches of rain during the course of the week and the Neosho River spilled over its banks flooding a large part of my pecan grove. Needless to say, my 2022 grafting season got off to a late start. 

    This week, summertime temperatures and ample sunshine dried the fields enough to make getting out in the field to graft trees possible. One of the biggest mistakes novice pecan growers make in grafting trees is  attempting to place a graft on a tree that is too small and does not yet have a well established root system.  My rule of thumb is to never graft a tree unless it grew at least 2 feet of new shoot growth the previous growing season.

   The tree pictured at left is ideal for grafting. By the time a pecan tree has achieved this size above the ground, the root system is extensive and features a massive tap root.  


   I usually graft this sized tree at about 20 to 24 inches above to soil (photo at right). I choose this height for two reasons. First, 20 inches is a comfortable working height for me while I sit on my cooler to carve the scion and place the graft. Secondly, removing a majority of the top will force the tree to focus all its energy on pushing shoots that sprout from the scion. Ultimately, the rapid growth that results from such drastic pruning is easy to train into a strong central leader trunk.  

  The tree I selected for grafting is roughly one inch in diameter at the point I made the cut (photo at left). I like to use a bark graft in this circumstance. Once the graft starts growing it won't be long until new wood growth completely covers over the wound I made on the seedling rootstock.


    For a small diameter bark graft, I choose a small diameter scion to insert under the bark (photo at right). If you would like to see a more detailed discussion of how to make this graft, check out a previous post HERE.

   I always attach a bamboo stake to the tree after I've completed the graft (photo at left). Initially, this stake protects the scion from bird damage (perching birds can break off the scion). Once the scion breaks bud, I tie emerging shoots to the stake to train the new growth and to prevent wind damage. 

     This photo also reminds me that I've been using the same grafting box for 40 years. It has served me well.

     Deer populations in Kansas have exploded to the point where I never leave a young tree uncaged.  The cage protected the seedling the entire time it was growing into grafting sized tree. Once grafted, the cage will remain until the young tree has grown limbs well above deer browsing height.   At that point, I remove the cage and place a trunk protector on the tree to prevent buck rub.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Pecan leaf burst and first signs of pollination season

Kanza leaf burst, 26 Apr 2022
      Last week I was able to photograph several pecan cultivars as new spring growth emerged from long-dormant branches. As buds break, you should note the strong apical dominance of new shoot growth that is characteristic of pecan trees.  In the photo at right, new shoots and leaves sprout primarily from a cluster of terminal buds that developed as shoot growth slowed to a stop during the summer of last year.  Further down the stem, you will note that buds have broken open but seem to only produce male flowers or catkins. This is a consequence of apical dominance. The buds at the terminal of the branch break first and their growth sends a hormonal signal down the branch to suppress the development of  vegetative buds lower on the branch. 

    For sexually mature pecan trees, each primary bud on last year's shoot contains a central vegetative bud and two lateral male reproductive buds. Note that each male reproductive bud produces 3 catkins. As terminal growth continues to expand the hormonal signals become so strong that it causes central vegetative buds lower on the stem to abort from the tree. The catkins, however,  remain until they complete pollen shed later in May. 

Gardner, 26 Apr 2022
    As I moved through my orchard, I observed obvious differences between cultivars in terms of bud development and the appearance of catkins. Some trees appear to produce catkins well before new shoot growth. This occurs with protandrous pecan cultivars like Gardner (photo at left).

    Pecan trees have one of two flowering habits. Trees that release pollen before their female flowers become receptive, have a protandrous flowering habit. Trees that produce female flowers that are receptive to pollen before they release their own pollen are termed protogynous.  

   Over the years, I have also noted that the catkins on protandrous cultivars appear short and fat while catkins on protogynous cultivar are much longer and narrow.

Labette, 26 Apr 2022

    The photo at right is of a  Labette shoot and is typical of the early Spring appearance of a protogynous cultivar. Note how far the leaves have expanded in contrast to the Gardner shoot pictured above. Catkins on Labette have also emerged but they are not nearly a prominent as the catkins on Gardner at this point. However, note that even though Labette catkins are still enlarging they are already longer than Gardner catkins.

    During my tour of the orchard I noted two cultivars that had significantly later bud development.  Both Liberty and Hark are protandrous cultivars. Liberty appears to lag several days behind the leaf burst of other protandrous cultivars. In striking contrast, Hark leaf burst is far behind all other cultivars on my farm. Late leafing is a desirable cultivar characteristic for a pecan cultivar when grown in areas with a high risk of late Spring frosts.