Keeping your pecan trees pruned and trimmed is extremely important for how they will grow in the future. You might be intimidated at first, but Bag-A-Nut's President, Silas Dudley, makes learning how simple. It just takes some knowledge and practice. He's been able to practice a lot at the Bag-A-Nut testing orchard where he tends to his many young pecan trees.
The first key piece of information is when to prune your trees. Silas explains, "It's winter time, the trees are dormant, all that nutrition is down at the roots... so it's time to prune. These colder months are the best time to prune because the nutrients aren't moving through the cambium. There are also no leaves so it's easier to see where you need to trim.”
You'll need to trim for a "central leader". This is the stronger, healthier shape that can handle shaking and heavy loads better, due to the angles being wider than what naturally happens in most varieties. Sometimes it's difficult to decide which limb will be your central leader, but just make your best guess. Take your time and size up the tree. Look around at the scaffold branches, which are the horizontal branches that go out to the side. You're looking for open angles. You don't want any narrow or tight angles because that makes for a weaker tree. Start thinking about keeping the lateral branches up higher to allow access under the trees with equipment. You don't want to be mowing the grass and catch your head on low limbs or hit them with your tractor.
Once you've decided which limbs to trim, make sure you cut as close as possible. You don't want a stub sticking out because this could cause water and insects to collect which could lead to rotting. In general, try to stagger the lateral limbs around the central leader about every 18".
If you notice limbs towards the top of your tree that won't compete with your central leader, you can give them a chance and see if they'll become good lateral branches. If they don't, you can always trim them the following season.
Next, you're going to shape the central leader to grow the way you want. Locate a nice bud on the top of the central leader and snip right above it. Knock off any secondary and tertiary buds on the top three buds of that same branch. This gives one of the buds a chance to become the new central leader. As you move further down, knock off some of the primary buds to prevent them from competing with the central leader in the future. Also, knock off any buds inside the crotches because you don't want them growing out and crossing over other branches. All of this will make it so you won't have to trim as much next year.
Trim the scaffold branches as well by selecting a bud that will grow out horizontally and snipping right above it. Then wipe off any buds that are pointing up towards the central leader. In trees a few years old you can head back the lateral or scaffold branches by as much as half. Be strategic by knocking off the appropriate ones at the right heights and don’t forget to clear the top ones from the scaffold branches.
The last step is to clean up the fallen branches and appreciate the beauty of your growing trees. Spring is coming and your trees will continue to grow healthier. All that hard work will be worth it!
Pruning Young Pecan Trees:
Pruning Pecan Trees Out of Season:
Caring For Pecan Trees For the Backyard Orchard: