November/December 2022 - 23

Year Three
rates are so important for young trees. Too much nitrogen
in the early years can cause too much canopy growth, which
can then cause a tree to fall over since it never developed
the proper root structure to support itself. It outgrows its
own root structure, which can be detrimental in extreme
weather, like hurricanes.
In 2018, Hurricane Michael hit Southwest Georgia,
destroying many pecan orchards, and so much so that
Georgia lost its No.1 spot as U.S. pecan producer. (It has
since been reclaimed.) Sawyer saw firsthand how growers
lost trees.
When the tops of the tree are cut, they often grow back
with what are colloquially called " crow's feet, " where 3-4
branches grow out of a single point in that second year of
pruning, creating a tangled mess in the treetops.
At fourth leaf, there shouldn't be any lower branches
that need pruning, as this was done in the year prior. In the
fourth year, crow's feet should be removed, as well as any
branches that compete with the central leader.
" Sometimes, there will be a few Vs. You don't want any of
that because a straight line wind will come through the top,
and it will split the bark down the whole length of the tree, "
said Sawyer. " It'll rip the bark all the way down the trunk
and ruin the tree. "
When the trees fork or have narrow crotches and are not
pruned, the tree can grow into a large V shape that lacks
strength because the limbs are so close together and can
push against one another.
" It becomes a chainsaw situation, and you're just trying to
salvage the tree, but you've got to cut half the tree off to get
rid of the fork, " said Sawyer.
Branches are strongest when they're close to a 90-degree
angle straight out from the trunk, because what connects
that branch to the tree is wood, said Sawyer. But branches
at a 45-degree angle or less are getting their strength from
the bark, which actually has no structural support.
If trees in the third and fourth years have any branches
that are growing closely with the trunk - or straight
up alongside it - it's best to remove them, because the
tighter the branches are with the trunk, the less strength
they will have. And those, Sawyer said, are the ones that
the wind will split.
Some growers who opted to skip pruning in those early
years have experienced tree loss due to wind. The tree
grows quickly, and by year six or seven, any pruning done
will require a chainsaw. It's a lot of work those first four
years, said Sawyer, and something a grower won't see the
fruits of until later.
" People think that when they prune a tree that they're
hurting it, but the trees love it, " said Sawyer.
UGA research has shown that pecan trees don't put on
a lot of significant branches in the first four years while
they're putting on roots. This is also why certain fertilizer
" Sometimes growers apply a lot of fertilizer and water,
and then the trees grow really quickly. And the trees need
water, but they also need to grow roots. There's a certain
amount of stress they can be under that makes them grow
deep roots, " said Sawyer.
One grower near Sawyer lost over 30% of his orchard -
about 1,000 trees - during Hurricane Michael.
Lenny Wells, professor and pecan Extension specialist,
UGA, conducted additional research after Hurricane
Michael to determine the differences between hedged and
unhedged pecan orchards. Hedging is still fairly new to
Georgia pecans, but quickly gaining traction in a move to
become the new cultural practice, and for good reason.
" The hedged trees survived better by about 60%, " said
Sawyer. " It was a huge difference. "
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November/December 2022

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of November/December 2022

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