Pecan trees are not only a beautiful shade tree but also a fun (albeit messy) source of tasty, nutritious nuts.
A healthy pecan tree has the potential to outlive the grandchildren of the person who planted it, so you can start a single tree or an entire grove that will produce abundant harvests for generations. However, long-lived trees come with the caveat of long juvenile stages.
Growers can shorten the juvenile stage of a pecan tree by taking cuttings or grafting new material onto an established tree.
Pecan trees can easily be grown from cuttings. Take cuttings ¼” in diameter in late spring when the tree has broken dormancy. Remove leaves from the bottom half of each cutting, dip the end in rooting hormone, and place it in a tray of moist perlite.
Although pecan trees can be successfully grown from cuttings, there are a few considerations before you start chopping off branches to create a personal pecan grove.
Pros and Cons of Growing Pecan Trees from Cuttings
Although it is easy to start a pecan tree from seed, many growers and homeowners prefer to start them from cuttings. However, a tree grown from a cutting may have a few long-term disadvantages.
There are two benefits to growing pecan trees from cuttings:
- Shorter juvenile stage
- Genetic copy of parent plant
A pecan is the result of pollen landing on a female flower and producing seed. Pecan trees are monoecious, meaning they have separate male and female flowers. Depending on the variety, the flowers will bloom at different times.
This means that, in general, only the male or female flowers are open on any given pecan tree at one time. Therefore, pecans require multiple trees in the area to ensure a healthy nut harvest. This way, trees will be blooming at various times in close proximity, which provides some overlap between the male and female flowers blooming and producing pollen.
Each nut, or seed, will likely be the result of a cross between two nearby trees. However, some flowers may be pollinated by Tree A, while others are pollinated by Tree B, and still others by Tree C, with the only limiting factor being the number of pecan trees in the area.
What does this mean?
It means that if you start 10 seeds from a pecan tree, you may end up with 10 different hybrid trees. Some may take on positive characteristics, while others will carry on negative characteristics. This could result in unpredictable blooming habits, inconsistent pest resistance, and random growth habits.
Furthermore, pecan trees started from seed may take 15 years or longer to begin nut production.
While breeders intentionally cross specific trees in the hopes of producing an improved variety, most homeowners don’t want to wait 15 years before a tree starts producing nuts with an unpredictable flavor.
Cuttings are a genetic match to the parent plant. If you own a tree or find a tree with a desirable characteristic, like superior nut flavor, pest resistance, growth habit, etc., a cutting will give you the best chance at copying these characteristics and reproducing them. Plus, cuttings can grow into producing trees in as little as 6 years, reducing the wait for a nut harvest by almost a decade.
Not only do cuttings shorten the juvenile growth stage, but the actual process of taking and rooting cuttings is much faster than trying to get seeds to germinate. Seeds must be harvested in the fall, dried for 2-3 months, chilled for 2-3 months, and then planted until they germinate in another 1-2 months (source).
Cuttings, on the other hand, can grow roots in as little as 6 weeks.
There are two major downsides to starting a pecan tree from a cutting:
- The tree will not have a taproot
- Multiple genetic copies create a weak population
Trees grow taproots to anchor themselves into the subsoil. However, taproots are formed during seedling germination, so trees grown from cuttings are not able to form taproots.
The average taproot on a pecan tree is 10’ deep, and the rest of the root system grows in the top few feet of soil. Pecan trees can grow up to 75’ tall, which makes them quite top-heavy compared to the shallow root system.
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What does this mean?
It means a pecan tree grown from a cutting has a higher chance of becoming uprooted as it matures. You can minimize this risk with proper maintenance and keeping the size in check with pruning. You may also want to avoid planting trees grown from cuttings in sandy soil.
The other downside to starting pecan trees from cuttings is the weakness created with genetic copies. Yes, cloning an amazing tree is a benefit, but if you plan on starting a grove of pecan trees, you must have some genetic variation.
First, male flowers on genetic copies will bloom at the same time, which makes it more difficult for trees to pollinate one another. Second, if the parent tree had a susceptibility to a specific pest, the chances are much greater that one infestation could wipe out your entire grove.
If you are planning on propagating multiple trees to create a large pecan population, take cuttings from multiple parent plants to build genetic diversity and create a stronger pecan grove.
How to Grow Pecan Trees from Cuttings
The first step in taking a successful cutting is finding a tree with desirable characteristics.
Pecan trees are native to the southeast region of the United States, and many mature trees in the area are wild- meaning each tree will be a unique genetic blend. This is opposed to new varieties, like Kanza and Stuart, which have been bred to have specific pollination habits and pest resistance.
In general, younger trees in developed areas are probably modern varieties, while older trees are more likely to be a wild specimen that was preserved during development.
How to Choose a Pecan Tree for Cuttings
A cutting is a clone, and you want to make sure the tree you’re cloning is healthy, has some pest resistance, and has a flavorful nut. These characteristics can be present in modern varieties or wild specimens; as long as you’re cloning a tree you find desirable, go for it.
Except… one pesky legal issue. Patented pecan varieties are protected by law, and they cannot be propagated for the first 20 years after the patent was issued (the same holds true for all patented plants). However, unless you plan on selling trees you start from cuttings, most patent owners don’t mind if you take a few cuttings for your own personal use.
Of course, this doesn’t apply to trees that were patented more than 20 years ago, or trees with mixed genetic material (i.e. wild trees).
There are three things to look for when you’re choosing a tree to take a cutting from:
- Tree is free from disease and pest infestation
- Tree has solid trunk/limbs (not too old)
- Tree produces lots of nuts with good flavor (somewhat dependent on other pollinators)
Once you’ve found your perfect specimen, it’s time to take some cuttings.
How to Take Cuttings from a Pecan Tree
Take pecan cuttings in late spring or early summer.
Gather your tools:
- A pair of sharp bypass pruners
- Scalpel or razor blade
- Bucket with water or wet rags/towel
- 4”-6” deep container filled with moist perlite
- Spray bottle
- Rooting hormone (1% IBA talc)
- Grow light (optional only in greenhouse settings)
- Heating mat (optional but greatly improves success rate)
- Humidity dome (you can make your own with clear plastic material)
- Identify healthy, leafy branches without blooms
- Follow a small twig back to where the diameter exceeds ¼”
- Make a 45° angled cut just above a leaf or leaf bud
- Immediately place the cut twig in a bucket of water or wrap in a wet rag
- Continue to take cuttings until you have enough plant material
A few notes:
-Take cuttings first thing in the morning, and don’t leave them in the bucket or wet rag longer than necessary
-You can cut one twig into multiple cuttings, but leave the twig intact until you are ready to put the cuttings in perlite
-Twigs must be at least 6” long to take a cutting
-Place the twig cut side down into the water
Prepare cuttings (source):
- Take your twigs back to the propagation area before you cut them to size
- Fill trays or containers with perlite and moisten until it holds shape but does not drip when squeezed
- Place containers or trays on heating mats (optional)
- Remove one twig at a time and place on a hard cutting surface
- Use the scalpel or razor blade to make a 45° angled cut ⅛” below the bottom leaf or leaf bud on the twig
- Make another cut ⅛” above a leaf or leaf bud 6” above your first cut
- Important: Remember which end is the bottom- roots will only grow out of the bottom of the twig
- Remove leaves and leaf buds from the bottom 3” of the cutting
- Dip the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone
- Place the cutting 3” deep in the perlite
- Repeat until you have enough cuttings
Finish propagation station:
- Once all cuttings are in the perlite, mist them with water from a spray bottle
- Place a humidity dome, or clear plastic material, over the container. Make sure the plastic does not touch the plant material
- Turn the heating mat on to 70°-80°
- Turn on a grow light (unless the plants are in a greenhouse)
- Mist the cuttings at least twice per day, and keep the perlite consistently moist
- Remove the humidity dome when you mist cuttings to promote airflow. If cuttings become too wet, remove the dome later in the afternoon to allow perlite to dry out
- Cuttings should be in indirect sunlight or under a grow light. If cuttings are placed in direct sunlight, they will dry out
- Remove twigs that show signs of mold
- After 6-8 weeks, gently tug on cuttings to check for signs of root growth
- Twigs that pull up easily and show signs of mold should be removed
- After 8-12 weeks, transplant rooted cuttings into 1-gallon containers with potting soil
- Keep transplanted cuttings moist until they begin to show new top-growth, then water as normal
- Once all the cuttings have been removed from the propagation tray, discard the perlite and thoroughly sanitize the containers before your next round of cuttings
Once you have successfully grown your own pecan trees from cuttings, it’s time to plant!