Q: Should I top my pecan tree? I recently saw pecan trees which were very lush and bushy but they had been topped.
A: I always love an opportunity to share proper pruning techniques with the public. These proper techniques have been proven the best for the tree through research provided by the Environmental Horticulture Department at the UF/IFAS. I am going to glean a portion of the UF/IFAS publication, “The Pecan” by Dr. Crocker and Dr. Anderson regarding proper pruning of pecans. “Trees at planting are normally a whip without branches. A newly planted tree should have between ½ and 1/3 of the top removed so as to bring roots and shoots into balance. (But this is the only time the tops are removed). Some terminology is in order. Tree training is performed early in the life of the tree to form a proper tree framework. Pecan trees should be trained to a central leader training system. Select a vigorous upright shoot as your main leader and remove adjacent shoots. This is very important. For commercial plantings, lateral branches should not be allowed to form from the newly established central leader until a height of 5 feet is achieved. Lateral branches must be at least five feet from the ground to avoid their interfering with cultural practices such as herbicide spraying and mechanical harvesting. Lateral limbs will become scaffold limbs as the tree matures. Ideally, lateral branches should be selected about every 18 inches in vertical height and positioned in all quadrants of the tree. To allow the accumulation of photosynthate, laterals that develop below a height of 5 feet can be retained temporarily for a year or two, but then they should be pruned off. Sprouts emanating from the rootstock (below the graft union) should be removed as they form. Pruning as little as necessary during the first several years will hasten tree development. Mature pecan trees are not routinely pruned.”