Budding and Grafting Pecans, What Is It?

Figure 1. A “graft” where a new variety is “grafted” or added to the established tree in an orchard.

Most people don’t have a clue what budding, or grafting is or if they do, don’t know why we do it! I can sure understand this since most of the reproduction in the world on the human side is not asexual it is sexual.

Wow! How did we go from budding and grafting to SEX? Well in budding and grafting we bypass the typical crossing of a male and a female to produce offspring by using either “budding or grafting” a portion of the plant we want (a new pecan variety) onto the same type of plant (an old pecan variety).

For instance, in pecan trees the nut that is produced can be planted by a squirrel and grow up into a big, beautiful pecan tree but the nuts on that tree may not resemble the planted nut at all. This is because the nut planted was produced by sexual means. The male pollen (figure 2) was produced on another tree, and it floated on the wind and fell on the pecan tree nutlet (figure 3) of another tree. Once on the flower parts of the nutlet, the male pollen and female nutlet mate and the resulting fruit (pecan nut) now has the genetics of the male crossed with the female to produce a new “child.” As any parent knows our children are not exactly like us! In nature this natural crossing produces what we know as native pecans in the wild or possibly an improved pecan variety if the cross was intended or made by someone to produce a named variety. This crossing process to produce new varieties is not easy!

Figure 2. male catkins that produce pollen

Figure 3. Small nutlets that receive pollen on tip ends with the flower

Now in budding and grafting we bypass this uncertainty by taking a bud or a piece of graftwood with buds from a tree we like and then transfer these buds onto a pecan tree that possibly produces poor quality nuts. This is an asexual method which will eventually produce exactly the pecan nuts we want. This is also used on all our fruit trees as well as our nut trees. Basically, we can use either buds or grafts depending on the tree type, personal preference or tree size. Most nurseries growing small trees use single buds in a method we call “budding” and in established orchards we typically use “grafting” which is placing a small limb with several buds onto a tree limb or even the main trunk as in figure 1.

Having said all this there are still many people who grow pecans, but very few that have ever grafted one! This is the time of year when we do both budding and grafting of pecan trees.  In fact, you may have a local field day in the orchard where a demonstration of both will be given.

Why now?  This is the time of year when we say that the “bark is slipping.”  What we mean is that it is the time of year when water is moving up as the tree is rapidly growing.  This water movement and consequent growth of the tree, leaves and bark, means that the bark can be easily pulled away or slipped.  Because of this slipping we can slide in a pecan bud or “inlay” in a piece of pecan graftwood into a branch or trunk. So, give it a try and see if you grow a new pecan!

Author: Bob Whitney, Regents Fellow & Extension Organic Specialist

Agriculturalist, extension educator and researcher, organic agriculture enthusiast and promoter, international program developer, Christian, husband, father and friend.

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