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In the Pecan Orchard: February 2017

By Andy Sherrod, Orchard Manager

Managing Sunlight

I took my five-year-old granddaughter on a hike along the creek which borders the orchard. The crisp air, blue sky, and calm wind all made for a perfect winter day. At one point I mentioned that the pecan trees were dormant, and for those of you with five-year-old offspring, you know that the word "dormant" demands a definition.

"The trees are asleep," I said.

She started to whisper.

Although "asleep" is a simplified definition for dormant, I think that's a pretty good way to describe the condition of the pecan trees right now. They really are deep in sleep, resting after a long year of growing pecans. But there's no need to whisper in the orchard. They won't be waking up any time soon. As a matter of fact, February is the month that we at Royalty Pecan Farms make a lot of noise.

Pecan trees need to be pruned after harvest while they're dormant (February-March)

Hedger at work pruning branches in February

During the dormant season we prune the trees - or more specifically, we hedge the branches. Our purpose for hedging is to manage sunlight. Pecan production declines without adequate sunlight, and that's especially important for trees in an orchard situation. You see, as the trees grow larger they shade out their neighbors, "robbing" them of the available sunlight. We prune the limbs to help the sunlight reach around every tree. And that’s not the only benefit. A smaller canopy allows the sunlight to penetrate deeper, all the way to the point where the primary scaffold limbs leave the trunk. This causes the trees to develop more fruiting wood, thereby increasing production.

Pecan Trees Before and After Hedging

Pecan trees need to be pruned after harvest while they're dormant (February-March)
Pecan trees after hedging

One way we gauge whether crowding is a problem is by observing the orchard floor at noon during the summer. During that time, 50% or less of the floor should be shaded.

February is also a good month to take one of our 12:30 Saturday Orchard Tours. There's a lot to see now with the leaves gone. You might get to see the hedger working, but if not, you will see the result of the trimming process. And in case you're thinking you won't be able to hear your tour guide, don't worry. They won't be whispering.

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