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Pecan Culture in Florida

The Florida Review


The Pecan may be propagated from seed or by budding and grafting. Formerly they were grown almost entirely from seed and seedling trees were planted. But now seedlings have given place to budded and grafted trees. Why so? It was announced as a fact, not so many years ago, and there are some who may still maintain it, that 50 per cent, or some other per cent, of pecans would come true to seed. But it must be stated as a fact that neither 50, nor an any other percent, will come true to seed. We have yet to find a single instance where the nut of a seedling tree was as indentical with that borne by its parent plant. Occasionally they are better, but the rule is that they generally are vastly inferior to the fruit produced by the parent plant. Hence, if an orchard of trees of the same habit of growth, prolificness, regularity in bearing, uniform throughout, trees which will produce a crop of nuts uniform in size, shape, color and quality, quality, is desired, do not plant seedling trees. Scores of these seedling trees produce nuts but little larger than chinquapins, and it is it fact which cannot be gainsaid that the seedling pecan, up to the time of fruiting, is an unknown quantity, after which it is too frequently a disappointment.

But seeds have their place. From them are grown grown the stocks upon which to work desirable varities. From seed may be originated new and desirable varieties, for it sometimes happens that the seedling is better than the parent. Seedling trees may be grown and set out in orchard form, to be worked afterward. This plan has something to recommend it. It is less expensive, provided time is not an object, for it takes a longer time to get bearing trees by this plan, and it is open to the further objection that it is more difficult to secure uniformity in size and shape of the trees than it is by setting out budded or grafted trees at first. The objection in the way of expense, if that be an objection, is best overcome by planting nuts in nursery rows, grafting the trees there, and then setting them in the field. By no means should the nuts be planted where the trees are to remain. It is too difficult to give them the necesary care. Besides, they are likely to be destroyed by squirrels or other animals or the seedlings injured through carelessness in cultivation.

Selecting and Planting Nuts—Nuts to be used in growing stocks should be fully matured before gathering. Some care should be taken in their selection. They should be of good size for the variety, and should be gathered only from healthy, vigorous trees. Frequently the only object held in view is to get as many nuts as possible in a pound, without regard to the tree on which they grew. We believe that this is in a large degree responsible for the unsatisfactory growth made by many grafted trees. Those nuts which mature first are best for planting.

The nuts may be planted in Florida as soon as they are taken from the trees, placing them in drills three and a half feet apart and covering them two and half or three inches deep. In many cases it may be necessary and more convenient to stratify the nuts in damp sand boxes, first an inch layer of sand, then a Iayer of nuts, until the boxes are filled. These boxes should be placed in a cool, shady place under a building, in a cellar, or buried in the earth. It is a good plan to cover them with wire net to prevent mice, rats or squirrels from attacking them. In early spring the boxes should be emptied out and the nuts planted as directed above.

The seed-bed should I be thoroughly prepared, plowed deeply or subsoiled, well supplied with organic matter, either from stable manure or from beggarweed, velvet beans, cowpeas, or some other leguminous crop on the soil, and turned under.

During the growing season the seed bed should be kept cultivated and free from weeds and grass. A fertilizer rich in nitrogen should be used. Its composition will have to be governed very largely by the character of the soil and the care and cultivation given it previously but for good nursery soils a fertilizer analyzing three pet cent nitrogen will give good results. In a favorable season the tops of the young trees will be a foot or somewhat more in height, with a tap root two feet and a half or so in length. The following spring and summer many of the young trees can be worked by grafting or budding.

Propagating Tools.—The tools necessary for propogating pecans— nursery work and top working—are a common budding knife, a budding tool, a grafting iron, a grafting mallet and a fine toothed saw.

The budding knife should have a thin blade of good steel capable of retaining a keen, sharp edge. The whetstone must be used frequently to keep the blade sharp to insure the making of smooth, clean cuts.

At least three budding tools have been invented. These are known as White's Galbreath's and Nelson's budding tools, respectively. The principle in each one is that two sharp cutting blades are fixed parallel to each other to insure uniformity in cutting annular and veneer shield or patch buds. White's budding implement is especially recommended for use in top working. The holes along the sides are used as a gauge for measuring the stock and bud stick. In the writer's opinion, the one best adapted for veneer shield budding, but the blades are just a little too close together. A very satisfactory knife for this work may be made from two ordinary budding knives and a piece of wood three quarters of an inch square and four inches long. To opposite sides of this the blades can be firmly attached with rivets and by binding with fine wire and twine.

The grafting iron is indispensable in cleft grafting. These can be purchased at small cost, or a blacksmith can make an excellent one from an old flat file. Three or four inches of the file should be flattened and sharpened for a blade. In the remainder drill two holes and attach two pieces of wood to form a handle.

A small sized carpenter's mallet answers nicely for a grafting mallet, or a very good one can be made from a piece of tough wood or a piece of an old wagon spoke. A leather thong should be attached to the handle, through which the wrist can be slipped to carry it when when top working.

The best saw for use in top working is a carpenter's back saw. This has a stiff blade, fine teeth, and leaves a smooth, clean cut.

Waxes, Cloth, and Twine—Good grafting wax may be made according to either of the following formulas:

  1. Resin 6 pounds, beeswax 2 pounds, linseed oil 1 pint.
  2. Resin 4 pounds, beeswax 2 pounds, tallow I pound.

Melt the ingredients in an iron kettle over a slow fire, stirring slowly to insure thorough mixing. When melted, pour out into a bucket of cold water, grease the hands, remove the wax from the water as soon as it can be handled and pulled until it is light yellow in color. Wax not needed for immediate use may be rolled up in balls, wrapped in oiled, stiff brown paper and put away for further use.

Waxed cloth can be prepared by melting the wax in a kettle and dropping into sheets or wide strips of old calico or cotton cloth. As soon as saturated with the wax, remove them from the kettle and stretch on a board. For use tear into strips one quarter or one half of an inch wide.

Waxed twine is prepared by dropping balls of No. 18 knitting cotton into the melted wax and stirring them about for four or five five minutes, or until the wax has penetrated them.

Selecting Cions and Buds—Cions and bud sticks should be taken from healthy, vigorous trees. Select the cions from well matured wood of one year's growth, though a piece of two-year old wood at the base will not matter. The wood is angular, small and the internodes long and the pith large in proportion to the diameter. Either terminal portions of twigs may be used or portions back of the tip, but the buds should always be well developed, full and plump. For this reason grafts should not be cut from wood far back from the tip of the branch. As stated already twigs of the previous season's growth are generally used, provided the growth is not too large. Grafts are generally cut about five or six inches long and should be from one quarter to three-eighths of an inch in thickness.

It is best that the grafts be cut while still in a dormant state, and inserted in the stock just before growth starts. The cions may be kept for a considerable length of time by placing them loosely packed in damp moss or sawdust, in a box. The box should be covered with earth and the cions kept sufficiently moist to prevent drying out. The difference in the condition of the stock and cion, it should be understood, is not absolutely necessary, as good results are frequently obtained without these precautions, but in grafting the pecan a difference in dormancy is extremely desirable, and it is an important factor in securing good results.

For bud sticks, well developed one year old branches, one-half to seven eighths of an inch in diameter and on which the buds are well formed, or older wood, with plump fall buds, are selected. Such sticks frequently show three buds at a node, and if some misfortune should overtake one or two of these, there is still a chance of success, though the upper one, being the strongest, is generally the one which starts, provided it is uninjured and the bud takes. The degree of maturity of the bud is important, and care should be exercised that only those which are plump, full and well-developed, used. It is easy to distinguish between desirable and undesirable buds are.

Excerpt from "Pecan Culture in Florida" The Florida Review, June, 1911 pgs 491-496.


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