Issue: March124, 2001

Transplanted tree died back

Question:

We moved our pecan tree from the north side of our house to the south side. It grew, but during the summer it dried from the top down. It then started to grow only from the very bottom, like a bush. How can we get it to grow into a tree? It is about 10 ft. tall. How much do we cut down? This was last year, and we want to try to fix it this year before it starts to get warmer. Please reply. We need your help. Thank you.

Answer:

When a tree is moved, it suffers considerable transplant shock. The drought last year may have also contributed. There are other problems that could have contributed, including disease, but I will assume only transplant shock in this case. The south side of a landscape is much hotter and drier than the shadier north side, so shock is very probable.

The larger the transplanted tree, the more it will suffer from transplant shock. Different species of trees respond to this stress in different ways. Yours seems to have died to the ground and sprouted from buds at the base of the tree.

Did the main trunk die completely? Was the tree purchased originally or did it volunteer from a pecan that you planted or a nut that a bird dropped? These questions are important because the new sprouts may have developed from below the graft on a purchased tree and will not produce the desired variety. If the trunk has died back completely, you will have fewer options.

If the trunk died to the ground and it is likely that the rootstock variety is all that remains, you can choose to keep it and see if the nuts are desirable, or you can remove this tree and purchase another tree. If you leave it, it may take many years to begin producing pecans.

If the tree was from a seed rather than purchased, the same considerations apply. The desirability of the nuts is unknown until it begins bearing nuts, and that may take many years. This is not to say that the nuts will be bad, but they may be small with hard shells. The flavor may be acceptable.

If you choose to save the tree, remove all dead and weak portions of the trunk. If there are sprouts developing from several inches above the base of the tree, these are probably above the graft (if the tree was purchased) and will produce the desired variety of nuts. Select the healthiest of these higher sprouts and remove all others. This will train it into tree form and reduce the competition from other sprouts for water and nutrients.

If all the sprouts are growing from the very base of the tree, you will probably have only the rootstock variety represented and will not be able to salvage the grafted variety. In this case choose the one best-looking sprout to save and remove all the others.

By removing the competing sprouts, you should see the remaining sprout growing vigorously as it receives all the benefit of the existing root system. You will probably observe new sprouts forming at the base. Remove them as soon as you see them. Don't damage the stem you have left when you do this.

Thank you for being patient and persistent. This is not the first time you sent this question. My travel schedule coupled with the receipt of a large number of questions has made it difficult to answer each one privately and quickly. For the Yard and Garden (newspaper and website) column, I try to choose to answer questions relevant to many gardeners in New Mexico. Many New Mexicans grow pecans, especially from Albuquerque south and in the southeastern part of the state. This question is relevant to other New Mexico gardeners who don't grow pecans because the situation you described often happens when trees are transplanted.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.