The art of using cuttings to produce a replica of the parent plant is a form of vegetative propagation. Open pollination will often produce pecan seeds that are not true to the parent's characteristics when sprouted. Rooting cuttings is a way for home gardeners to reproduce fine pecan varieties without mutation.
Best Type of Cutting
Two types of cuttings can be taken from pecan trees for rooting: softwood or hardwood cuttings. According to the USDA Forestry Service in their manual on hardwoods, "Silvics Manual Volume 2," from the chapter "Pecan," softwood cuttings are easier to root. Putting the cuttings into the soil mix for rooting is called "sticking."
Softwood cuttings are best taken in late spring or early summer from new growth. Test to see if you have true softwood. According to Miranda Smith in her 2007 book, "The Plant Propagator's Bible," bending branches at a 90-degree angle, 6 inches from the tip, will tell you whether you have softwood. "Hardwood won't bend at all, and branches that are too young to cut won't break."
The two most important factors in rooting are noting when you take cuttings and the age of the tree. Shoots from young trees root better because the parents are still in a vigorous growth stage. Avoid shoots with flower buds when taking cuttings or remove the buds before sticking the cuttings.
Softwood cuttings are best gathered in the morning. Take cuttings just before you plan to use them and carry a bucket or can with wet paper towels in it to keep the cuttings cool and moist. Make sure your container has a cover to exclude light. Cut 6 inch sections from stems that have stopped growing at the tips but haven't hardened completely yet. Make your 45 degree cut 1 inch below the spot where a leaf joins the stem. Remove all but the top two leaves from the cuttings and roll them up gently in your wet paper toweling.
Stick cuttings immediately after you take them. Have rooting trays filled with a moist, sterile commercial rooting mix ready and use rooting hormone. Cuttings can be wounded on the bottom 4 inches by removing small patches of the outer bark to allow rooting hormone to enter. After dipping the bottom 4 inches of the cutting in rooting hormone, tap off the excess and insert it in the rooting mix till only the top 2 inches protrude.
Softwood cuttings need at least six hours of light per day to root, but not direct sunlight. Propagation beds with grow lights, timers and heaters can be purchased from many sources. The ideal rooting tray has a heated bed (usually set to 70 degrees) and a vented cover. Moisture loss in the rooting mix is the primary cause of failed cuttings. Misting run by a timer reduces water loss through leaves and increases rooting success.
- USDA Forest Service: Rooting Pecan Cuttings
- gtz-treecrops.org: Plant Propagation by Stem Cuttings
- University of Florida IFAS Extension: The Pecan Tree
- Washington State University Extension: Propagating with Stem Cuttings
- Texas A&M Extension: Home Pecan Production
- University of Minnesota Forestry Division: Propagating Pecan and Black Walnut
Beth Asher began writing in 1972 for a catalog company. She has written for schools and charities, including Star Workshop Foundation. She was a John Deere representative for nine years, manager of Brown's Blueberries and an advisory member of King County Small Farms Board and the Washington Association of Landscape Professionals. Asher holds a Bachelor of Science in computer networking from City University.