Country World Archives 2001-2008

Pecan-tree grafting is a learned art 

By MINDY POEHL | Central Texas Edition

Larry Jim Womack, owner of Womack’s Nursery in DeLeon, demonstrates how to fit a piece of graftwood onto an already existing, young pecan tree.
— Photo by Mindy Poehl

April 27, 2006 - Many native pecan trees in Texas produce hard shelled, small pecans. People who prefer larger pecans with softer shells, rather than the native pecan species, can graft different pecan tree varieties to their already existing native pecan trees. Grafting is joining a preferred pecan tree part to a native pecan tree so that they will eventually grow together.

On Wednesday, April19, a budding and grafting workshop was held at Womack’s Nursery in DeLeon. Father, Larry Jim Womack, and son, Larry Don Womack were the instructors of the workshop.

The graftwood must first be collected during the late winter during the dormant season. 

“You want to select trees of the desired variety that are free of obscure scale, rosette and disease,” explained Larry Don.

— Photo by Mindy Poehl

Younger trees produce abundant, smooth and large-sized wood. Moderate sized trees have good graftwood in their uppermost limbs. Older trees can be cut back to force vigorous new growth that is satisfactory for graftwood.

The graftwood collected should contain at least three buds or nodes and should be straight and smooth. Once the graftwood sticks are collected, bundle them together, seal the end of the graft sticks with melted wax, grafting paint or orange shellac, and label them.  

“Pack the sticks in moss, paper towels or wood shavings to prevent them from drying out,” explained Larry Don. “Then, wrap the bundles in polyethylene bags. Plastic bags do not allow the sticks to breathe.”

Next, refrigerate the bags of graft stick bundles at 30 to 45 degrees F. The sticks will now be ready to graft in the spring as the trees begin to grow.

“Right now is the ideal time to graft,” Larry Don said. “Once there is two to three inches of long growth, that’s when you bud and graft.”

Larry Jim added, “The best grafting takes place on a young tree with fresh growth. I don’t recommend grafting extra large trees.”

“The flatter the cut and the quicker you get it done, the better the graft will grow,” said Larry Don.

T-budding or shield budding is a special grafting technique in which the scion (the plant being represented by the bud) piece is reduced to a single bud. The plant being grafted onto is referred to as the stock. A small branch with several buds suitable for T-budding is called a bud stick.

“Bud sticks with plump buds are suitable scions and the bud sticks should be on branches that exhibit good growth,” explained Larry Don. “The bud and a small sliver of wood underneath are cut from the bud stick using an upward slicing motion.”

The cut should begin 1/2 to 3/4 inches below the bud and should go deep enough into the wood so that when the cut is finished 1/2 to 3/4 inches above the bud, the bark and a small sliver of wood are cut off. A perpendicular cut across the top of the upward cut separates it from the bud stick, thus creating the T-bud.

“Your budding knife needs to be very sharp,” explained Larry Jim. “That way you will damage the bud as little as possible.”

A vertical cut is made on the stem of the root stock. The cut should be deep enough to insure that the bark will separate at the cambium, the cell layers in the tree. Then, a perpendicular cut is made at the upper end of the vertical cut.

“Slip the bark from the stem of the rootstock and expose the pocket-like cut, where the the bud shield will be placed,” Larry Don said. “Wrap the graft with plastic to hold moisture in.”

Next, the banana graft or four-flap graft was demonstrated. 

“For a beginner, this is one of the easier ones to do,” said Larry Jim.

Cut straight across the trunk or limb with sharp pruning shears at the point you want to graft. If possible, leave one or two side branches below the grafting point, but cut them back to 6 inches. 

“Make four vertical, equally spaced cuts 1 to 1 1/2 inches long on the stock plant,” explained Larry Jim. “On the scion piece, leave some bark, but cut down to the wood.”

Leave four thin slivers of bark and cambium at the corners. Pull the four flaps on the stock up to cover the four cut surfaces on the scion. Wrap foil or plastic around the area to hold it together.

“On this cut, all you need is one part to attach to the tree,” explained Bob Whitney, Comanche County Extension agent.

Next, the Womack’s demonstrated the patch bud, which is what they primarily use in the nursery. Patch budding should be used on plants with thick bark and it is performed while the plants are actively growing, in May, June or July, with a two-bladed knife.

“Remove a rectangular piece of bark from the rootstock. Cover the wound with a bud and matching piece of bark from the scion,” said Larry Don. “You can blunt the nail and hammer the graft into the wood.”

Then, the union is wrapped to hold the graft in place.

“He (Larry Jim) can do this so easily,” said Whitney. “You should get your own piece of wood and try it and I bet you will break all of them.”