It’s July…it’s summertime! Growers are out inspecting their trees to get an idea of the crop they will harvest later this year. This may be easy, as in the case of elderberries, where the white panicles of blooms are borne at the tips of stems and the green berries, ripening to purple are near eye level. Pawpaw fruits are large enough to be seen, even though tucked among the enormous green leaves. Persimmons are also visible, although require a keen eye as they are nearly the same shade of green as their surrounding leaves. Walnuts and pecans are readily visible at the tips of branches…if pollination was successful. Even during years with adequate pollination, trees may not produce a large crop if they made a lot of nuts the prior year. This on-again, off-again phenomenon, known as alternate bearing, is often triggered by boom crops, which drain energy from the tree as they ripen in the fall, leaving minimal energy to form female flowers for the next year. Chestnut burs are still tiny, but will grow quickly over the summer, maturing mid-September thru mid-October.
Spring pollination is only one hurdle faced in the marathon to produce a fall harvest. Summer thunderstorms with high winds and hail, can damage leaves, break branches, and even snap and uproot trees that have all that additional crop weight “upstairs”. It’s said that Missouri is only 10 days away from a drought as heat and plant needs pull the moisture from the soil and it is the water that is available at this time of year that is critical for nut sizing and the beginning of kernel fill.
Exploring details of water needed by pecan trees, known for their bottomland habitat, led me to the Noble Research Institute in Ardmore, Oklahoma. About 350 researchers from a range of disciplines and from 20-plus countries work at the Institute headquarters in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and on research farms in the surrounding area, to carry out the vision of Lloyd Noble. Lloyd Noble established the Noble Research Institute (originally named The Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation) in 1945 to help revitalize agriculture after the Dust Bowl. Today, the Noble Research Institute is the largest nonprofit agricultural research organization in the U.S. A paper written in 2006 summarized pecan water needs and I’ve summarized its contents in the following paragraphs. To read the full paper, visit: https://www.noble.org/news/publications/ag-news-and-views/2006/september/consider-pecan-trees-water-needs-during-drought/.
Many people have asked how much water a pecan tree requires and estimates have ranged from as low as 30 inches per year to as high as 72 inches per year. Of course, there are a number of other variables to consider, such as soil type and the physical location of the tree as well as timing, with moisture most critical during the growing season. Trees in a flood plain have a much different regime than those planted in sandy, rocky soil. A tree growing in a soil that is seven feet deep has the potential of 9000 gallons of available water per tree compared with a 7 inch deep soil, which has the potential of only 800 gallons of water per tree. Pecan tree roots range far beyond the canopy, as can be seen if you’re present during a tree shaking during the fall nut harvest. The folks at Noble figured that, on the basis of 55 inches of precipitation per year, with most arriving during the growing season, individual trees in a planting with 35 trees per acre, would need 190 gallons of water per day. By comparison, the standard recommendation for water requirements of pecan trees is 1 to 2 inches per week. At the same spacing, this amounts to 111 gallons per tree per day.
Here in St. Clair County, Missouri, the 2019 walnut crop on the farm was a good one, and harvested by energetic squirrels as other nuts were in short supply. This year a few trees have nuts so I will make my harvest in early July and intend to convert the nuts I can reach into Nocino, an Italian liqueur. If you’re interested and can find a few green black walnuts that haven’t yet hardened the shell inside the hull, here’s a link to a recipe I Googled: https://www.mountainfeed.com/blogs/learn/45965569-how-to-make-nocino-an-italian-walnut-liqueur. Perhaps it will prevent COVID-19 infections. For certain, overindulgence will mean that you won’t care!
July 2020 Persimmon
There are those special times of life…priceless moments like the unrestrained giggle of a baby and the day buds break on a scion grafted dormant, and seemingly lifeless save for the tinge of green as you saw as you made the cuts that you hoped would meld a superior tree onto a lesser root stock. The stars aligned, you did things right! Success, however, can be your worst enemy.
Removing buds and other growth from the root stock channels all the energy destined to go to many sites into the two or three buds on the scion and they grow rapidly. It’s likely you’ll see secondary buds continue to emerge on the root stock, both above and below the side graft. If your graft failed, you could take advantage of these secondary “backup” buds by pruning off the failed graft and leaving one or two of those new arrivals to form sprouts for your grafting efforts next year.
It’s common practice to leave only one bud of those that are viable on your successful scion, selecting the one that will most likely give the future tree a sound scaffold for future branches. Of course, this isn’t mandatory and a second option is to leave that second or even third bud to continue growing. These can help utilize all that excess energy, provide a second option should the “first choice” be damaged, and also serve as a source of scion material when pruned off the following year.
There are several threats to the new growth on a scion. The union of the scion with the root stock is tenuous, at best, at this point in time and needs to be supported. There is no reason to prune off the root stock growth above the side graft until later in the year. Add a “bird perch” that extends at least 18 inches above the graft. It’s common to trim your original pruned material and use electrical tape to attach it to the root stock at two points below the graft. If the rootstock didn’t have a well-defined leader, a bamboo stake works well. Birds perch on the highest point in relation to the surrounding vegetation. If you have protected your tree with a T-post or welded wire that extends above the graft, birds will use that as a perch rather than landing on the new growth…until the scion outgrows this protection. The “bird perch” is also a training stake and it’s important to lightly tie the lengthening stem to it as it grows. Summer storms are a major threat to the new stem and it’s a sad fact of life that the great growth you meant to tie to the stake in a day or two catches a gust of wind and is snapped at the union.
Browsing deer are yet another threat to the tender growth of a new scion. You would think that, given all the greenery available at this time of year, deer wouldn’t be so inclined to focus on your trees…but they will. If you have a large planting, an electric fence is probably your best temporary solution. If you are using individual welded wire cages, you can extend your protection by attaching the cage to the T-post12-18” above the ground. You’ll need to provide continued protection to young trees as what the deer don’t browse now bucks will likely rub this fall…and until the trees are about four inches in diameter.
….and you thought you were home free once that graft succeeded!!
Across Missouri, grafting knives are being sharpened and scion storage refrigerators are being opened as nut growers head to their orchards to graft material taken from high quality trees earlier this year to rootstocks of run of the mill trees.
Grafting has been practiced for thousands of years although its actual origin is up for discussion. The first definitive written account is attributed to writings from Greece dated 324 BCE but the descriptions detail a number of practices that were apparently commonplace. Grafting not only allows you to faithfully replicate a high quality tree but is also used to combine characteristics of the rootstock, such as dwarfing and disease resistance, with the high quality fruit produced by the scion.
There are a number of different grafting techniques which can be used. All focus on matching the cambium, a thin layer of growing cells just below the bark, of the scion and rootstock. Grafts can be used on everything from very small saplings to large trees, where bridge grafts are employed to save damaged trees, for example, where beaver have effectively freshly girdled a tree, disrupting the flow of nutrients up and down the trunk, but the tree hasn’t been damaged to the point that it will drop. About the only caveat is that the scion and rootstock must be the same or closely related species.
Many grafting techniques are demonstrated on U-tube videos, but not all provide good results when used on nut trees. The publication” Propagating Pecan and Black Walnut (available to download at: http://extension.missouri.edu/explorepdf/agguides/agroforestry/af1003.pdf) is a good introduction to those specifically recommended for nut trees. Another, more general but also helpful, grafting reference is the MU Extension publication titled “Grafting” (https://extension2.missouri.edu/g6971). The side graft, in Figure #4, is simple and also effective and can be accomplished using a pair of bypass pruners and a utility knife. The trimmed scion is inserted into a cut made into the side of the rootstock that is opened by pushing on the portion of the stem above the opening. When that pressure is released, the stem springs back, holding the scion in place. Of course, you must wrap the junction with grafting tape to reduce moisture loss from the cut edges. By cutting the rootstock about four buds above graft, you build in a bird perch without attaching a separate stick. Little details: the FLAT slope cut on each side of the scion should leave equal amounts of material on both edges, otherwise only one exposed cambium will contact the cambium of the rootstock. If the scion isn’t large enough to entirely bridge the width of the cut, all is not lost. You can trim another stick or simply match one side as this is often successful.
Followup care of the graft consists of monitoring rootstock buds above the graft and rubbing them off at the first sign of greening: if you don’t check carefully, that vegetation may lead you to think your graft has been successful when it has failed. Once the graft has begun to green, attach a second, taller stick to the rootstock to keep birds from landing on the tender sprouts.
The grafting techniques discussed here are best done in the spring, when the nut trees are breaking dormancy and before temperatures become excessive as grafts often fail once temperatures get above 90 degrees. Not all grafts will be successful but making certain that the scion material has been stored properly and is still dormant, careful alignment of the cambial layers of the scion and rootstock, and protecting the graft union from desiccation will greatly improve the likelihood of success. While the text and pictures referenced here will be helpful, nothing beats seeing the process in action and hearing the tips of an experienced grafter. The Missouri Nut Growers Association offers such an experience at its annual grafting and scion exchange meeting. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 it was necessary to cancel the event this year. The 2021 event should take place in late April or early May, so revisit out home page after April 15, 2021, for an update.
As we prepare the Spring newsletter there are many concerns about the spread of the Corona virus. President Mike Lucas, in consultation with board members, has decided to cancel our May meeting. We are fortunate in having two medical professionals associated with the board and they concur that, given what we know at this moment and respecting current directives from local governments, that this action is appropriate.
You are urged to follow any updated CDC guidelines (visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/summary.html#anchor_1580064337377) and common sense. Wash your hands!
Scion exchange update...In light of the spring grafting meeting being canceled, I'll be facilitating an informal scion exchange. Several folks have offered up scion and there have been several request for scion - all of which is GREAT! The the following scion is available. Pecan - Kanza, Pawnee, Gardner, Shepherd, Yates 68, Lakota, Major, Meramec, Harc, Chetopa and Manson 1.
Black Walnut - Kwik Krop, Football, Hay, Emma Kay, Neel and Tom Boy
And some English Walnut.
Please feel free to contact me. I can be reached at 816-293-5819 (leave a message) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I plan to do/coordinate the shipping the week of April 13.
Thanks, Mike Lucas
April showers bring May flowers…it’s a well known phrase but those who have an eye for detail, or a reason to look, know that trees have been blooming for several months. Bee keepers watch for willow, maple, and elm blossoms that may appear as early as February and serve as an early nectar and pollen source for their hives when the bees venture out on warm days.
For nut growers, dangling hazelnut catkins in early March are sometimes the best way to locate these shrubby plants along roadsides: their small nuts are usually claimed by mice and squirrels long before they can be gathered by humans. Swelling oak buds will soon have hanging catkins, and catkins of hickories, including pecans, and black walnut will become evident as spring progresses.
Catkins, however, are only part of the nut story. They are the male flowers which shed their pollen, carried by the wind to tiny female flowers that often go unnoticed until the nuts they produce begin to develop. You’ll have to look closely at other buds to find the tiny maroon filaments that are the female flowers. Pollination isn’t guaranteed, even given the volumes of pollen that are generated. The wet 2019 spring is blamed for poor black walnut production that year as many believe that the frequent rains basically washed the walnut pollen out of the air so that it never reached the female flowers. There can be other complications. There are numerous examples of trees that require a second specimen in order to achieve successful pollination and produce fruit. For example, in pecans the male catkins on some trees will mature and shed pollen before the female flowers on the same tree are ready to receive the pollen. Fortunately, there are other pecan trees where the female flowers mature before the males begin to shed their pollen. As long as there is a mix of those trees in the landscape, there will be pecans produced on all of the bearing age trees.
Chinese chestnuts, an increasingly popular crop in Missouri, rely on insect pollination and their showy pale yellow male catkin flowers are alive with activity. Ironically, the female flower, tucked at their base, doesn’t attract insects so perhaps it is the motion of those tiny feet that loosens enough pollen grains to cause fertilization. Hmmmm…I’m going to explore this question further in my chestnut orchard this spring!