Pecan or Pecan't.
June 7, 2010 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Our two fifty-foot pecan trees are almost dead (90%+ of the canopy is bare).We know that we need to remove the vast majority of the trees -- the dead limbs hang over our yard, roof, and deck, and are a hazard. But there are a few green shoots coming up toward the bottom quarter of the tree, maybe ten to fifteen feet up the trunk and out of the bottom of some of the branches.

These trees are major features in our backyard; our other trees are junkier trees, like hackberries. Our original idea was to trim the trees down to just above the green shoots, to give the trees a chance to regrow and also to keep something where the trees are (otherwise we're going to have a big empty space and both of us think a fat tree trunk or two along the fence line is better than a stump). It's also a little cheaper if you don't take out the entire tree. We've consulted with a few tree trimmers, though, who all recommend that the trees be taken out completely and opine that the green shoots are not a reliable sign that the tree will come back. Anyone with experience with a pecan tree being severely cut back and living on? Should I just listen to the tree guys and take the pecans out altogether? (If it matters, I just noticed a mushroom growing out of one of the tree's trunks -- that didn't seem to be a good sign).
posted by seventyfour to Home & Garden (9 answers total)
I have to ask, but the tree-trimmers you consulted - were any of them arborists? I don't want to paint with a broad brush here, but we had a tree-trimmer/remover come in once to take care of a bradford pear that had split clean in two. He eyeballed a line of pines along the back of our property and declared that they were infested with...something. Virus? I forget what.

The point is that he gave them months before they started croaking. That was 3 years ago, and they've been growing strong every since. A certified arborist might be able to give you a better picture of the tree's prognosis.
posted by jquinby at 9:46 AM on June 7, 2010

They don't appear to be certified arborists, although the uniformity of their opinion gave me pause. We have not had a certified arborist out to view the trees.
posted by seventyfour at 9:52 AM on June 7, 2010

IANACA, but I'd say take them out. After you remove most of the trees, they will no longer be the majestic features in your yard that they are now -- they'll be tree zombies. These trees are mostly dead, and are going to stay that way. There might be a few green shoots for years, but they'll never regrow into what they were.
posted by jon1270 at 10:29 AM on June 7, 2010

Your city may have an arborist who will help you find a way to save your trees. Old trees add a lot to the character of a city. Never hurts to call City Hall and ask.
posted by theora55 at 10:51 AM on June 7, 2010

Sounds like the green shoots are water sprouts. They tend to appear on stressed trees. Water sprouts suck energy away from the main trunk of the tree and although they look promising, they rarely grow into suitably strong branches as they grow so fast they do not develop the same sturdy internal structure as regular branches. You can use water sprouts to replace regular missing branches if most of the water sprouts are culled leaving only the most well shaped and placed ones but water sprouts rarely bear fruit, if getting pecans from your tree is a goal.
posted by jamaro at 11:04 AM on June 7, 2010

nthing the call for a certified arborist.
Even if the trees are dead, consider leaving a large stump (with branches removed) as habitat for local birds (and insects) - stumps provide tremendous habitat, better than living trees.
A good arborist could tell you if your trees are candidates for this treatment.
posted by dbmcd at 11:57 AM on June 7, 2010

If the trees are a safety hazard as you have described then you should get, at minimum, the dead limbs and branches removed as soon as possible. I would guess that an arborist would give you the same advice as is being echoed above by jon1270. The water sprouts will continue to grow for a while but they will never achieve the height or strength of tree at its peak. If the tree is 90% dead then its past the point of no return. The trunk/stump will continue to rot out and eventually the water sprouts will stop growing.

Deciding what you want to do partly depends on your goal. As dbmcd mentioned dead tree stumps are a hive of activity for species of birds, insects and small mammals. This is called bio-diversity. As trees die the bio-diversity that they host increases.
If you would one day like to look out at another pair of nice sized, healthy trees then the best thing to do is remove the whole of the trees and replant more pecans or something else. You might be surprised the growth that can be achieved by young healthy trees in a few years. Don't be tempted to get a larger, older tree if you have the choice of younger specimens. Younger trees transplant better and over a similar period of time in most cases they will overtake the growth of a larger tree.

I think i'm going outside the boundaries of your original question so I'll stop the flood of information now but hopefully its of some use.
posted by Fred Wesley at 1:30 PM on June 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Update: We today consulted with a certified arborist, whose opinion mirrored some on this thread -- the new growth is water sprouts, and the trees themselves are a lost cause. However, my wife and I decided to keep the stumps intact, both to save money and to provide habitat -- if we change our minds later, it shouldn't be too hard to take them down. Thanks for your help!
posted by seventyfour at 2:08 PM on June 9, 2010

"decided to keep the stumps intact, both to save money and to provide habitat"

Dead stumps also provide a habitat for termites. One house I bought had just been treated for termites. In the back yard there were two stumps that when I axed into them were full of termites, so my several week-end physical exercise project was to dig up the stumps and their major roots.

You really do not want to leave dead wood in the ground near a house full of wood.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 11:55 PM on June 10, 2010

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