Breaking the tap root?

Hello all,
I have a big mahan pecan tree in my yard. This is a self-fertile cultivar, and every year about this time, I find lots of baby seedling pecan trees growing under it.
I want to transplant some, but I keep finding that I cannot dig them up deep enough to get all of the tap root, especially among the seedlings that are last year's stock. These "trees" are only maybe 12" tall and 1/8" or less thick, but their tap roots are often more than 12" long and 1/4" thick.
I've always heard that if you break the tap root of a young tree, that it will either die or fail to thrive, but I wondered whether that's true or just an old wive's tale.
I mean, we can take cuttings of trees and woody shrubs, and they will grow, so why can't a tap root regenerate itself?
Thanks for any help or info.
J
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I don't know the answer, but considering what you said about "lots of baby seedlings", this seems like a great opportunity to just experiment. What do you have to lose except a little time and some potting soil?
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Cutting the taproot is apparently not a problem. There's lots of good info here:
http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/homefruit/pecan/pecan.html
"Dig the planting hole only as large as the root system (Figure 2). Extra deep or large holes back-filled with soil allow the tree to settle. Settling or planting too deep can cause root damage that results in poor growth or death of the tree. To avoid settling, rest the base of the taproot firmly against the bottom of the hole. If the hole is at least 2 feet deep and the taproot is longer, cut the taproot off to fit the hole."
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Jones wrote:

My father planted a bunch of bare-root pecan trees. I don't recall any of them having uncut tap roots when he bought them.
Bob
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Jones wrote:

Yes, other highland trees do the same, that is, they first grow a strong root that is disproportionate to the aerial parts. Walnuts, oaks, hickory, chestnuts all do that. Even in my sandy, soft soil I can not pull out hickory seedlings.

The common method to deal with these trees is to seed a soft bed, and then pull out the entire plant, or "whip", for transplanting. You could consider doing that, and next fall you should have plenty of viable whips for transplanting. If you want to try something this year, most seedlings whose taproot has been damaged do fail to thrive, however, not all. Some recover. You can transplant 6 or more to the intended spot this fall, after the seedlings have lost their leaves. Next year water them, then pick the strongest looking seedling and eliminate the other ones.
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Thanks, everyone, for all the good information!
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As a general rule it's certainly true. Plants that have a tap root seem to have few substantial others. If you dig up enough of the seedlings, sooner or later you will probably find one or two that have a couple of main roots but no tap root. These rarities can be transplanted with good success. (I base this on my experience with some local native trees which have a strong tap root. I wanted to transplant some from the wild and dug up many by cutting the tap root until I eventually found a few that had no tap root but instead had a good set of main roots.)
The best idea is as someone else suggested: create a sand bed under the tree and dig up the seedlings when they are much younger and their root system is less developed. It they are small you can probably transplant during any resonable weather. -- John Savage (my news address is not valid for email)
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I thought that partial root pruning, that is, shoving a spade down to cut the tap root without picking the plant up was the way to prepare a plant for moving. wait until the following year when the plant puts out other roots to make up for the lack of a tap root? Ingrid

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