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.
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?
Cutting the taproot is apparently not a problem. There's lots of good
"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."
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
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)
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.
until the following year when the plant puts out other roots to make up for the
of a tap root?
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