How To Prune A Pecan Tree {Step By Step}

When a pecan tree is young, pruning it to create a good shape and strong framework is an important job. Here we will learn how to prune a pecan tree to help prevent it from becoming damaged in strong winds, and keep the canopy open so light can reach through and air circulate freely. This is of key importance to growing a tree that produces plenty of nuts and stays healthy. 

How To Trim A Pecan Tree?

how to trim a pecan tree

To develop a well-shaped canopy and framework of branches, pecan trees require careful pruning in their first five years of growth.

If their structure and form are set during this time, it will remain good for the life of the tree.

This doesn’t mean you should attack your trees and savage them with your pruning shears. What it requires is a little understanding and imagination to see how the tree will mature and what you can do to improve that. 

To maintain the natural look and good health of your young tree, pruning should be done carefully.

Stand back and look at the shape of your tree. You want to encourage a strong central leader, the main branch leading up to the very top of the tree forming the top of the tree’s trunk. 

It should have open, widely spaced branches spreading out equally around the tree. Think of the branches as scaffolding and what they will look like when covered with leaves. 

Trees grow naturally, they don’t conform to our exact ideals, so you need to work with what the tree is giving you and help improve it. No two trees will ever look the same, so it is a general standard you are seeking to achieve, not perfection. 

Pruning for Nut Production 

Nut production directly correlates to pruning. Trees given less branch removal will produce nuts earlier than heavily pruned ones.

Because nut production is only very small in the early years, establishing the form of the tree is best done at this stage. It will minimize the need to do a lot of pruning when the tree is in full nut production.

How to Develop a Central Leader

When planting a young, dormant pecan tree, prune the top half off to one-third of the growth from the previous season. This encourages the tree to send up whips from nodes below the cut. From these whips, you can then select a strong central leader the following year. 

If your young tree hasn’t started growing by July, cut it off 12 inches above the graft point. This will usually force it to grow. As before you can select the main leader the following year.

In the following year while the tree is still dormant, look for the most vigorous shoot that grew straight up from just below the cut you made the year before. 

Prune half to one-third of this back. Don’t do this to any of the other shoots or a second leader may develop. Completely remove all the other strong shoots at the top of the tree, if they are higher than the central leader after it has been cut back. 

Next, prune any branches or shoots that are between 12 and 32 inches long by cutting off the very end. This is called tip pruning.

If there are side branches of at least one-inch diameter but less than four feet from the ground, remove them completely.

Should the trunk be forked with two (or more) upright leaders that form at their base in a Y or V shape, there is a risk that the tree may split where they conjoin. It is essential to remove one of the leaders completely as soon as possible in the tree’s life. 

Creating a Strong Scaffolding

Look at the nodes growing along the central leader, here you will find buds. There can be as many as three all clustered together in a row. The largest one on top is called the primary, it is followed by another, the secondary, and a third the tertiary. 

Note that the secondary and tertiary buds grow out at a wider angle away from the leader than the primary bud. Primary buds grow shoots with only a narrow angle between them and the central leader. 

Uses of primary, secondary and tertiary buds

When establishing a central leader, it should always be grown from a primary bud, but for other branches to form with a stronger, more open angle, the primary bud should be pinched out.

Pinching out the primary bud allows the secondary bud to grow and it will produce a branch with a more open angle, required to form a strong scaffold.

Choosing scaffolding branches

When choosing branches to be scaffold limbs, select only those with an open angle from the central leader. Ideally, you are looking for around 45° to 50° but up to 60° will do.

If branches with narrow angles from the central leader are allowed to remain, there is a risk that the formation of a bark inclusion will make the connection weak. If there is a strong wind when the tree is laden with nuts, the branch could break. 

Scaffold branch selection should be done in the second dormant period of the tree life. 

The aim is to develop between six and ten main side branches that grow in a spiral pattern around the tree. Each branch should be spaced well away from the next.

Removal of lateral branches and clusters

Sometimes lateral branches grow very close to each other and not in the desired spiral pattern. Select the best branch from each cluster and prune out the rest. 

Similarly, if the shoots at the end of a young branch form in a cluster, known as a “crow’s foot” they should be thinned, leaving only two or three remaining. 

Pinching out growing points

During the first four growing seasons as the trunk and scaffold limbs are developing, pinch out the growing points on the ends of the lower branches by breaking them off with your fingers. 

These shoots should be 12 to 18 inches long before you remove their tips in year one, 12 to 32 inches in subsequent years up to year three. 

Leave the growing points of the most vigorous shoots growing at the top of the tree.

Pinching out the growing tips produces larger leaves and prevents the development of the scaffold limbs from growing too large in the first four years. Instead, the tree develops a strong leader branch. 

In the third, fourth, and fifth growing season the pinching out of the shoots will also produce a lot of lateral branches. Select the best of these and remove the rest.

Tip pruning

Tip pruning these shoots will stimulate lots of small lateral shoots to grow. This will help to make the tree bear nuts from an earlier age and encourage the development of the central leader. Only tip prune (cut off two inches) when the shoots are at least 32 inches in length. 

Stop tip pruning when the tree is six or seven years old. 

In this video, you will see how to effectively trim young pecan trees:

How To Trim A Large Pecan Tree?

Taking care of a mature pecan tree is important to keep it strong and healthy. First, you’ll need the right tools for the job:

  • Disinfectant to clean the blades of your pruning tools – rubbing alcohol works well
  • Bypass pruners for branches up to half an inch in diameter
  • Lopping shears for branches up to one and a half inches in diameter
  • Pruning saw 
  • Pole pruner for high branches

Once all of your tools are assembled, use the following process to effectively prune your tree:

  1. Remove low-hanging branches:

    Any branches that have sprouted below the main canopy and detract from the appearance of the tree should be removed entirely. If you will be using a mechanical shaker to harvest the nuts, ensure that the trunk is bare where the shaker’s claws grip it.

  2. Cut out any broken or dead branches:

    Cut bad branches back to where the growth is healthy. If you need to remove the entire branch, ensure you leave a small stub at the union.

  3. Prune out any diseased branches:

    This needs to be done well back into the healthy wood. Cut off at least six inches of healthy wood to ensure you have safely removed the problem and it won’t re-spread. Always disinfect tools after cutting diseased wood to avoid spreading the pathogen.

  4. Trim crossing or close branches:

    Where branches are too close together, pick the one which is the strongest and remove the other. If there are any branches crossing each other, remove one. This retains an open canopy.

  5. Remove weak branches:

    Any that have a crotch angle of less than 60° should be taken out, as they are liable to break off in a strong wind.

  6. Trim away branches that are closing the canopy:

    To stay healthy and make ripening nuts and harvesting them easy the canopy needs to be open. This allows light to penetrate down to the lower branches and also lets air circulate. 

  7. Cut off suckers:

    Sometimes small suckers will start to grow at the base of the tree. These should be removed as they will take energy away from the tree.

  8. Multiple trees:

    If you have several trees growing together and their branches are crossing or touching, trim them back so that neither tree is up against the other.

When To Prune Pecan Trees?

Pecan trees require pruning at the end of each winter to get them ready for new spring growth. 

This should be done just before the new leaf buds form, as it prevents the tree from wasting energy on new growth you will cut away. 

If you prune too early in winter, you will render the tree open to pathogens and invite disease to invade at the pruning site. 

A light summer pruning can also be done to remove excess growth.

How Tall Does A Pecan Tree Grow?

how tall does a pecan tree grow

Pecan trees grow pretty tall, on average they will reach between 70 to 100 feet, depending on the cultivar. They get quite wide two, with a spread of around 40 to 75 feet when fully mature.

Dwarf varieties are available for people without the space for one of these large specimens.

The rate of growth for a pecan tree is 13 to 24 inches per year. 


Pecan trees only require heavy pruning in their first few years when you are establishing their form. 

Taking the time to do this will ensure you have a strong tree that has a lovely shape throughout its lifetime.

Mature trees require only a moderate amount of winter pruning to ensure they remain healthy. Any poorly positioned growth from the previous year is best taken care of before it gets too large. 

If you’d like to discover more about pecan trees there are more articles available on our website.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Farm & Animals

6043 S Drexel Ave
Chicago, IL 60637

Amazon Disclaimer

Farm & Animals is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to


Farm & Animals do not intend to provide veterinary advice. We try to help farmers better understand their animals; however, the content on this blog is not a substitute for veterinary guidance. For more information, please read our PRIVACY POLICY.