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Pecan Budbreak, Good Chilling

We are seeing budbreak now in our pecan crop. The first budbreak I saw in Wilcox County was on March 2nd. Budbreak is often overlooked in cultivar selection but can be very important. It’s because cultivars that break bud early tend to be more susceptible to a late spring freeze. And YOUNG trees are more susceptible to winter injury than old trees, so budbreak timing is also important in orchard establishment.

What temperatures can cause injury? Easter is not until April 21st this year. But the good news is it takes some real low temperatures to hurt us after budbreak. It’s somewhere in the 20s, and keep in mind young trees planted on sites with poor air circulation.

The real thing we want in budbreak is no variation. Sporadic budbreak is more common in GA because of mild winters. Even though we’ve been warm since Christmas, this past fall was fairly cold. We’ve actually collected a good number of chill hours (above 39 degrees). Tifton there had around 600 chilling hours. Pecans in general don’t need a lot of chill hours compared to other fruit crops.  Still, when we have good chill hours, budbreak is not so sporadic. This is also important for pollination. Late-breaking cultivars that have higher chilling requirements end up breaking bud at the same time as early cultivars. This allows for pollen shed from male flowers and flower receptivity from female flowers (Type I and II cultivars) to be in sync. When budbreak is sporadic and type 1 trees are off from type 2 trees, pollination is poor and this leads to quality issues.

Ellis budbreak, March 2nd, 2019. Catkins come from primary buds on last year’s wood.