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Pecans budding: Is winter really over?

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I look to the winter-wise pecan tree to tell me if I've got the clear to plant my more-tender spring vegetable transplants, the clear not to worry about any more freezing temperatures sneaking down from the North to nip my plants or worse.

Pecan trees are budding. Guess winter really is over. Or is it?

I live in the hub of the country’s largest pecan-growing region. For many years, I’ve used the winter-wise pecan tree to tell me if I've got the clear to plant my more-tender spring vegetable transplants and what-not, the clear not to worry about any more freezing temperatures sneaking down from the North to nip my plants or worse.

The pecan tree likes a long winter nap and is usually the last of the trees around here to produce spring buds -- budding several months after the ambitiously showy Japanese magnolia, which seems to race against everything else to break its buds before Valentine’s Day each year. Pretty, but that magnolia can’t be trusted to signal the coming of a no-freeze zone and certainly not this year.

The pecan tree wisely slumbers on even as the cherry and dogwood trees, dotted by azaleas, begin to show off. It is rarely fooled by Mother Nature, but it does happen. It happened as recently as 2008.

The pecan trees in 2008 had budded out several weeks before Easter. Then, an Easter weekend freeze hit and bit back the pecan buds. University of Georgia pecan specialist Lenny Wells, my go-to guy on all things pecan, verified my memory of that year. He said the Easter freeze that year did catch pecans with their buds down and caused some damage. It nipped corn pretty good too that year. I recall, too, seeing field crews placing foam cups over tender vegetable transplants in fields of plastic beds that year in anticipation of the freeze.

Easter is late this year. And come Easter, most farmers put their seats in the pews but keep their eyes on the weather.

Wells said Georgia’s pecan bud break is about a week behind normal this year. The colder-than-normal winter and the high-to-low temperature fluctuations so far this spring have kept the trees a bit sluggish. But not now; pretty much across the board, pecan trees are budding in time with each other. So, I trust the pecan tree this year and moving forward with some gardening; fresh tomatoes and peppers in sight.

Some of my Farm Press colleagues in the more-western parts of the country might disagree, but hands down, pecans are the tastiest tree nut around.

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