Pecan tree saplings must be handled with care if they are going to survive the transplantation process. Container-grown pecan saplings often must be root pruned before they are transplanted. Root ball pruning stimulates the pecan tree's growth and may prevent the vulnerable sapling from developing disease. Be sure to have the hole dug and ready for planting before you begin pruning a sapling's root ball. It will need to be planted immediately after or its roots will dry out.
Remove the pecan tree sapling carefully from its container. One of the easiest ways to do this is to simply cut away the black plastic container with scissors or a sharp knife.
Loosen the roots by gently pulling them away from the root ball with your hands. If the roots are wrapped around the root ball and difficult to pull, use a knife to make three to four 2-inch-deep vertical slits that are evenly spaced around the root ball.
Prune any root sections that are growing in circles in the shape of the container.
Prune dead, brittle roots. Make the cut 2 inches into living root tissue or back to their point of origin.
Prune broken roots just above the break.
Prune diseased roots. Make the cut 2 inches into healthy root tissue or back to their point of origin. Healthy roots are white and plump. Diseased roots are black and sometimes foul-smelling and mushy.
Prune roughly the same percentage of branches as roots after you plant the sapling. Focus on small, spindly stems and cut them back to their point of origin. This way the plant's reduced root mass will still be able to support its foliage.