How to Plant and Cultivate Nut Trees
Learn some helpful tips on growing almonds, chestnuts, pecans and hazelnuts.
Ed Laivo knows and loves nut trees. He has lots of favorites that are perfectly suited to home gardens big and small.
"If you're in a cold climate, a Carpathian variety would be your best choice," Ed says. If you're in a warm climate, a warm-season variety — even a Carpathian — will work well.
Although his orchard is a good example of a high-density planting of walnuts (a growing technique that uses less space to grow more), in a home setting, walnuts need a large yard to grow and yield optimally. But unlike many nut trees, it doesn't need two to tango. Most walnuts are self-fruiting.
One word of caution: Don't plan on planting anything near or under them. Most plants don't grow well under them. For one thing, they block light. For another, walnut roots and the husks of the nuts secret a chemical called juglone that prohibits plant growth.
Almond trees need well-drained soil. New rootstock varieties help with vigor and disease resistance, but the best defense against leaf diseases that almonds are susceptible to is a dry spring.
And one of the pertinent facts about almond trees for people with smaller yards: Many varieties reach only 8 to 12 feet tall, so they're great for someone who doesn't have a lot of space. Two particularly small varieties are the 'All-in-One' almond and 'Garden Prince' almond.
Choose a variety that's disease resistant. Many trees were wiped out some 50 years ago by chestnut blight, but today's hybrids combine the best of American, Chinese and European trees.
"Chestnuts are monoecious," Ed says. "That means the male and female flower on the same tree, but unfortunately the male and the female don't get along and consequently the male will flower too soon before the female is ready for pollen."
Premature pollen spillage can be rectified by planting an appropriate pollinating variety nearby. In this case, male 'Nevada' flowers pollinate female 'Collosal' flowers at just the right time.
Chestnut trees are adaptable to all kinds of soil, but the one thing they need is cold winter weather.
A note of caution when roasting them over an open fire: Cut through the shell with a knife to allow for the gases that collect inside to escape in the roasting process. Otherwise, they'll explode.
One tough nut to crack is the filbert, also known as the hazelnut. As specimens or container plants go, though, these trees can be quite beautiful.
"Filberts have a number of different landscape varieties that look very good," Ed says. "One is a red-leafed filbert, which comes out in the spring with beautiful red foliage."
Another great option is a filbert known as Henry Lauder's walking stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta'). Its true value comes in the winter, when the deciduous shrub loses its foliage and reveals its contorted branches.
The pecan is a big tree (up to 70 feet tall) but a beautiful one.
If you plant one that needs a pollenizer but don't provide the pollenizer, you'll get no nuts. On the other hand, plant two or more pecans and you get a harvest. Pecans ripen on the tree, and when it's time, the skin opens, releasing the nut.
"When the nut falls to the ground, just allow the nut to dry on the ground and it'll be ready to go."
Many pecan varieties are adapted to colder climates throughout the U.S., so talk to your local agriculture extension agent to find out what will work best for your region.
Some nut trees in some areas can be a lot of work, advises Ed, so be sure you have the space and the desire to maintain the tree before you bring one home.