A beginner's guide to growing nut trees

October 9, 2015

Nuts are healthy and delicious additions to our diets. Learn how to grow nut trees with these basic guidelines so you can reap their benefits without stepping further than your own property.

A beginner's guide to growing nut trees

1. Growing hazelnuts

The deciduous shrubs and small trees known as hazelnuts or filberts (Corylus) produce edible fruits in clusters of egg-shaped nuts. Smooth shells are covered by a leafy growth.

Hazelnuts thrive in partial shade in any well-drained soil, but they can also live in heavy wet clay. Grow several specimens for adequate cross-pollination.

  • The largest fruit is obtained from the European hazel (C. avellana). This is hardy, and grows well where summers are not too hot.
  • The varieties 'Barcelona' and 'Daviana' do well on the West Coast.
  • In southern Ontario the varieties 'Bixby', 'Italian Red', and 'Royal' are worth a try.
  • The American filbert (C. americana) is hardier, but the round fruit, which grows in clusters, is much smaller and surrounded by a prickly coat.
  • 'Rush' and 'Winkler' are two selections with larger fruit.
  • Hybrids between the European hazel and the American filbert have reasonably sized fruit, much of the hardiness of the filbert, and they also fruit well in the North. Depending on the specific cross, the fruits produced are sometimes called hazelburts or filazels. Look for 'Laroka' (a cross between the European and Turkish hazels), 'Graham', and 'Gellatley's Earliest'.

2. Growing chestnuts

At the turn of the nineteenth century, native chestnuts (Castanea dentata) were an important source of winter food, and their wood, greatly prized, was used locally and exported. Chestnuts need a deep, well-drained, slightly acidic soil, in sun or partial shade, but will tolerate poor sandy soils with additional watering. They are best in regions with long summers.

The Chinese chestnut forms a spreading tree with toothed, dark green leaves. Young trees should not be over fertilized. Growth should be kept slow or the trees may develop weak crotches that split in high wind or under snow load. The nuts are in small clusters of two to three enclosed in a prickly case that splits open when the nuts are ripe.

The downside of this tree is that the nut cases litter the ground beneath it and need raking up. Trees grown from seed will start to produce fruits after four to five years. Named varieties of the Chinese chestnut are slowly appearing in nurseries, especially in warm regions. Look for 'Abundance', 'Crane', and 'Meiling'.

Trees raised from seed may vary considerably in their nut production while named forms have been selected for this quality. Hybrids between this, the Japanese, species, and the remaining American chestnuts have produced a number of named hybrids such as 'Central Square', 'Sweet Home', and 'Watertown'.

3. Growing walnuts

The Persian or English walnut (Juglans regia) is not as hardy, but has nuts that are easier to crack and meatier than the native black walnut (J. nigra). They make good shade trees and do well in drying soils. Newly planted trees will start to fruit in about eight years and can live for 100 or more.

  • Roots of walnuts give off a toxic chemical that stunts or even kills some plants. Do not plant close to existing flower beds (grass is not affected).
  • Nuts are ready for harvest when they start to fall.
  • Shake the trees to make them drop or squirrels will gather most of the crop.
  • Good varieties of Persian walnuts are 'Broadview', 'Hansen', and 'Lake'. 'Carpathian' is the hardiest.
  • For black walnuts, try 'Hare' and 'Thomas'.
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