Growing Nut Trees

Nut trees fulfill many roles on the homestead, from tasty food source to a shady spot for an afternoon nap.

| May/June 2016

  • Acorns can be ground into meal and used as flour.
    Photo by Dubas
  • Hazelnuts are a delicious snack.
    Photo by
  • A shagbark hickory has stunning fall foliage.
    Photo by David Liebman
  • Pecans love long, hot summers, so are suitable for many Southern states.
    Photo by David Liebman
  • Sunlight illuminates the leaves of a towering black walnut tree.
    Photo by Budd Titlow; NATUREGRAPHS
  • Beech trees, which produce small nuts, make great shade trees.
    Photo by Bill Beatty
  • The American chestnut has seen a comeback with the help of blight-resistant trees.
    Photo by Lois Hoffman
  • Roasted chestnuts make a delightful midwinter snack.
    Photo by Lois Hoffman
  • Walnut trees take several years to establish and bear a nut crop, but they are well worth the wait.
    Photo by Chuck Place Photography
  • Wear gloves when working with walnuts, as they will turn your hands black.
    Photo by Chuck Place Photography
  • Nut trees provide a nutritious food source and years of beauty.
    Illustration by Brad Anderson Illustration

Nut trees provide us with far more than delicious, highly nutritious nuts. Many varieties make for magnificent shade trees, and have highly
attractive forms, foliage, bark and other features, making them perfect for the homestead landscape.

The brief definition of a nut is any hard-shell dry fruit or seed that contains one or more edible kernels. The botanical meaning is a little more detailed, but for our purposes, let the common term suffice. To clarify things further, a peanut, botanically speaking, is not a nut at all, but rather the fruit and seed of a legume.

For the health of it

Nuts are a nutritionally dense food. They are a great source of protein, iron, calcium, other minerals, essential amino acids, and B vitamins, and contain no cholesterol. They are one of the richest sources of vitamin E, and the fats found in nuts are heart healthy. Chestnuts are the only nut with any vitamin C, composed mainly of carbohydrates and minerals, and low in fat and calories.

Putting down roots

Most nut trees are relatively easy to grow and take care of. For the most part, purchasing grafted trees for transplanting is easier than starting from seed. Seedlings from nuts may have slight variations from the parent tree and could take longer to establish and bear nuts. Keep in mind that unlike fruit trees, which are often grafted onto size-controlling rootstocks, most nut trees are grafted onto established roots of the same or related species. These grafts are essentially clones of a known parent or cultivar. Because these roots have already grown for a year or so, your wait for the first nut harvest is shortened considerably. Named cultivars or varieties are best in terms of hardiness, disease resistance, and production of large, meaty nuts that are often easier to crack open.

Most nut trees require two or more trees for pollination and nut production, and they often prefer deep, well-drained soil and full sun. Several species have long taproots, so if you are transplanting nut trees with root balls or bare roots, it is recommended to dig a fairly deep hole at planting time to minimize any damage and accommodate the roots. Organic matter mixed into the soil is beneficial, particularly for walnuts and related species. Many trees will ultimately grow quite large, so ample space between them is important, but no more than 100 feet apart to help with pollination. Check the height and spread of your cultivars to determine a good distance.

Growing nut trees requires patience. When a nut crop is finally produced, leave it to mature on the tree. The nuts will usually fall, and can easily be gathered off the ground. You can also spread a tarp under the tree and shake the nuts loose when they’re mature.

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