Propagating nut trees to add to the home garden is an ideal way to provide healthy, great-tasting nuts for the whole family.
Nut trees provide precious food for humans, birds and other small animals in the wild. The edible nuts are rich in phytonutrients, selenium, fiber, and Vitamin E. Not only do nut trees provide nutrition, but they also create windbreaks, shade and add ornamental value to the homeowner’s landscape.
Growers typically cultivate nut trees from nuts that have matured and fallen to the ground in early fall. After the nuts are collected, they go through a sorting process that removes the molded, rotted, and cracked nuts.
In order to grow mature nut trees that produce nuts with the same characteristics of that parent tree, growers must graft young nut seedlings with healthy rootstock.
Essentially, rootstocks are stumps that have established root systems. By grafting nut seedlings with rootstock, the specific characteristics valued by nut growers will merge into the rootstock, creating a strong nut tree similar to the parent nut.
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Some common variety of nuts suitable for home or commercial production include black walnut, pecan, almond, hazelnut, hickory and the Chinese chestnut.
Home propagators and growers of the black walnut tree will need to plant their walnut trees away from other trees and plant life, as the roots of this walnut tree leach a chemical that can interfere with growth.
Since most nuts have a hard, thick outer shell or casing, stratification is used to speed up the germination process. Stratifying the nuts will soften the shell and end the dormancy of the embryo, allowing the sprout to come through.
Growers often pack the nuts in a moist medium, such as peat moss or coconut coir, and then house the seeds in cold storage for one to four months.
Most varieties of nut trees thrive in soils that have a pH level close to 6.5. If current soil levels are marginally above or below this number, growers should use a pH meter to view soil conditions.
As the nut seedlings begin to sprout, they are planted into cultivated and loosened soil. Adding organic matter to the planting hole prior to planting the young nut seedlings will improve the texture and drainage capability of the soil, providing a welcome environment for the growing root system.
Nut trees are very susceptible to weeds in their first year. By spreading a thick, 4-inch layer of hay around the base of each nut tree, the grower can choke out the weeds and keep the soil evenly moist. Although important to the success of the nut tree, the mulch must be 6 inches away from the nut tree trunk to avoid rot.
Giving the young nut trees an adequate supply of water during the first growing season is critical for their good establishment. Growers should give each nut tree one gallon of water once per week during the first year of life, adding one or two additional waterings during extremely hot weather.
After the first year of the nut tree’s growth, the trees require annual feedings of a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer.