The chestnut tree is a member of the beech family. It is native to the eastern part of North America, including Maine, Mississippi, Ohio and the Appalachian Mountains. Nuts harvested from the American Chestnut tree were a staple of early Americans' diets.
This was before the native population was almost entirely wiped out by Chestnut Blight. After the blight, very few chestnut trees remained. It is estimated that more than 3.5 billion chestnut trees were lost to the blight between 1904 and 1950. Many Americans are striving to bring back the chestnut tree. Through careful selection of planting sites and conditions, this native tree can once again populate Northern America.
Caring for Chestnut Trees
One of the reasons the American chestnut tree was so prized, besides its use as timber, is its crop of edible nuts. The nuts ripen during the late summer and early fall. When chestnut trees were plentiful, the nuts were so abundant that they fell to the ground, making excellent food for deer and wild turkeys.
The chestnut tree is quick to establish itself under the right growing conditions. The chestnut tree grows rapidly and can reach 100 to 150 feet in height and grow to more than 10 feet in diameter. Chestnut trees thrive in well-drained but moist soil. They will die off if planted in soggy soil.
They prefer soil that is loamy or sandy and will tolerate soil with a high concentration of gravel. The tree does not like to be in heavy soil; this can inhibit growth. Chestnut trees prefer a soil that is slightly acidic, a pH of between 4.5 and 6.5. Avoid planting chestnuts in soil that contains limestone.
Increasing Chestnut Yields
You can expect a crop of chestnuts after the tree reaches three years of age, although some trees may not produce nuts until they are 10 years old. When you buy a chestnut tree, be sure to ask how long it will take the tree to produce nuts.
In order for chestnuts to bear fruit, they must cross-pollinate. Make sure to plant two chestnut trees if you want nuts.
Established chestnuts are drought tolerant, but adequate water is needed to produce a high yield of nuts. The trees do best in a sunny location, but they will tolerate a moderate amount of shade.
The chestnut tree is particularly sensitive to late-spring frosts. Chestnuts flower about six to eight weeks after the first spring growth appears. A late frost can lower the nut yield for the year.
Little pruning is required for a chestnut tree. The pruning that is necessary is nothing more then removing dead or broken branches, which can be done at any point in the year without doing harm to the tree.
Chestnut Tree Diseases
The American Chestnut is prone to Chestnut Blight, the disease that almost eradicated it during the 1900s. Chestnut Blight is not a danger to hybrid chestnut trees, which are commonly available at the garden center.
The Chestnut Gall Wasp is a pest that affects the shoot growth of the tree. Unfortunately, there are no effective ways to control the Chestnut Gall Wasp.
Another common pest is the Chestnut Weevil. The weevil larvae actually feed on the kernel of the chestnuts and cause wormy nuts. It is possible to control Chestnut Weevils with a commercial spray.
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