Nut trees make great additions to yards and gardens. They provide multi-purpose crops, have attractive blooms and can protect as wind buffers.

Yet fruit trees overshadow them in popularity.

What gives?

“Perhaps this is due to fruits like apples, cherries and pears being eaten more than nuts, and more often,” said Leonard Perry, horticulture professor emeritus at the University of Vermont. “Perhaps this is because most nut trees are large when mature, not suited for the smaller landscapes now around many homes. Perhaps this is because nuts dropping in the fall are deemed ‘messy’ and not suited to manicured landscapes.

“Yet if these aren’t homeowner concerns, then nut trees provide excellent summer shade, are generally low-maintenance and provide food for wildlife,” he said.

While there are scores of versatile nut trees, the most commonly grown include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, chest nuts, pecans, butternuts, macadamia and hickory nuts.

Space is a major consideration when planting nut trees. Give them plenty of room to collect light and to avoid crowding as they grow. That will boost the size of your crop.

While some nut trees, like hazelnuts, can be pruned to develop as shrubs, walnuts are capable of attaining heights of 70 feet or more.

In most cases, though, nut trees are easier to manage than fruit and citrus trees, said David Lockwood, a University of Tennessee Extension specialist.

“As a generalization, fewer insect and disease problems exist with nut trees,” he said. If proper attention is paid to selecting the site and the right type and variety of tree, “relatively few pests exist that require pesticide applications.”

Fruit trees, on the other hand, usually are sprayed to produce attractive and vigorous harvests.

Other things to consider concerning nut trees:


CLIMATE

Some like it hot. That includes almonds, macadamia and pistachio. Almond trees bloom early and can lose their crops to killing frosts in late spring.


SETTING

Most nut trees require well-drained soil and full sun, although hazelnuts (also called filberts) can tolerate shade. Disease-resistant chestnuts and many other nut-tree varieties develop well on side hills and rocky meadows.


HARVEST AND STORAGE

Nuts can be stored longer than fruit. Some nuts, like walnuts and chestnuts, are mature when they fall to the ground. Gather them up before they become moldy or rot. Others, like hazelnuts, must be dried before eating. Butternuts and walnuts require processing to remove the outer hull.


VALUE-ADDED VERSATILITY

Nut trees can produce everything from snacks to desserts, emergency food to furniture oils, textile dyes to timber.

They have a reputation for slow growth, but production can be hastened by using grafted trees rather than seedlings, said Jerry Henkin, vice president of the New York Nut Growers Association.

“A seedling black walnut tree will bear in 12 years, as opposed to five years with a grafted tree,” he said.


Online:

For more about harvesting nut trees, see the 1914 Cornell classic “Nut Growing in the Northeast” brochure by L.H. MacDonald: www.gardening.cornell.edu/fruit/pdfs/nutpub.pdf

You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick@netscape.net