PLANTING CHESTNUT TREES
Will chestnuts grow on my site?
Chestnuts require a well-drained soil, better drained than apple trees require. The most common mistake in chestnut cultivation is to plant them on sites that are too wet or too "heavy" (too much clay). Clay soils can be tolerated if there is good surface drainage (slope), but chestnuts do best on deep, sandy loams (rocks and gravel are okay). Soil pH should be acidic, between 4.5 and 6.5. Chestnuts won't tolerate calcareous (limestone) soils. Chestnuts don't require a very fertile soil, but do respond well to fertilizer.
Chestnut trees, like other fruit and nut trees, are sensitive to late spring frosts, and therefore, should be planted on hilltops, near large bodies of water, or other frost-protected sites. Chestnuts are very drought tolerant on good (deep soil) sites. However, in order to grow well, bear consistent crops, and bear large-sized nuts, they need adequate moisture throughout the growing season. Irrigation is not required in much of eastern North America, but it is necessary for consistent high yields of large sized chestnuts.
Chestnuts will grow over a broad climatic range from USDA plant hardiness zones 4 to 8, and seem to do best in areas that have hot summers. There is great genetic variation in climatic tolerance, esp. cold hardiness, so you need to choose trees adapted to your climate. Unfortunately, chestnuts have not yet been tested extensively enough in North America that we know which are the best trees for any particular area. So, you may just have to plant trees and let your climate choose the ones adapted to it. Our orchards have experienced -20 degrees F; all our trees tolerate this temperature.
What about planting distances, bearing age, and pollination?
Full size Chinese or Japanese chestnut trees require a spacing of 35 to 40 ft. European chestnuts require somewhat more space. To get higher early yields per acre, chestnuts may be planted tight. However, we've found that a spacing of 20 ft X 25 ft is too close (takes too much thinning before full production). We now think that planting at 20 ft X 40 ft allows for reasonably quick full production, followed by gradual removal of inferior trees beginning at age 15 to 20. For best nut production, there should be some space between adjacent tree crowns, i.e., when the branches of adjacent trees begin to overlap, it's time to do some pruning or tree removal. When trees are young, it's best to do little or no pruning - let the trees develop as many leaves as they can and grow as fast as they can. As trees get older and start to bear nuts, lower branches should be gradually removed to allow mowing and harvesting. Also, trees should be pruned down to one main stem. Chestnut seedlings should bear their first crop at 3 to 7 years of age. Trees that are vigorous and healthy bear sooner than stressed trees.
Chestnuts flower about 6 to 8 weeks after growth commences in the spring. They are mainly wind pollinated and require cross pollination to set nuts. Therefore, one tree by itself won't have a crop. If you plant seedlings of pure species, pollination is seldom a problem. However, pollination can be a problem if the pollenizer is too far away (greater than 100 ft), or if there is a nutrient deficiency, esp. boron or phosphorus. If you plant grafted trees, you must interplant at least two cultivars that can pollinate each other. Many hybrids, including some hybrid cultivars, are pollen sterile. If you plant hybrids, it is probably a good idea to interplant some pure species to ensure adequate pollination.
Just contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about chestnut trees or about your order for chestnuts, chestnut trees or chestnut seed.
Click here for advice on pests and disease.