WHY PLANT CHESTNUT TREES?
This is a question that you have to answer before deciding what to buy. From the following list, choose one or two categories that best fit your intentions. Under each category is a list of options and recommendations.
A. Reforestation and timber. The only species that have timber-type growth are the American chestnut and some European chestnuts. Both of these species are susceptible to chestnut blight, and the European is usually not very cold-hardy. At the present time, there are no chestnuts available for large-scale timber plantings in eastern North America. However, progress is being made toward breeding blight-resistant "American"-type chestnut trees, most notably by The American Chestnut Foundation and other groups. We do have a few timber-type hybrids that seem to have adequate blight resistance. We offer seedlings from these, suggested only for small-scale experimental plantings.
If you want to see and grow some pure American chestnut trees (Castanea dentata), send us an e-mail. Even though they are blight susceptible, they often get big enough to bear a few crops of seed before they succumb to blight. We work closely with the American Chestnut Foundation and will be able to help you obtain trees or information. Visit the American Chestnut Foundation's website at www.acf.org.
B. Wildlife and conservation. For wildlife or open-field plantings (e.g., strip mine reclamation) the best choices are Allegheny chinkapin or Chinese chestnut seedlings. The chinkapin is a native North American shrub or small tree that is a precocious, prolific bearer of tiny nuts that are a premier wildlife feed, especially favored by game birds. Compared to the chinkapin, the Chinese chestnut is a bigger tree producing bigger nuts, beginning production at an older age (3-7 yrs). Both of these species do not compete well in forests.
C. Landscape. Chinese chestnuts make attractive shade trees that don't harbor lots of messy insects. However, the sharp spiny burs are nasty and a chore to remove from the lawn. Allegheny chinkapins are an interesting and attractive shrub that flowers in mid-summer and bears attractive clusters of nuts in the fall. The small, soft-spined burs of chinkapins are not as objectionable as those from Chinese chestnuts. For landscape trees, stick with seedlings, probably larger container stock.
D. Backyard nut production. To produce chestnuts for your own use and enjoyment the best choice is to plant a few Chinese chestnuts. You need to have at least two trees for cross-pollination, it's better to have three or more. Ideally, they should be planted 25 to 40 ft apart, but if space is tight, you can put them as close as 15 ft if they have open space around them. Chestnuts need full sun for nut production. Seedling trees would do fine, especially if you plant twice as many as you want and then cut down the worst ones when they come into production.
E. Small-scale commercial production. If you would like to produce chestnuts and sell them for supplemental (not primary) income, this qualifies as "small-scale". Because commercial chestnut production is just beginning and still facing many unknowns, you must be prepared to take risks and learn as you go. Consider the following strategy and planting plan. The best species is the Chinese; you might consider some hybrids. Because of the difficulty in finding and establishing grafted trees, you should start out with seedlings. Make sure that you get seedlings from good parents. Generally, it's better to mix seedlings from different parents in the row, carefully labeling if you want to keep track of the mother. By mixing the families (the offspring from one mother or set of parents are called a "family"), you will spread out members of exceptionally good or bad families (don't know at the outset which are the good or bad ones). Then, if you want to remove the bad trees, they will more likely be scattered throughout the planting. Likewise, the best ones will be scattered and you can thin around them. To allow removal of inferior trees, you should make the planting somewhat tight, say 20 ft by 40 ft. This spacing will allow you to keep all the trees that you want while at the same time allow you to remove up to half of the trees as they become crowded. Throughout the life of the planting good cultural practices should be employed including weed control, fertilizing, irrigation, and control of insects, deer, and rodents.
F. Large-scale commercial production. If you would like to produce chestnuts and sell them as a primary source of income, this qualifies as "large-scale". This will probably require more than 50 acres of production. This should not be attempted until you or your neighbor has demonstrated small-scale commercial success. Many growers find that becoming a member of a chestnut growers' cooperative is a way for several small-scale growers to combine their production and together become large scale.
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