Easy nuts to grow in Maryland

Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)December 1, 2010

I have been informally advising some local community groups on planting fruit trees that require little care, and they always also ask about nuts and I don't know enough to answer. What are some nut trees that are reliable producers with no sprays or other labor-intensive maintenance? I am planting some pecans now, and the only other nuts I know about are the black walnuts that grow everywhere here but are hard to shell and little meat so nobody uses them. I looked around for a webpage and could not find much, but it sounds like pecans, hazelnuts, shagbark and shellbark hickory, chinkapin, walnut and chestnut are options. Nut pine too I guess. Are these all pretty reliable with good sun soil and pollination, or are there significant disease or pest problems on them?


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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I gave my Mom, in northern Illinois, two selected black walnut trees about 30 years ago. I believe the cultivars are Emma K and Sparrow. They produce nearly every year and are much better than the normal nuts in that area. I even planted seeds from those trees in Amarillo. The trees got about 15 ft tall in a few years before I moved. Wish I still had those trees.

If you like the strong flavor of black walnut and can deal with the juglone issues, they are a nice nut. I like them.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 10:06AM
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I'll echo fruitnut's recommendation of superior 'improved' black walnut varieties - Emma Kay and Sparrow are two good ones, and there are others, like Thomas Meyers, Daniels, Sauber, Neel #1, Clermont, Pounds #2, Kwik Krop, etc. Most of these have high-quality kernels, nutshells much thinner than the average run-of-the-mill BW, and kernel % in the 35-40% range(one year, Pounds #2 cracked out at 55% kernel for Les Wilmoth)- which is far in excess of the typical 15% kernel for most wild-type BWs. A number of these improved selections also have good anthracnose resistance, and are lateral-bearers.
Grafted walnuts typically come into bearing pretty quickly; I have some seedlings of good named-variety trees that are coming into bearing now, at 12 yrs of age - nuts are pretty comparable to the parent trees - thin shell, easy cracking, light kernel. So...in my limited experience, named-variety seedlings, from an orchard with multiple superior selections seem to have a greater likelihood of producing better-than-average nuts.

Heartnuts are pretty ornamental in their own right - tend to be a spreading tree with an almost 'tropical' appearance, IMO. Buartnuts probably similar. Some of the 'butternut' cultivars that have been propagated for decades are actually hybrids with heartnut/Japanese walnut, and have varying degrees of resistance to butternut blight. Flavor of most of the heartnuts/butternuts I've had occasion to sample was fairly bland.

I've had no success with Persian/Carpathian walnuts, but that's mainly been due to my site - and the devastating Easter Freeze of 2007 that killed all of mine back to the BW rootstocks. Have a friend in NJ who grows and likes them, but all I've ever had occasion to sample had some astringency which I just don't really care for.
Biggest caveats on the walnuts are the juglone issue, and Thousand Cankers Disease, which has arrived in the eastern US, now. While J.microcarpa is reputed to have some resistance to TCD(and wouldn't necessarily be one you'd plant for nut production), I think the jury is still out as to whether any of the introduced Juglans species do.

Now, on the hickories - my passion/obsession. I prefer shagbarks, for ease of cracking, I like the flavor better, and I think overall, they're heavier producers, though nuts are quite a bit smaller than those of the shellbark cultivars. Have not had any of my grafted hickories produce nuts yet, and some have been in the ground here for 14-15 years, so even grafted on pecan understock, they're slow to come into bearing; seedlings - who knows how long you'd have to wait?. Handsome trees - both have large leaves and interesting exfoliating bark - and the buds, as they unfurl in spring, look almost like tulips - and some varieties have nice red-tinted buds; very pretty. The hickories do scab some and phylloxera will infest leaves - but they co-evolved with both of these pests/diseases, and I rarely see it as anything more than a minor aesthetic problem; shellbark may be less troubled by scab. Weevils can be a problem with some cultivars, but there are some that are reputed to be 'weevil-resistant', notably, Lindauer shellbark, and J.Yoder #1 shagbark, which my friend and mentor, Mr. Hick'ry(F. Blankenship) thinks aborts any weevil-infested nuts early on.
Hicans - reputed to be shy bearers, but are fast-growing handsome trees, and I've got two young shellbarkXpecan hybrids that I grafted about 5 years ago that each produced a gallon or so of tasty nuts this year - more productive than some of the young pecans.

Chestnuts - I've grown some seedlings - mainly for wildlife consumption; have no experience with grafted selections. Have heard complaints about the stench when they're in bloom; would not want one anywhere in my lawn or a foot-traffic area, as the burs are pretty nasty - especially if you're going barefoot, but even if you're wearing light footwear, like sneakers; and the spiny burs persist for quite some time. Pure chinkapin will probably be susceptible to the chestnut blight fungus, but there are some chinkapinXChinese chestnut hybrids floating around out there with larger nuts, and presumably some resistance to the blight fungus. Some of the Douglas hybrid chestnuts have traits suggesting some chinkapin genetics in their makeup.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 12:44PM
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oregonwoodsmoke(5 OR Sunset 1A)

Hazelnuts are smaller plants so might be more suitable for home gardens.

Pecans and walnuts are gigantic trees. Nuts are wormy if left uncared for.

I wouldn't waste space with a black walnut. I've owned one in the past and it was valueless. An attractive looking tree, but a lot of very annoying and staining litter. It's an urban myth that the lumber is valuable. Believe me, I tried to sell my tree.

I looked into pine nuts. The pinon trees don't start bearing until they are 30 years old. It's a high desert plant; I don't know how the tree would do in humid weather. The tree isn't attractive, but nuts are easy to harvest and they are valuable and tasty.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 2:13PM
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alan haigh

I would go for eastern blight resistant filberts first. They bear young and stay small. Second would be Chestnuts. I have one of the Dunstan clones here even though it was supposedly too cold, but I just pinched off the flowers until it was strong enough to survive (my theory). The smell is intense but not much worse than Asian pears and their ornamental cousins, the Bradfords, that are planted in shopping malls. The burrs have never bothered my shoed feet. The bees love those flowers, BTW.

I grew a couple Black walnuts at one site, one of which bore very young and very tasty. It was called Surprise, as I recall. I'm guessing it could be kept a reasonable size through pruning if done with knowledge.

Of course, if there are squirrels around they are all tough to harvest, at least until there are very large crops which would take decades probably.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 2:48PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Thanks guys, nothing beats real experience! I'm going to put together a summary so I at least know all the pluses and minuses, probably plus varieties. Will try to remember to post here. I expect people will have their own reasons for putting in a certain kind so the main thing is to steer them clear of doing something stupid or having some unexpected consequence such as juglone or burrs or smell.

One thing that sticks out is the wormy walnut/pecan aspect you mention, owsmoke. You are in a very different climate but is that a problem elsewhere? Thousand cankers also sounds like something serious to keep in mind for walnuts.

In terms of size in this case smallness isn't the goal it usually is, the main thing is they know what size tree they are getting. These trees are going into community spaces (church park school etc) not homes so there is also a great deal more room. I don't think time to produce is as big a deal either, its more about the long-term benefit.

.. now I have to try to squeeze in a couple more nut trees myself. I did just clear out several stands of pines so maybe there is room somewhere in my yard ..


    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 3:29PM
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My take: as others have said, black walnuts are the best of walnuts, but a pain to shell.
Let me mention my two hybrid Chinese-American chestnuts. First off, MD will be close to mid-range for them, always a good thing. Next, they are ideal for dry sites, such as the sunny side of a hill, because of a strong tap-root, and drought-proof (hazelnuts will prefer a moister location). They are handsome trees, and, to top it all, they produced in three years (from gallon-sized seedling). Well, one in three, one in six. Nuts were supposed to be average but, though medium in size, they are very sweet, with the flaky consistency of baking potatoes when roasted. I think they are the best chestnuts I have ever had, and I have had many types. I got the plants at Edible Landscaping in Virginia.

I found harvest to be easy, because the burrs are so obvious. Wearing work gloves, I pick them high up and drop them. On the ground, I step on them with my boot while dragging the foot across the ground. The burr opens and the nuts come out. A mature tree will produce close to 100 lbs a year, to be preserved like some root crops during winter (toss them in water to discard the floating bad ones, then bury the sinking ones in damp sand at close to 32F).

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 7:36PM
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alan haigh

Glib, I like your formula for storing chestnuts. They certainly rot quickly at room temp but I've found ones the squirrels buried in good shape in spring.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 8:49PM
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It is like with salami, once too dry, you have air pockets under the skin and bacteria and/or molds take over. For salami, too, you need 80% humidity when you hang them for proper aging. That is why I never became good at it, and eventually quit.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 12:11AM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


I think insect issues on these nuts is, as always with pest pressure, going to be very regional.

However, I think it's safe to say in most cases there will be less insect issues w/ nuts vs. tree fruit. I think the real disappointment for the folks you're advising will be the relatively poor precociousness of trees, and the extreme fondness squirrels have for their nuts.

Here, some insect (probably a weevil) drills a hole in acorns, and eats the meat out, but there are still loads of good acorns under the oaks. Likewise, only a small percentage of wild black walnuts have insect damage. I know CM is supposed to go after black walnut, but for some reason they don't attack them much here.

I have a friend that has a very large wild pecan grove around Neosho MO. He doesn't spray anything and has a successful business selling organic pecans off the grove. Juxtaposed to that is my wife's uncle's cultivated grove in KS, which sustained significant insect damage before they started spraying.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 10:20AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Olpea, thats interesting on the relative insect pressure -- sounds similar to fruit trees but less extreme all around since the thick shells slow 'em down.

Here is a draft of my overview I put together .. I roughy ranked them in the order I think they would be interested in given the need for large trees with no maintenance but good nuts. I'm not sure what to say about almonds but I have heard of no success stories in my climate. Similar for pine nuts, but it seems like they would work better. Edible Landscaping is selling some nut pines. It seems like they would be a good deal if you are wanting to put in some pine trees anyway. The description overviews are from some permaculture book I found online (West Coast Food Forestry), it has the size pollination etc basic info.


Nuts for Maryland
For all nuts except for chestnuts squirrels are a big problem in Maryland. They can get all the crop until the tree is large.
Overall, if choosing the right varieties nut trees should generally do OK without any spraying or pruning, but like any oak or maple there are plenty of problems that can arise if you get unlucky.
Generally easy to grow but scab can be a problem.
Two trees needed for pollination, one type 1 and one type 2; not all 1/2 pairs overlap well so its best to get a pair known to pollinate each other.
Many varieties are hardy in Maryland but make sure to avoid more tender varieties.
Some varieties have a harvest too late for our climate.
One excellent pair is Kanza - Major. Other good varieties with early harvest and scab resistance include Caddo (type 1), Mandan (type 1).

Northern Pecan (Carya illinoensis)- 70-90 ft tall and 30-40 ft wide North American tree grown for its delicious nut (10% protein, 88% fat, high in Cu, Zn, Mn). Smaller nuts than southern varieties. Needs two for best pollination and a warm microclimate. Prefers full sun and moist, well-drained soil of wide pH. May only yield during especially hot Summers in cooler areas. Pollination inhibited by high humidity. Easy to grow. Disease-resistant (including oak root fungus). Casts heavy shade. Flowers April- May, ripens Oct. Propagated from stratified seed, softwood cuttings, layering, root suckers.

Hickory (two kinds, shellbark and shagbark)
Very nice landscape specimens; shagbark has bark like a shaggy dog's fur
Very good-tasting nuts, some of the best
Varieties resistant to weevil: Lindauer shellbark, J.Yoder #1 shagbark
Slow to come into bearing
Scab and phylloxera are minor problems generally not needing treatment; shellbark usually does better with scab.
Shagbarks taste better and crack better but are a bit smaller nuts.
Two needed for pollination; do most pairs pollinate each other?

The HIcan is a shellbark/pecan cross which is also supposed to be a good-tasting nut.

Hickory- 60- 120 ft tall and 40 ft wide trees of two North American species, shellbark (Carya laciniosa) and shagbark (C. ovata), that produce flavorful nuts (13% protein, 64% fat, and high in thiamin, Cu, Mg, Zn, Mn) with thick shells. Also produce hardwood. Prefer full sun. Shellbarks can tolerate seasonal flooding and poor drainage, while shagbarks will grow in heavy clay
soil, are wind-tolerant, and can be coppiced. Thinner-shelled and larger nut varieties available. Fall color. Need two for pollination. Resistant to oak root fungus. Cast heavy shade. Shellbarks flower April- May, ripen Sept- Oct. Shagbarks flower June, ripen Oct-Nov. Propagated from stratified seed.

Black Walnut

Fairly fast bearing
Seedlings also an option for cheaper trees - they usually produce good trees if seed is from named varieties.
Stronger flavor than store-bought kind (carpathian)
Varieties: Emma Kay, Sparrow, Thomas Meyers, Daniels, Sauber, Neel #1, Clermont, Pounds #2, Kwik Krop
Look for anthracnose resistance in variety
Thousand cankers disease could be a major problem in a few years - unclear since it is so far out west only.
Litter from husks can stain sidewalks etc and make a general mess.
Need to pay attention to what is planted nearby - juglone produced by roots can stunt or kill other plants.
Hard to crack, best with a specialized cracker.
Pollination not necessary but helps yield

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)- up to 120 x 60 ft tree usually grown for its fine, rot-resistant wood, but also for its nut which contains 30% protein and 59% fat (and has an extremely thick and hard shell, though thinner-shelled varieties are available). Nuts are high in Cu, Mg, Mn, and vit B6. Fast-growing. Tolerates wetter soil than English walnut, but not year-round saturation. Will grow in heavy clay. Prefers alkaline soil. Wind and drought-tolerant.Disease and fire-resistant. More productive with multiple varieties. Excretes chemicals toxic to certain plants (allelopathic especially to apples). Casts heavy shade. Flowers March- June, ripens Sept- Nov. Propagated by stratified seeds.

Think of a chestnut as a nut-potato cross, they are somewhere between those two.
Make sure to get the Chinese-American crosses which are resistant to chestnut blight. Dunstan clones are good.
Two are needed for pollination; Dunstans are seedlings so any two of those will work.
Not picky about location, in particular can tolerate dryness.
Problems with burrs piercing shoes; flower smell is also somewhat unappealing to some (but not as bad as e.g. Ginko).
Nuts don't store as long as other nuts, but can be stored like root vegetables to lengthen use period.
Trees grow very wide

Chestnut (Castanea spp.)- numerous varieties reaching 30- 60 ft tall and wide (European chestnut [C. sativa] can get up to 100 x 100 ft) grown primarily for its sweet nut, being compared to potato (5-10% complete protein, 9% fat), and also for its rot-resistant wood. An 8 ft dwarf Korean chestnut (C. crenata) is also available. Nuts are high in Cu, Mn, B vitamins, and vit C and do not store long unless dried, stored airtight in sand, or refrigerated, but they can be used like other grains and ground into flour. Drought-tolerant. Does not like wet soil. Prefers acidic soil. Need two for pollination (can plant two in one hole). Easy to grow. Yellow in Fall. Can be coppiced for nuts and wood.Blight-resistant varieties (usually hybrids with Chinese chestnut [C. mollisima]) preferable. European chestnut is resistant to oak root fungus. Casts heavy shade.Flowers July, ripens Oct- Nov. Propagated from seed (yields in 5- 7 years), root suckers.

More like a fruit tree in size compared to usual nut trees.
Need varieties resistant to eastern blight.
Does not tolerate drought but is easy to grow otherwise.
Need two trees for pollination.

Filbert (Corylus spp.)- 10- 15 ft tall and wide multi-stemmed tree grown for its nuts, which are 13% protein, 61% fat, high in Ca, Cu, Mg, Mn, B vitamins, and vit E. Nuts store for over a year. Very productive and easy to grow. Can take partial shade, late frost, wind, wet soil, and a wide pH. Does not like intense Summer heat. Forms an excellent hedge when planted at 4 ft intervals. Fruits on last year’s new wood. Must have appropriate pollinating varieties as companions. Fall color. Blight- resistant varieties preferable (especially in north). Must harvest nuts early to beat squirrels. Casts heavy shade. Flowers Jan- April, ripens Sept- Oct. Propagated by seed, division, layering.

Pine nuts
Several pine trees can produce nuts: Chinese white pine, Korean pine, Italian Stone Pine.
Two trees are needed for nuts.
Don't know anyone growing these in Maryland for nuts so don't know disease and other potential problems.
White pine blister rust is a problem but Korean pine is resistant to it.
Cones take several years to form seeds but new cones form each year.

Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea)- 30- 70 ft tall and 30- 60 ft wide, umbrella-shaped tree produces sweet pine nuts (14% protein, 68% fat) in a 5 inch cone. Cones open when left in direct sunlight. Nuts high in Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Zn, B vitamins, vit E and K. Sun-lover. Needs well-drained soil. Tolerant of heat, drought, and wind. Flammable. Easy to grow. Need two for nuts. Zone 9 only. Susceptible to oak root fungus, otherwise disease and deer-resistant. Allelopathic. Flowers May- June, ripens April. Propagated by seed (yields in ten years).

Ornamental and spreading tropical-looking tree. Buartnut is similar.
Flavor fairly bland so less interesting on that count.

Heartnut (Juglans ailantifolia cordiformis)- 40 ft beautiful Japanese walnut, wider than tall with horizontal branches, but similar to English walnut. Nuts are sweeter, but smaller and harder to remove than English walnuts. Prefers alkaline soil. Fire- resistant. Easy and fast to grow. Self-fertile. Disease-resistant. Casts heavy shade. Flowers May-June, ripens Oct.

Not very well adapted to our climate, likes drier warmer climate. No reports of people happy with their almond.
Trees are small; a relative of the peach
Can have fungal problems on leaves; Halls Hardy also suffers from moth damage
Varieties: Halls Hardy is considered not very good tasting by some; it also is not a standard almond, it has a thick shell, and moths attack it -- not recommended. Ripon is one regular almond variety that is hardy that could be worth a trial.

Almond (Prunus amygdalus or dulcis)- 20- 30 ft x 30 ft attractive tree produces nutritious nut. Semi-dwarfs also available. Nuts are 22% protein, 53% fat, and high in Ca, Cu, Fe, Mg, Mn, Zn, vit E, and riboflavin. Drought-tolerant. Needs full sun, well- drained soil, and hot, dry Summers. Vulnerable to late Spring frosts, so late-blooming varieties are often essential. Dislikes wind. Likes alkaline soil. Somewhat fire-resistant. Remove 20% of oldest fruiting wood annually. Susceptible to oak root fungus. Harvest nuts when shells split to beat the squirrels. ‘Hall’s Hardy’ and ‘Reliable’ (see listing under Short Nut Trees) are the best for coastal California and further north. ‘Hall’s Hardy’ produces thick-shelled, strong-flavored almonds and is disease-resistant and partially self-fertile. Some people say that its nuts need to be boiled to remove their bitterness. Flowers Febr- April, ripens Aug- Oct.

Persian Walnut (carpathian, English)
Should also work but people growing nut trees seem to prefer black walnuts, they taste better and are less bitter. Also not native where the black walnut is native

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 11:31AM
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Insect/disease pressures will certainly vary from place to place - and tend to increase over time, the longer a given type of fruit/nut tree may be grown in a locale.
But, degree of infection/infestation can be quite variable from cultivar to cultivar - just like the 'disease-resistant' apple varieties, some nut varieties are inherently resistant to various insect pests and fungal diseases; while none may be immune, some are much more resistant than others.
In the grove of mature grafted northern pecans I have access to, Peruque and Starking Hardy Giant lose well over half their crop, most years, to pecan weevil infestation. Posey is next-most susceptible; but Major, Busseron, Hodge, and an unidentified cultivar typically have less than 1% of nuts affected - perhaps because the two exquisitely-susceptible cultivars are acting as 'trap' trees.
I've seen similar results with hickories. I have a dozen or so native shellbark hickories growing along the creek on my farm - one particular tree has almost all of its nuts infested by weevils every year it produces - don't know if I've ever gotten to sample an edible kernel from it - but the others, all located within 100 yards or so, are relatively unaffected.
Have not encountered any black walnuts with weevils inside the nut, but walnut husk maggot is pretty common; but since I don't eat the husks, and remove them from the nut anyway, I've not really noticed them to be a major problem with regard to black walnut production.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 4:33PM
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alan haigh

My squirrels love chestnuts but at some point the trees just bear more than the local population can handle most years.

Dunstan chestnuts come as both seedlings and clones with the seedlings being recommended from z6 north I believe. From very limited experience I think the clones can't take cold weather because they fruit too young when they're still too tender to go into winter depleted of energy from producing a crop. Keep them from cropping until they're well established and they may make it further north.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 5:28PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)


One other thing you may want to mention is that pecans tend to be biannual.

I don't know how much this applies to other nuts. Lucky?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 9:58PM
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Good point, and one that I'd not considered to mention.
Heavy nut production takes a toll on pecans - and hickories; heavy-producing trees have a pretty high N requirement if you're going for optimum nut production, and most of them are, as olpea indicated, predisposed to alternate bearing.

2009 was a bumper crop year here for pecans, light for hickories. I didn't anticipate much of a pecan crop in 2010, but most of the mature trees set good crops - but they didn't size up or fill exceptionally well, due to drought conditions. I don't expect any next year.

Hickories set and matured huge crops this year - but due to the drought, many of the shagbarks that I've sampled did not fill their kernels - just shriveled little things inside the shell. But I have run across 2 or 3 shagbarks that did a good job of filling their nuts, so I've got enough to get me by.
Shellbarks are more a creature of the river bottoms, and may have been able to access more moisture; the ones on the farm here matured and filled their nuts well. One 70-yr old shellbark I've been gathering from for the past 10 years sets and matures a huge crop every year - but would benefit from another tree nearby to pollenize it; it's in the middle of a corn/soybean field, and benefits from plenty of fertilizer, but needs cross-pollenation - even in 'good' years, too many nutmeats are inadequately filled;.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2010 at 12:39AM
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