Chestnut trees are grown throughout the world, with a rich tradition behind them. There are varieties available for just about every hardiness zone in the United States. These trees produce delicious nuts that can be eaten roasted, boiled, candied or ground into flour.
There are three species of chestnut — American, European and Asiatic. Each has slightly different characteristics. The American Chestnut is famous for having been nearly wiped out by a blight in the early 1900s. Over 4 billion chestnut trees were killed. Enough survived though to be crossed with Eastern Asian species that were blight-resistant, creating new American Chestnut hybrids. See the American Chestnut Foundation for more information. When purchasing a young tree, be sure to inquire about its blight resistance.
Site Selection for Growing Chestnuts
These trees do best in well-drained and moist soil. Sand or gravel soils with enough substance to hold moisture are ideal. Deep soil is best (at least four feet) and areas that are slightly acidic will likely benefit the tree.
Germinated seeds can be planted with the root-shoot downwards, but most growers will start from seedlings as transplants. These should be put into a hole that is roughly twice the diameter of the root ball and slightly deeper than the root ball. The bottom of the hole should be filled slightly with loose soil, the tree placed in its spot, and soil heaped in around it and lightly packed by hand. Once in place, mound the soil around the base of the tree slightly and let it settle naturally. Water regularly (every other day if the soil is as described above), but only lightly.
Management and Pruning of Chestnuts
More than one tree will be required so that pollination can occur. Chestnut trees prefer nitrogen, so fertilize with something that is higher in nitrogen content: roughly 30-10-10 in mix. Fertilize in the spring or mid-summer, never in the fall. Most new trees should be protected at the trunk, but never with anything that can support the tree itself as this will train the tree trunk to be weak. Plastic made-for-use trunk covers and other options are widely available. Most growers use commercial shelters for the trees in their first year as seedlings in the ground.
Pruning is only necessary to train the tree upwards and to keep the branches from getting too long for their own good. It should be done in the late fall after the trees have gone dormant.
The harvest of chestnuts is as with most nuts, but the nuts are encased in a prickly burr, so they must be handled with care. Tree shaking is the most common method, though shaking individual limbs is actually safer for the tree. The nuts need to be cured and stored and then can be prepared in a variety of ways – usually by roasting them.
Chestnut Pests and Diseases
Different pests are a nuisance to chestnuts depending on their stage of development. Deer are the most common pests and should be kept out of an orchard with fence and other deterrents. In the earliest stages of development, vermin such as mice and rats and their kin can become a real problem for new trees, as they enjoy nibbling the young buds and small branches. Tree shelters help to protect from these.
The greatest insect pests to chestnut trees are Japanese beetles. They can destroy young trees and prevent older trees from bearing nuts. As mentioned earlier, chestnut blight is one of the most deadly diseases that can affect the trees.
Want to learn more about growing chestnuts?
Growing Chinese Chestnut Trees in Missouri from University of Missouri
Chestnuts: How to Grow an American Classic from Mother Earth News
mike schuh says
Couldn’t get them to grow in zone 3—Wisconsin
I leave in eagle pass Texas to be exact in zone 9. I recently planted a Chinese chestnut tree , but IAM going to be very truthful, I am kind of skeptical if this beautiful tree will grow well here in this hot Texas climate. I putting all my efforts for this tree to grow God help me!
ronald larocca says
I live in Fallbrook, California (north county San Diego)……..Can anyone tell me if chestnut trees will grow and produce nuts ……I think my zone is 10………………………Thank you ….. ron