A great, low-maintenance, and decorative way to grow food in an urban or suburban environment is by planting nut trees. Nuts have a high nutritional value, are popular in many recipes, and require little maintenance or upkeep as compared to most garden vegetables.
The following are popular varieties of edible nuts grown by residents in North America. These are relatively easy to grow in most front or backyards. Be aware that nearly all nut trees bear fruit only every other year.
Probably the most popular of the homegrown nut trees, pecans are considered very aesthetic and are often grown by people who never harvest the nuts. They have specific requirements, however, that must be met for the tree to grow to fruit-bearing size. They need to be able to delve at least three feet down without hitting the water table, so they are best-suited for elevated or non-swampy areas. Their soil needs good nutrition and must drain well. Pecans also enjoy full sun and should be at least 30 feet away from building foundations, power lines, and other trees as their roots cast out fairly far. Pecans can thrive in all but the harshest of winter climes. Choose a variety suited to your zone.
There are an endless variety of walnuts available for growing. Most walnut varieties in the U.S. are either commercial Persian (aka English) walnuts or they are various varieties of Black Walnut (below). Walnut trees require full sun, well-drained and deep soil, and late summer or fall with moderate temperatures and/or high humidity. Hot sun in the late summer when the nuts are formed could cause shell burn, ruining the nut for harvest.
These are very popular trees native to the Illinois area of the country. They will grow in most climates that do not deep-freeze in the winter. Walnuts require very deep, fertile soil that is well drained. Their roots do not span much further than their branches, but can dive as deep as six feet. Black walnuts are prized for cooking and will surely make you the favorite of your neighborhood.
A very popular “self sufficiency” choice for nut growers, this tree is smaller than every other listed here and has a relatively large output of nuts per tree. Also called American filberts, these are midwestern trees that are more like bushes than trees. Individually, they will grow to about 10×10 feet in height and width, but are usually pruned to smaller proportions. Hazelnuts can propagate themselves quickly, however, and sprout from root runners as well as germinated nuts, so be aware that new trees might suddenly appear and require management or removal.
Attractive as yard ornaments, chestnut trees are smaller than many other fruit-bearing trees and therefore are a good choice for landscapes with limited space. They are relatively round in shape. They are less finicky of their soil conditions, so long as they are not overly water bogged. If American chestnuts are not native to your area, they will likely grow well. If they are, then you should choose a Chinese variety to avoid blight. Most varieties will require that at least two trees be within close proximity in order for nuts to form (pollination).
These are best suited for areas with long, hot summers that are relatively dry. Most pistachios in the U.S. are grown in northern California. These trees take a long time to mature and begin producing a small amount of nuts at about 8 years but don’t hit full bearing maturity until 15-20 years have past. Young trees yield half to one pound and fully mature trees can yield up to 80 pounds. These trees require well drained soil.
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