Sunday, March 17, 2013

Small Trees Can Give Nuts Too!

     Last week I discussed the possibility that you could use your land for more than just an aesthetically pleasing place to be.  I suggested that you could use nut trees to provide you with both shade and edible nuts.  This week I am continuing that discussion.
     Nuts can also be grown on smaller trees!  Large, majestic nut  trees that provide shade can be wonderful, but you might not have that big an area or you might not need more shade trees.  That is really not a problem.  Use small trees instead of shade trees and you can still grow nuts.
     I tend to prefer to recommend native trees over imported species because they are better adapted to the conditions that they will face growing and they are less likely to escape the confines of a specific property and become a problem to wildlife elsewhere.  There are two smaller nuts trees that grow well in this area of North Carolina that are native throughout the eastern half of the United States.
A mature clump of American Hazelnut
     The first is the American Hazelnut.  This is a tree that reaches nine to twelve feet with a spread of fifteen to eighteen feet.  It reproduces by means of rhizomes, as well as by nut production, and can form into a dense thicket, so it should be used in informal settings.  The trees have a rounded canopy with a somewhat course visual texture due to their large leaves, and they tend to grow as a multistemmed, almost leggy, large shrub or small tree.  The nuts are small and acorn like in appearance.  They have a sweet flavor and can be eaten raw or ground into a flour for use in making a cake-like bread.  They were commonly used by the American Indians to flavor soups and their bark was used to make a tea to aid in the reduction of a fever and the hives.  In the wild they can be found in moist to dry woodlands and along the edges of forests and streams.  They prefer open sunlight, but can be grown successfully in shade.  They make an especially good choice of use in bio-retention areas or rain gardens as they can tolerate the extremely wet and often dry conditions found there.  As an added bonus, you can expect to get a couple of nuts the first year after planting and a fairly good crop within two to three years.
     Another great small nut tree is the Allegheny Chinkapin.  This tree also has a course texture and produces a sweet flavored nut.  It grows six to fifteen feet tall and has a rounded crown.  American Indians favored the nuts and used the leaves to reduce fever and as a headache remedy.  Because this tree is a close relative to the American Chestnut, it is subject to chestnut blight and it does produce the foul smelling odor of chestnuts when in bloom.  It is strongly suggested that if you are planning to use this tree, you select a blight resistant cultivar.
     A nut similar in flavor can be grown on a chestnut.  Because it is closely related to the Chinkapin the tree will have a similar appearance.  Commercially, you find that the American chestnut is no longer really available.  This is due to the chestnut blight.  The Chinese chestnut is a blight resistant tree and will provide you with a suitable replacement.  It reaches forty feet in height and has a rounded canopy.  Nuts are borne in spiny cases in clusters of two to three.  The tree does have a very foul smelling flower, so I recommend that it be planted away from any dwelling.
     Finally, you could use a hardy almond as a possible ornamental and nut producing tree.  These are not native to the eastern United States and have had mixed success, but if they are planted with that in mind they could surprise you.  They are actually related to the cherry and as such should be pruned and treated in the same way.  Spring flowering will be similar to the cherry with delicate pink five-petalled flowers in masses along the stems.  The trees themselves will reach fifteen to eighteen feet in height and have an open vase shape.  The nut is actually the equivalent of the pit of their fruit.
     Add variety to your site by adding small trees as well as large shade trees and remember that those small trees can actually work for you as well.

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