‘Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…’, we are familiar with the classic Christmas tune, but just where do chestnuts come from and can I grow them? Sure you can, just plant a couple of chestnut trees, be patient and in a few years you can harvest ripe chestnuts in your own yard minutes before you’re ready to roast them.
Choose the Tree
There are four main types of chestnut trees grown in United States: The American chestnut (Castanea dentata), the Chinese chestnut (C. mollissima), the Japanese chestnut (C. crenata) and the European chestnut (C. sativa).
Each specie will produce edible chestnuts, but each one will have a distinctive flavor and the trees have varying growth habits. The American chestnut tree grows strong and tall, producing small, sweet nuts with easy-to-remove hulls. The Chinese chestnut tree grows wider than it does tall and produces smooth, sweet-flavored nuts. Japanese chestnut trees are semi-blight resistant and produce bitter-tasting nuts and the European chestnut tree grows large and strong, producing nuts with varying flavors.
Plant Two Trees
Once you have selected the tree variety, select a sunny location and prepare the soil for planting two trees. Two chestnut trees are needed for cross pollination, so unless your close neighbor (within 200 feet) has a chestnut tree, you will need to plant two.
Allow 40 feet in all directions for each tree, then dig a large planting hole that is twice as wide and twice as deep as the root ball. Mix compost or well-rotted cow manure into the removed soil and back-fill planting hole so the tree will planted at the same depth as it was in the container. Finish filling the hole with soil, tap down gently to ensure all roots are in contact with the soil, then water well.
Chestnut trees require very little care after planting, but to grow the most aesthetically pleasing, nut-producing tree, a little early branch training will be needed. Ensure adequate branch spacing by pinching pruning off sucker branches that compete with the central trunk for height. Select a scaffold of limbs branching off from the main trunk, spacing them about one foot apart all around the trunk, then remove all the remaining branches during the first year after the tree is planted.
Chestnuts are grown inside spiny burrs that can house 1-3 nuts. When the chestnuts are ripe, the spiny burrs crack open and drop the ripe nuts to the ground or the entire spiny burr falls from the tree to the ground. In either event, the ripe chestnuts will be harvested off the ground under the tree, taking all the guess-work out of whether or not they are ripe.