Starting hickory trees from nuts is a very rewarding endeavor and it doesn’t require a green thumb. Many people plant hickory nuts because they want their own supply of nuts for eating and baking. Some people plant hickory nuts because they intend to sell the seedlings or future nuts at a local farmer’s market or tree nursery. Whatever your reasons may be for planting hickory nuts, you should know that it can take a decade or more for hickory trees to produce nuts. For those who love the taste of hickory nuts, the wait is well worth it.
Collect hickory nuts directly from trees in your area. This will ensure that you are planting a species of hickory that will grow in your area. Hickory nuts begin to fall in the early autumn. It’s best to arrive early to retrieve your nuts before the squirrels begin to carry them off for winter storage.
Remove the outer husk that surrounds each nut by using a nut cracker or tapping the husk with a hammer. Hickories are part of the walnut family, but unlike walnuts, hickory nuts are encased in a four-valved husk that is easier to pop open. Discard the empty husks or set them aside to add to your compost bin.
Locate areas where you want to plant your hickory nuts. Hickory trees prefer to be planted in well-draining soil that receives full sun. Hickory nuts should be spaced at least 25 feet apart.
Dig holes that are 3 inches deep. Place two or three nuts in each hole and refill the holes with dirt.
Place wire mesh over each newly planted area to keep squirrels from digging up your nuts. Secure the wire mesh to the ground with hook nails.
Water each area liberally where you have planted the nuts. Do not water again until the spring.
Remove the mesh wire in the spring and fertilize each area with a 10-10-10 fertilizer. Plan to fertilize once a month.
Place compost or an organic mulch on top of the area where you have planted your hickory nuts. This will keep the soil rich in nutrients and help it to retain moisture.
Water heavily at least once a week when you notice hickory sprouts popping through the ground. If you have heavy spring rainfall, you may not need to water. Water the sprouts until the water soaks into the ground. Do not over water. If the ground is standing in water, you have watered too much.
Thin out the two weakest seedlings in each area. You can discard the weak seedlings or transplant them to another area.
Keep the area around each hickory seedling free of weeds. Weeds will compete with your seedlings for nourishment.
Keep your seedlings fed with fertilizer and hydrated with water and they will grow quickly. However, don’t expect your trees to produce nuts for 8-15 years depending on the species you have planted.