Growing Chestnut Trees

Overview

Though the blight introduced to North America in 1904 killed most of the American chestnut trees in the eastern United States, these important trees survived in pockets outside their natural range. In the old forests, individual trees still sprout new growth from old stumps. No truly blight-resistant varieties are as yet available, but new cultivars should be released within a few years. Planting new chestnuts from seed helps reestablish the species by providing a larger and healthier genetic base. Growers with a purely commercial interest should plant grafted cultivars or the disease-resistant Chinese chestnut.

Growing Chestnuts

Step 1

Mark planting locations 40 feet on centers. Chinese chestnuts should mature small enough to use this orchard spacing efficiently without shading or crowding. This spacing allows culling of American chestnut trees for a mature spacing of 40 feet between trees.

Step 2

Dig planting holes deep enough for full extension of the young tree's roots. Container-grown seedlings could be root bound. Straighten circling roots before planting. Two-foot deep planting holes two feet in diameter should be deep enough for most chestnut seedlings.

Step 3

Trim broken roots or branches; clean cuts are less likely to become infected than ragged breaks. Set the chestnut tree in the planting hole at the same depth as in the nursery row or container. Fill the hole with a mix of soil and either compost or peat.

Step 4

Paint the stem of the tree with white indoor latex paint thinned 50 percent with plain water. Paint up to the first crotch. Wrap the stem with a white plastic trunk protector.

Step 5

Cut a slit in the center of a 4-foot square of weed control matting. Slip the mat over the tree and anchor the edges of the mat with earth or stones. Control weeds between trees by mowing regularly to a height of 2 or 3 inches.

Tips and Warnings

  • Adjust spiral trunk protectors twice yearly to prevent strangling the tree. Protective plastic bark guards do not always expand without help. Keep orchard ground mowed and clear of debris year-round to discourage rabbits, squirrels and mice. Many animals browse on chestnut twigs and bark. By 6 years of age the trees should have outgrown these natural dangers. Young trees benefit from drip irrigation. In natural settings moisture levels in the soil would be fairly constant but in open orchards ground dries out quickly.

Things You'll Need

  • Nursery grown chestnut trees
  • Transplanting shovel
  • Peat or compost
  • Pruning shears
  • White latex paint (indoor)
  • Water
  • Bucket
  • Paint brush
  • Spiral trunk protectors
  • Weed prevention matting
  • Knife

References

  • Penn State University: Planting and Growing Chestnuts
  • Michigan State University: Growing Chestnuts in Michigan
  • Iowa State University: The Chestnut Grower's Primer

Who Can Help

  • American Chestnut Co-operator's Foundation
Keywords: growing chestnuts, chinese chestnuts, american chestnuts

About this Author

James Young began writing as a military journalist in Alaska and combat correspondent in Vietnam. His lifetime fascination with technical and manual arts yields decades of experience in electronics, turnery, blacksmithing, outdoor sports, woodcarving, joinery and sailing. Young's articles have been published in Tai Chi Magazine, Sonar 4 Ezine, The Marked Tree, Stars & Stripes, the SkinWalker Files and Fine Woodworking.