The chestnut, castanea, is a deciduous nut tree .Six cultivars of the American chestnut tree grow wild in the Appalachian mountains and other areas; five varieties are found in Asia and one in Europe. The American cultivars grow well in temperate areas and can be planted and grown commercially or in the home garden.
Chestnuts ripen in the fall when the weather turns cold, usually in October. Store the burs in a cool place and they will open when the nuts are ripe. Put the nuts in slightly dampened sphagnum moss enclosed in plastic bags. Store them in the vegetable crisping compartment of a refrigerator.
The nuts will usually germinate by early February. You can see the roots coming out of the nuts.
Start them in a potting mix in containers on a sunny window sill. Plant them outside when the weather is consistently warm.
The best way to start seeds is to plant them indoors. A good potting mix is 12 quarts each of vermiculite, ground peat and Perlite plus ¼ cup of lime. Stick with that ratio if you want less mix for a few seeds or more mix if you want to start an orchard.
Chestnut seedlings need deep containers. A two-quart juice or milk carton with the top cut off is good. Punch holes in the bottoms or remove them altogether. Removing them prevents the roots from coiling into balls.
Start your seed in a sunny window or in a greenhouse. Keep the soil moist but not wet.
Plant seeds outside in the late spring. Keep them under the shade of a tree or on a sunny porch at first. As they get acclimated, move them to their permanent location.
You can plant your seeds in their growing site, but you need to protect them from animals. There are commercial devices to help do this. You can fashion your own from aluminum flashing or modify a tin can. To use a tin can, cut one end off and cut an X in the other end. Push the edges of the cut X so they point away from the center of the can. Put the X end at the bottom of growing plants.
Where to Plant
It's best to plant chestnuts in well-drained bottom land or on hillsides. Chestnut trees like sandy, gravely or loamy soils that are well-drained. They don't like frost or wind. They do best in full sun. If they have good soil and location, they will mature in about eight years.
If you don't have much space, you can plant chestnut trees 10 to 15 feet apart. Mature trees are easier to work with if they are spaced up to 20 feet apart. Wider spacing increases yields when the trees are young. Some growers thin them to 40 feet apart.
Caring for Seedlings
Remove weeds from within two feet of the seedlings. Use organic or plastic mulch to keep weeds away. To protect from rodents, pull organic mulch back six inches from the stem before winter begins.
Chestnut trees like soil of 4.5 to 6.5 pH. Soil above 6.5 doesn't give them enough iron. Use 10-10-10 or 20-20-20 fertilizer in acidic soil; use 10-6-6 or 20-10-10 in alkaline soil. Apply at the rate of granulated fertilizer per one inch of trunk, half in the spring and half in the early summer. Organic farmers use fish fertilizer for nitrogen.