Hazelnut trees, also known as filberts or cob nuts, grow across North America. The delicious nuts may be eaten right out of the shell or used in a variety of dishes, including desserts, stir fry, candies, salads and main entrees. Hazelnut trees make great additions to the garden, especially if gardeners hope to attract wildlife who also like to eat the nuts.
The native varieties of hazelnut trees, the beaked hazel and the American hazel, form compact bushes reaching 6 feet in height. These hardy trees produce small thick-shelled nuts along with attractive orange-red fall foliage. These trees often grow in the wild along the edges of forests or meadows. European varieties of hazelnut trees grow well in milder climates, reaching up to 15 feet in height and producing large thin-shelled nuts.
Most hazelnut trees grow well in hardy zones 4 through 8. The plants thrive in full sun to partly shady locations in well-drained soil. The new trees require thorough watering until they are well-established. A layer of mulch helps preserve moisture during hot summers. In order to produce nuts, hazelnut trees require another variety of hazelnut tree with which to pollinate. In the winter, winds carry the pollen from the male catkins on one tree to the female flowers of the other tree.
A new hazel nut tree should be pruned as soon as it is planted. This involves cutting back all of the tree's branches to encourage more branches to grow and form a bushier tree. More branches work to produce larger crops of nuts. After the trees have grown for a few years, the tops may be pruned back to allow more light to filter down to the lower branches.
One-year old trees often produce their first crop of tasty hazelnuts. Trees planted with seeds usually take four to six years before the first nuts appear. Hazelnuts ripen by September or October, and are then ready to be harvested. To discourage wildlife from eating all of your hazelnuts, the nuts may be harvested before they're completely ripe. The nuts should be stored until they're fully ripe, though, as they taste best then.
Blue jays and squirrels find hazelnuts to be almost irresistible. Squirrels will often eat the nuts before they are even ripe, while blue jays cart the nuts away as soon as they ripen. Other birds and small animals find the small trees perfect as temporary cover, while smaller birds also nest in the trees.