The State of Ohio takes pride in claiming the buckeye, Aesculus glabra, as its state tree. Ohio State University proudly displays it as its mascot. These handsome, carefree shade specimens are undemanding landscape trees in USDA Planting Zones 4 to 7. Buckeyes, sometimes referred to as horse chestnuts, develop best when shaded from direct summer sun during their first year or two. You can leave it in its protected nursery spot, where it will grow into a thick, lush shrub or transplant it in full sun to grow it into a stately tree. Your buckeye tree will begin flowering three to five years after sprouting.
Watch the buckeye tree for ripening seed pods from September until early October. Grab them as soon as they fall to the ground to beat the squirrels to them. Don’t pluck buckeyes from the tree, as they won’t be mature enough to germinate.
Remove the husk from the buckeye and toss it onto the compost heap. Plant the seed right away, or store it over the winter to start in spring. Don’t let it dry out. Fill a plastic food storage bag with moist peat moss and bury the buckeye in it. Seal the bag and put it in the refrigerator crisper for about four months. When a white root sprouts, you can plant the seed as soon as all danger of frost has passed for your area.
Choose a fertile, very well-draining spot shaded from harsh afternoon sun. Cultivate the soil thoroughly to a depth of about 6 inches. No amendments are needed.
Plant the buckeye 3 inches deep. Cover the planting site with a 2- to 3-foot square piece of chicken wire to protect it from foraging squirrels. Mulch with 2 or 3 inches of straw or well-rotted sawdust. This will help retain moisture and keep the soil in place.
Water the buckeye slowly and thoroughly. The planting site should be kept evenly moist--not soggy or wet--until the ground freezes.
Remove the mulch and the chicken wire in the spring after the ground has thawed and all danger of frost has passed.
Water the buckeye enough to keep the soil moist until it sprouts. Thereafter provide about 1 inch of water per week throughout the plant’s first growing season.
Feed the buckeye seedling monthly with a good all-purpose fertilizer until August.