Friday, October 15, 2010

Growing Chestnuts in Missouri a Challenge, But Possible

Roasting chestnuts over an open fire sounds like a nice holiday activity. But, it takes extra work and the right variety to grow chestnuts in the Ozarks according to Patrick Byers, horticulture specialist, University of Missouri Extension.

Byers says three chestnut species are native to the United States: American chestnut, Alleheny chinkapin and Ozark chinkapin. However, all three are very susceptible to chestnut blight attack.

As a result, the Chinese chestnut is an emerging new tree crop for the Midwest. The Chinese chestnut tree is a spreading, medium-sized tree with glossy dark leaves bearing large crops of nutritious nuts.

“These delicious nuts are a healthy, low-fat food ingredient that can be incorporated into a wide range of dishes. Chinese chestnut trees are medium sized and they have great cold tolerance and adequate tolerance to chestnut blight,” said Byers.

Chinese chestnuts can be grown about anywhere if the soil is well drained and not within a frost pocket. Chinese chestnut trees are drought tolerant once established, but ample water throughout the growing season promotes good tree growth and regular nut production.

“For the most part, the Chinese chestnut is pest free and in a small-scale planting can be successfully grown without pesticides,” said Byers.

Byers recommends grafted trees of proven varieties for the backyard gardener. Grafted varieties provide more uniform ripening, higher nut quality, larger nut size and more consistent yields.

Several different varieties such as Eaton, Mossbarger, Sleeping Giant, Peach, Wing, Willamette and Revival have been recommended for Missouri. A list of retail nursery locations that sell grafted varieties are available online.

Byers also recommends that three trees of different varieties be planted together to ensure pollination. Spacing trees at least 40 feet apart will allow ample room for tree growth.

“Homeowners should plant chestnut trees where children and pets can be kept away from the spiny burrs that fall to the ground at harvest. Also keep in mind that chestnuts require full sun for best nut production so they should not be planted next to large shade trees,” said Byers.

Grafted Chinese chestnuts should start bearing nuts one to three years after planting.

“At that point, you should have the pleasure of roasting your very own chestnuts over an open fire during the holiday season,” said Byers.

For additional information on growing Chinese chestnuts, contact your local University of Missouri Extension Center or call Greene County’s Master Gardener Hotline at (417) 862-9284.

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