Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bring Out the Homegrown Mixed Nuts

Thanksgiving is next Thursday, an occasion certain to bring the nuts out. 

And we're not talking about your wacky cousins from Merced, the ones who attempt to balance spoons on their noses during dessert.

Or eat dog food on a dare. 

A more common assortment of nuts found at family gatherings this time of year is that ubiquitous bowl of mixed nuts, usually located far from the kitchen, a better way to keep those other nuts out of the busiest room of the house, looking for spoons. 
From top right: pistachios, pecans, filberts, almonds, chestnuts, walnuts

And no doubt the question has been raised during football timeouts in the TV room, as four hands reach simultaneously for the last of the pecans: considering the astronomical price of mixed nuts, why not grow your own?

    Patient gardeners with some space can start their own "mixed nut" garden in the weeks ahead. Nut trees in bare root form will be available at nurseries from late December through February. 

Here are the nut trees that do well in our area (with links to more information about each variety):

* Walnuts. This important agricultural commodity here can thrive in your yard, if you have room for a couple of trees that can get 50 feet tall with a spread of 60 feet. Varieties for the Valley include the "Hartley" and "Chandler". For smaller yards, choose "Pedro", which is about two-thirds the size of other walnut trees.

* Almonds. Good choices for smaller yards include the "All-In-One" and "Garden Prince", which grow less than 15 feet tall and do not need another tree nearby for pollenization. Bigger almond trees for our area include "Mission", "Butte" and "Nonpareil", all of which need a pollenizer.

* Chestnuts. Large trees (40-60 feet tall) that prefer acid to neutral soil pH (5.5-7.0) and don't like soils that are too wet or drain poorly. For best pollination, plant one of each variety: Colossal and Nevada.

* Filberts (aka Hazelnuts). More than one variety is necessary for pollination in order to get a good-sized crop of filberts. Try interplanting "Barcelona", "Butler", "Casina" and "Ennis". And good luck; we've attempted to grow filberts at our place for more than 15 years. Total nut harvest in that time: 8 filberts.

* Pecans. Another tree that needs a lot of space, with a spread of 50-70 feet. Another iffy choice for Northern California; pecans do best south of Fresno. Good choices for home planting include "Mohawk" (a self-fruitful variety) and "Pawnee". The tandem of "Western Schley" and "Choctaw" work well for pollination.

 * Peanuts. Not a tree, but an annual crop that grows in the summer in sandy, well-drained soils. Try the "Jumbo Virginia", "Spanish" and "Valencia Tennessee Red" varieties. Peanuts ripen underground, by the way.

    Two commonly found mixed nuts that are best left to gardeners closer to the Equator: cashews and Brazil nuts.

Instead, add a couple of pistachio trees to your mixed nut garden. A male and female pistachio tree are needed, such as the combination of "Kerman" and "Peters".


  1. Don Shor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis says: Pecans do great here! I have several dozen. They produce very well in alternate years. But people need to know they are huge trees, need careful pruning due to narrow branch angles, and are prone to aphids.

  2. Forgive me for asking a silly question here -- but can you graft several different varieties of nuts to just one tree?

  3. you need compatible rootstock: one for almonds, one for walnuts, etc. Not easy.