A Guide to Growing Your Own Hazelnuts

, written by Benedict Vanheems gb flag

Homegrown hazelnuts

>Winter's when we go nuts for nuts! Enjoy them roasted (on an open fire...or in the oven), munched naked straight out of the shell, or baked with herbs and pulses to create a satisfying vegetarian alternative to traditional roast meats. Nuts are highly nutritious but eat them in any quantity and your wallet will take a fair whack. The solution, as with any premium produce, is to grow them yourself.

Many of the kitchen gardeners I speak to about nuts are put off by the thought of growing them. They need lots of space, right? It's easy to see why this prejudice exists when you think of the grandeur of a mature sweet chestnut or the statuesque beauty of a walnut tree. But this isn't the complete picture. Some nuts, including hazelnuts, are perfectly suited to garden growing – and they'll put on quite a show while they're at it.

Handsome Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts are the easiest nuts to grow – perfect for nervous would-be nutters! The hazelnut family Corylus includes the common hazel and closely related cobnuts and filberts. You can tell the difference between a hazel or cob and a filbert because the husk of the latter completely envelops the shell.

Hazelnut catkins

All members of the hazelnut family produce stunning dangling yellow catkins in late winter/early spring. These are the male parts of the plant that contain the pollen necessary for fertilising the female flowers and ensuring a good crop. Clouds of pollen waft forth on a windy day to pollinate the tiny female flowers held at the branch tips. It means that these wind-pollinated nuts actively prefer a site in the open. Furthermore, they are exceptionally hardy, putting up with both wet and cold winters. This makes them very useful plants for problem parts of the garden.

Some hazels have additional beauty queen credentials in addition to the chandelier-like mass of spring catkins. The corkscrew hazel Corylus avellana 'Contorta' is so-named for its twisted, contorted stems, which are tailor-made for winter flower arrangements. A purple-leaved filbert Corylus maxima 'Purpurea' will add contrast in the garden and in the nut bowl with its purple-husked nuts. All hazelnuts, cobnuts and filberts will provide additional shelter and food for wildlife, particularly when grown as part of a hedgerow.

How to Care For Hazelnuts

Hazelnuts prefer soil that's well drained and fairly low in nutrients; overly rich soil gives plenty of leaf growth at the expense of flowers and nuts. The trees are technically self-fertile, but you will always get better results if you plant them in a group so that the pollen can drift from one hazelnut to the next, though other trees in the neighbourhood will also help with pollination. Don't worry – the word 'tree' is a technicality here; hazelnuts are generally grown as a bushy shrub and can be kept to a very manageable size by pruning.

Hazelnut tree or shrub

If you have the space, try planting a small orchard of hazelnuts, setting trees about 4m (15ft) apart to give them plenty of room. Create a matrix of different varieties to maximise pollination potential. Check the pollinator compatibility of the trees you want to grow to ensure a good match. Varieties need to be in flower at the same time to secure successful pollination.

Caring for hazelnuts is straightforward. Prune them in winter to encourage an open bush. Do this by removing about a third of the oldest growth, cutting or carefully sawing the stems back to ground level. Thin out areas that are overcrowded to keep the centre light and airy. Cut back any crossing branches, but leave the young, twig-like growth, which bears most of the female flowers.

Suckers are stems that grow directly from the roots of the plant, often at some distance from the main stem. These need to be dug out or pulled right off to prevent a mass of impenetrable stems. Keep on top of these suckers and they won't cause a headache later on.

Harvesting Hazelnuts

The nuts are ready to collect in autumn/fall as soon as the husks have yellowed. Pick them from the tree, or if they're perfectly ripe you may be able to shake them off onto a tarpaulin or sheet. Store you cache of nuts in a dry, airy place within crates, nets, cloth bags or slatted boxes.

Hazelnuts or filberts

Squirrels are natural acrobats. And they're very determined! How to keep your nuts safe from their marauding grasp is a tricky one. Due to the way hazelnuts are grown, there's little you can do to keep squirrels off your trees, other than enclose them in a wire mesh-clad fruit cage, which seems a bit excessive. The only practical answer is eagle-eyed vigilance. Should squirrels take more than their fair share then get out there and pick them at once. They may be slightly under-ripe but the squirrels wouldn't be after them if they didn't think they were ready to eat.

Dry your nuts by spreading them out onto trays, turning them every few days for an even result. Dry them indoors in a warm place for two to three weeks. Once they are dry you can scrape away the papery husks and store, either in or out of their shells.

I would love to hear from other gardeners who grow hazelnuts, cobnuts or filberts – or indeed any nuts. Do you have any tips for squirrel-proofing your crop? And how do you use them in the kitchen? Share your comments below.

By Benedict Vanheems.

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Comments

 
"Good article but what zones are good/best for these to grow?"
Kelly on Friday 14 November 2014
"Hi Kelly. They grow in USDA zones 4 through to 8. If you are in the coldest zone, then go for American varieties of hazelnut, which tend to be hardier. Let us know how you get on."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 17 November 2014
"There are two common native varieties of Hazel trees in the U.S. They are not self-fertile. One type is "American" and one is "Beaked." The husk on the nuts of the latter completely envelopes the shell; it kind of looks like a beak. Some hybrids are considered sort of self-fertile but having a second variety or compatible planted-from-seed tree nearby is always better for the harvest. Store-bought Hazelnuts are typically a European variety and are larger than the native nuts, but most folk think the native nuts taste the best."
Hobart Crudd on Tuesday 17 February 2015
"Hi Hobart. Many thanks for sharing this insight - it's appreciated from someone gardening here in the UK."
Benedict Vanheems on Tuesday 17 February 2015
"I would like to grow hazelnuts in wisconsin. where would I get the seed or plant?"
Cindy on Saturday 7 March 2015
"Hi Cindy. I would try at your local nursery. Failing that, try doing a search online for suitable stockists in your area. Hazelnuts are fairly widespread, so I'm sure there will be someone local to you that sells them."
Benedict Vanheems on Monday 9 March 2015
"www.twowests.co.uk/category/fruit-and-vegetable-cages have saved my garden this year! I was struggling a lot with the wildlife (although I always make sure they're not neglected) and the large fruit cages have saved my raspberries! So even though it can seem like the last resort to get a fruit cage, I'm so glad I did. Click the link to check them out!"
Bethany Walker on Monday 16 March 2015
"I have found many Hazel trees/bushes growing wild in OR and WA (US), usually in the vicinity of a stream. The problem (discounting any legal issues) with digging them up for transplanting is that they develop a significant tap-root fairly young, so a healthy-looking 3-footer (meter), or taller, specimen will probably break its tap-root being removed from its site. Opinions vary as to how well such a plant can recover. I just started doing this last Fall (moving them from the woods on my land) and mine mostly look good, but I'm told that with a broken tap-root they may grow and yet not fruit. We'll see. One nice thing about scouting for wild trees is that you can at least go there (a little before the other wildlife) and get a harvest. Plus, the transplants might fruit! Still have to have more than one, though."
Hobart Crudd on Sunday 22 March 2015
"I've recently planted a purple contorted hazel but my two dogs barged into it and broke off one of the slender branches about 20cm long and in leaf bud. It came away with a heel on it so I've put it into a small pot, in a warmish place in the hope it might take root. Any advice on the probability of that happening?"
Sandy on Saturday 16 May 2015
"Sandy, again from my limited experience, most nut trees seem to greatly utilize a tap root, which grows straight down for quite a ways. In a pot that root will circle around and around. I believe it is for that reason that nut trees aren't permanently planted containers. I'm not sure if you are trying to get a branch to root. You can investigate that but though 'layering' with live branches is a common way to propagate hazel trees, rooting from cuttings is not. Here is a link to special techniques for growing nut tree seedlings. http://northernpecans.blogspot.com/2013/06/growing-pecan-seedlings-in-containers.html"
Hobart Crudd on Saturday 16 May 2015
"The suckers referred to are also known as 'free trees.' Do some research to find out the best time to do this but at some point these trees are sufficiently independent of the mother tree and not yet overly burdened with their own long taproot, and can be moved to a new location. I believe they are clones and so are not good additional pollinators for the parent tree but they are viable re: the rest of the community."
Hobart Crudd on Wednesday 27 May 2015
"Hi, we recently inherited a twisted hazel ... The previous owners of the house planted it. It's about 5 to 6 foot tall so I'm guessing not a young tree. I love the tree with its gnarled branches..and it looks really healthy. The catkins appear but to this day I have never seen any flowers appear...which therefor means no nuts :( it's been over a year so given the tree a full cycle to see what happens season to season. Everywhere I read articles claim even the twisted hazel should produce both male catkins and female flowers...is it possible we have a male only tree? Any advice appreciated. We haven't pruned it other than removing any straight shoots that appear...I read that somewhere. Really want it to produce some nuts! Thanks for any tips."
Alex on Thursday 28 May 2015
"Hi Alex. Male and female catkins/flowers are definitely found on the same plant. They perform better when there are more than one tree in the immediate locality - this helps with pollination. So it could simply be that the hazel needs another hazel nearby to boost pollination. The female flowers are very tiny, so it may be that you simply haven't spotted them! They are out at the same time as the dangling male catkins."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 1 June 2015
"I took over my brother's allotment at the beginning of this year and while not a newbie at growing my own produce I found myself with two Corkscrew Hazelnut trees, one is a fully developed specimen about 7ft x 7ft and wasn't sure about when to harvest - so was glad to read your column on the subject. "
Carol Quayle on Sunday 21 June 2015
"It would be better for you to get an allotment down the correct channels Carol. Waiting list and own name. The Allotment Society usually dont approve of someone taking over a family members allotment and its not in the rent agreement."
Veg Grower on Wednesday 5 August 2015
"Hi, greetings from Serbia.I was wondered if you could help me with something. I have done the analysis of the soil but i dont know if it needs to be improved. Could I send you the analysis so you coukd tell me what needs to be done, and wich tipe of huzelnut I should plant. Thank you"
Nikola on Sunday 11 October 2015
"Hi Nikola. Unfortunately we can't offer that service. Most hazelnuts aren't too fussy about soil conditions though. They prefer well-drained soil, but will also cope with wet and cold winters. I would ask about hazelnuts at a local plant nursery, as they will be able to advise on the best varieties for your area."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 12 October 2015
"What is the best time of year to plant hazelnut seedlings? I'm in a "Zone 5" area, and will just be growing a few backyard trees. Thanks!"
Karen Knight on Saturday 6 August 2016
"Hi Karen. Zone 5 can get pretty cold, so to stay safe I'd be inclined to plant seedlings at the very start of spring, just before the buds break into leaf."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 8 August 2016
"Our hazelnut trees produce well but there are many empty shells (assume not pollinated). Does anyone know of a way to sort the good from the empty shells without cracking them all open? We have tried floating them. All the sinkers are good but some of the floaters are also good!"
Margaret on Friday 26 August 2016
"Hi Margaret. I've not heard of this happening before and would love to hear if anyone else has experienced this and has a solution to sorting the filled shells from the empty ones."
Ben Vanheems on Friday 26 August 2016
"HI where i can find information about setting up hazelnut farm step by step ??Thank you"
Alex on Wednesday 28 September 2016
"Shoot the squirrels and eat them. Free protein and delicious to boot. Just dust them with flour, then fry them in a little bacon grease. Use the pan drippings to make Squirrel Gravy and bake some biscuits. Man, that's good eating !!"
The Porkster on Tuesday 4 October 2016
"Can you just plant hazelnuts in shell bought at a grocery store?"
Alan on Saturday 5 November 2016
"Hi Alan. Hazelnuts can, in theory, grow new hazelnut plants - that's how they of course grow in the wild. However, the process can be quite long-winded and growing from store-bought nuts may not work as the nuts may have been treated or stored in a way that renders them useless for this purpose. If you're determined, however, you can collect your own nuts and try these. This article explains how to do it: http://homeguides.sfgate.com/grow-hazelnuts-seeds-49350.html "
Ben Vanheems on Monday 7 November 2016
"Hello, I have just moved into a house with a Hazelnut tree. It is overgrown and I was told only very rarely produces nuts. Is it possible for me to make it produce again? I was told if I pruned about 1/3 of it it would begin to produce again. I have never grown a Hazelnut tree and need help!"
Theresa on Wednesday 7 December 2016
"Hi Theresa. How you prune really depends on the size and shape of the tree. If the hazelnut is badly cluttered, then yes, do go ahead and prune out some of the branches, removing any badly positioned, shaped or crossing stems to leave a cleaner, clearer crown. Hazel is pretty vigorous, so pruning will encourage lots of new growth, which is where the nuts will eventually come from. Some hazelnuts are pruned to produce a coppice or pollard - i.e. lots and lots of vertical stems from the base or a stubby trunk. You could cut all of these stems right down to the ground/stump at once, which would encourage lots more vertical stems (these are great for cutting as vertical supports for climbing beans etc.). Is your hazelnut a more typical tree form, or lots and lots of shoots all emerging from the ground/a single trunk?"
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 8 December 2016
"Thank you for your response! I think I may just cut it down to the ground and get a fresh start. The hazel is the kind that has lots of shoots coming from the ground. "
Theresa on Thursday 8 December 2016
"It sounds like it's been coppiced in the past, which means it is cut back to the ground regularly to produce masses of new shoots. Good luck with it - less us know how you get on."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 8 December 2016
"I am planning on making a espalier fence along my property line. I was wondering if hazelnuts would be compatible with that. I'd love to grow hazelnuts, but I don't have a lot of space in my yard for large bushes."
Heidi on Monday 12 December 2016
"Hi Heidi. I'm afraid that hazelnuts wouldn't really be suitable for growing as an espalier, because of their vigorous growing habit. "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 16 December 2016
"This comming spring I'm planning on cutting down a large evergreen tree that is leaning badly. I would like to plant a hazelnut trees on on each corner of our front lawn. I live in the city and the sewer system is only a few feet away of where I wish to plant them. Is this a problem? Will the roots seek out the water source and destroy the sewer tiles? Randy on Friday December 23 2016"
Randy Bell on Friday 23 December 2016
"Hi Randy. It's hard to say really. The sewer system pipes should be robust enough to withstand roots, particularly as there are so many street trees etc. And while hazelnuts are good growers, I wouldn't imagine their root systems would be that invasive. So I would be inclined to go with it, especially if, as you say, the sewer system is two or three feet away, which would allow the roots of the hazelnut a four to six foot diameter spread - more than enough."
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 3 January 2017
"do the hazelnuts need to be frozzen to start to grow"
Stephen Molter on Friday 13 January 2017
"Hi Stephen. Hazelnuts are best sown fresh - i.e. in late summer, using fresh, ripe hazelnuts picked from the bush. They are then sown into pots before transferring to a cool (but not frosty) place - usually a refrigerator. They need to stay here for three to four months. The cold stimulates the nuts to germinate once they are removed from the cold at the end of this period. They can then be moved to a warm place to germinate. The potting soil will need to be kept moist throughout this time. An easier way to propagate hazelnuts is by mound layering, though this of course depends on you having a hazelnut in the garden in the first place. If not, growing from (fresh!) hazelnuts could be a fun and very rewarding project."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 16 January 2017
"How can I encourage flowers on my hazelnuts? I have 9 bushes some of them are 20 years old,but I never get any nuts! I get lots of catkins but no flowers. I tried breaking back the limbs one year but maybe I did it at the wrong time? Any suggestions? Thanks "
Charlie Danielson on Wednesday 1 March 2017
"Hi Charlie. The catkins are the male flowers, and the female ones are very small. It sounds like your hazelnuts are flowering fine - the problem is they're not producing any nuts. Are the nine hazelnut bushes close to each other? If they are far apart then they won't be cross-pollinating. Hazelnuts produce far more nuts if they are grown closer together and the pollen from one tree can fertilise another. Trees should be no more than about 20 metres (60 feet) apart. Also, if the tree is producing lots of suckers - shoots emerging from the base of the trunk - then these should be cut out to leave just the main, central stem. Lots of suckers means fewer nuts, so it is worth keeping on top of these. "
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 2 March 2017
"I found a sprouted hazelnut in my composting bark pile. Transferred to a gallon pot with potting soil. It is about 6 inches tall with good roots attached. I live in zone 8 in Southern Oregon. Hoping to have a hazelnut tree someday. Not sure of any others in the neighborhood. Probably from my friendly blue jay. He brings me lots of other surprises. "
Marian Treece on Sunday 23 April 2017
"What a lovely surprise! I hope it continues to grow and thrive for you."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 24 April 2017
"I would love to have squirrels come to visit me! I will plant hazelnuts, then!"
lisa on Thursday 27 April 2017
"Hi Ben, I have one mature hazel nut bush on my property and have planted six more of different types for cross pollination. Can I do scion grafting of the cross pollinators to each other to improve pollination? "
Mark Ward on Monday 29 May 2017
"Hi Ben, I have one mature hazel nut bush on my property and have planted six more of different types for cross pollination. Can I do scion grafting of the cross pollinators to each other to improve pollination? "
Mark Ward on Monday 29 May 2017
"Hi Mark. Having a number of different hazelnuts in the vicinity should be enough to ensure adequate cross pollination. Grafting the different varieties onto different plants would be a lot of hard work with no guarantee of success. As long as the trees are within reasonably close proximity - so that the pollen can travel between them - you're fine."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 5 June 2017
"I have two hazelnut trees that are probably ten years old. I've never seen them flower and we've never gotten any fruit. I haven't pruned them because they're still so small. Do you have any idea why this might happen, or can you direct me to other places that might have an answer?"
Lauren on Sunday 2 July 2017
"I have to confess Lauren that's a bit of a mystery. They should be producing nuts by now. They do need a sunny or at least part-sunny position, so if they are growing in a highly shaded area this could be your problem."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 3 July 2017
"No, they're in full sun. Both are currently about four to five feet tall and have never suckered. They're fifteen feet apart. Some things just don't thrive in my yard. I may pull them and plant something else. Thanks for your response!"
Lauren on Tuesday 4 July 2017
"That's disappointing Lauren, particularly when they've put on so much growth by now. I hope that you'll have better luck with what you choose to replace them."
Ben Vanheems on Thursday 6 July 2017
"My hazelnut bushes are beautiful, but they never produce any flowers, any pollinating dangling things, and there has never been a nut on either bush. We have plenty of trees in our neighborhood, my bushes are about 10 feet apart and we have wonderful windy days here, but never a hazelnut on the bushes. I love hazelnuts, but I must be doing something very wrong."
Janie on Tuesday 5 September 2017
"Hi Janie. That is a bit of a mystery, as they should definitely be producing flowers towards the end of each winter. Could it be that the trees are just still a but young and haven't established enough yet to produce flowers? "
Ben Vanheems on Friday 8 September 2017
"If you have catkins but no nuts, you might try hand-pollinating early next spring. Look online for a picture of the female hazelnut flowers so you know what to look for: they are tiny red threads coming from apparent buds all along the length of the branches. Start looking in late winter as they are out very early spring. Then find an expanded yellow-green fat catkin from another hazel bush, and dab it over the flowers. You can also pick and hang a few catkins high in other bushes. You won't see the result of fertilization until many months later. I tried it in 2017 and it worked! I finally got nuts from the large vigorous bush."
Chris in NY on Saturday 16 September 2017
"Hi Chris. That's brilliant - thanks so much for your suggestion. This would be very useful, I imagine, during relatively still conditions too, to help the pollen get to exactly where it's needed."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 18 September 2017
"Hi Chris. That's brilliant - thanks so much for your suggestion. This would be very useful, I imagine, during relatively still conditions too, to help the pollen get to exactly where it's needed."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 18 September 2017
"Well, when I bought the bushes they were supposed to be 2-years of age. I have now had them in my front yard for at least 5 years and nothing but leaves. I have never seen the red flowers on my bushes that Chris wrote about. Googled images of female hazelnut bush flowers and I have definitely not seen any of the beautiful flowers. Starting to wonder if I even have Hazelnut bushes now. I will be snipping a bit off a branch and visiting my local nursery to see if I have planted hazelnuts. Thanks for your help! I'll let you know what I find out."
Janie on Tuesday 19 September 2017
"Please do Janie. It sounds like you may have been sold the wrong plant!"
Ben Vanheems on Wednesday 20 September 2017
"Hi Ben, I have 4 hazel trees. Planted about 3 years ago. Lots of hazelnuts last year, although a bit small. We didn’t prune them so this year they shot up.... but no hazelnuts. Any idea why? I’m in Ireland so wet soil Perry"
Perry O’Connor on Friday 27 October 2017
"Hi Perry. It's difficult to know what the cause could be. Sometimes fruit and nut trees produce less fruit/nuts after a particularly heavy crop the year before. This is called biennial bearing, and it could be what's happening here. Regular pruning is a good way to keep trees vigorous, while increasing yields."
Ben Vanheems on Monday 30 October 2017
"Aloha, I would love to add Hazelnut trees to my Tree farm. I have avocados and citrus trees. I also have my own "doorstep herb garden" its amazing at what I can grow here the land is great for growing trees, veggies and herbs. "
Stella on Friday 1 December 2017
"The Arbor Day organization has a Hazelnut Project where you can join in and return results of your trees to the organization to further the development of new varieties. You simply go to the site at www.arborday.org and then click on TREES in the top menu. When you get to that page type in Hazelnut and Enter. You will be shown a page where you can see two varieties. Click on either variety for more info and pricing. Pricing is cheaper if you join the Arbor Day organization, however there is no requirement to do so. But, if you are going to buy more than one tree joining makes sense for the savings.With that said, this site gives much more information about planting, care, feeding, and harvesting than the Arbor Day site, by far exceeding the information supplied when buying the plants at Arobor Day.In fact, I found this site looking for ways to get more growth out of my plants and it looks like I don't really need to do anything other than keeping it watered."
Jesse Glesswner on Tuesday 23 January 2018
"Hi Jesse. Thanks for the information and I'm really pleased the article has proved useful. "
Ben Vanheems on Tuesday 23 January 2018

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