Black Walnut Farming

I saw a great post from about 5 years ago about some of the different black walnut varieties available and some other general info (Black Walnut named varieties). I am looking at doing a 4 acre planting of black walnut trees on one property, and may continue into doing a much larger ~150 property as well once I have learned a little more and have a little more info on feasibility of the whole project. I am trying to find out more about a number of subjects, and the answers I get are all over the place online so I was hoping someone here had a little more experience and could at least point me in the right direction.

I am in the East Texas area, and know that generally black walnuts grow well in deep, loose, and moist soils that are unobstructed by rocks or dense clay, and that production greatly depends on both cultivar and conditions, I am currently looking at Neel #1 and know they need a pollinator like sparrow to go along with them (open to anything that makes sense commercially) and have the following questions:

  1. Are there any studies on impact of production with fertilizer, especially liquid fertilizer applied as an injection through mirco watering systems (or studies on fertilizing in general and their impact on yield).

2a) Does anyone have any good references on nut yield by age of the tree. Also does anyone know if that the associated number would be years after planting on site, or age including time at the nursery before planting.

2b) When looking at yield numbers does the weight of nuts include the hulls and the shell, the shell only, or just the nut meat?

  1. Does anyone have any numbers about sales value of the nuts through different avenues? I know that Hammond is the largest buyer of black walnuts, and read a recent article that said that they cap the price they pay for wild black walnuts at $0.16 per pound, but did not know if that included the hull and/or shell in the weight, and if they were willing to pay more for commercial varieties. Additionally if anyone had any general numbers around both selling to retailers/ice cream manufacturers and direct to consumer would be greatly appreciated.

  2. I have read some conflicting reports around the addition of other cash crops being grown along side the black walnut. Of course many cash crops are not able to tolerate the toxins the roots release, but have read through some sources it is a good idea to grow other crops while other reports say that the loss in nut production is not worth it for growing other cash crops.

Is this a nutrient issue that could be solved through the use of a complete fertilizer, or managed by doing tests on the leaves of the walnut trees to monitor appropriate fertilizers needed?

  1. Does anyone know of any ways that one could reduce the alternate bearing issues with black walnuts? As above is this an issue where the tree simply is not getting enough nutrients to pump out good yields year after year?

  2. One of the interesting articles that I read about was tapping the black walnut trees for syrup as they grow. Does anyone know if doing so would stunt their growth, or generally be worth while. I am sure much of this info would be the same as anyone growing maple/pecan trees.

  3. Does anyone have any good sources of black walnut trees specifically Neel #1 or any other variety they might suggest for growing in East Texas

  4. Anything else that I might need to know or would generally be helpful?



Welcome to the forum!


I’ve got nothing really directly tied to your specific questions. But, I have enjoyed working with the tree that I inherited with the property I bought about 4 years ago. It is likely around 50 years old, and the wild spaces of the yard and border with the adjacent pasture have been neglected for at least ten years with a small copse of it’s offspring just coming into bearing. Those were almost certainly planted by the local squirrels, who love the nuts but often find enough easier fare that they don’t dig them back up. I’d estimate the couple I know are now bearing at 15 and 20 years old. I cannot say they did not bear two years ago, and did not clock any bearing last year, but I did find a couple dropped in my back yard that were likely imported from not too far away.
Just because it is new to me, I was over-zealous in tracking counts and dates of the two runs I have had so far from this one tree. I was above 3000 nuts from the one tree two years ago and may hit 4000 this year. Here in NWNC they pretty much fall in the month of October, with some drift, probably temperature related, into November. The hurricane winds a couple weeks ago did not have a significant effect on drop. The heaviest fall both cycles was the two weeks in what is likely to be the middle, with a few stragglers hanging on well into the winter. Most of my stragglers last year came down already dried out.
I did not track weights, but from a full fruit to nut only ratio, I saw about 20 percent of the volume after cleaning than before. They are significantly easier to clean green than black and almost all worms I saw were in the husks that were starting to rot.
Last cycle saw a larger overall fruit size than this year, but there were a lot more fruits that were still on the hard side last time too. The reduced fruit size did not translate to quite as big of a drop in the average perceived nut size, although I think there were a few more jumbos in the first cycle I processed.
Roughly 2.5% were floaters plus a handful both years that I tossed for being small and dried already upon falling. I do not know if the floaters affect nut edibility or not, but as they were less likely to germinate, I let the squirrels have them. One of my goals is to minimize how many they plant where I don’t want them growing, although I gotta say, walking into my house tonight with 2000 of them curing under a fan made my mouth water.
Mine is almost certainly a wild local. It is at least 120 feet tall and clearly had no attempt at shaping when it was younger. It is old enough that it has had some limbs rot off that you can see the remants of well over my head. Probably only about a dozen could have been reached by hand, and likely only a couple hundred with a standard sized ladder. I assume you’ld still collect as they fell, in which case, they can bounce and they will certainly roll, so slopes upward at the perimeter will encourage them not to go too far, and I can imagine netting under my one tree to funnel the fall to exactly where I want them, but I’ll never bother.
Most of them will pop out of the husks with a relatively gental pop of the heel, and a gentle roll sees most of the nuts roll free if they are not too confined. Several small flying things like the piles of husks I get, at least while they are most, but they dry quickly. It seems likely worthwhile to use them promptly in a commercial setup to make stain or something that could be turned into it before composting the rest. It needs a long compost time before application, but as a mono-culture compost it yields an alkaline blend that many trees love.
If you are shelling the nuts too, the shell can be ground into something usable in lots of products, typically abrasives, but I’ve seen the shells cut and carved into “craft products” that have an odd appeal to more people than I would have expected. I don’t bother. I give most of my nuts away, but the ones I crack for myself I just toss into the regular compost heap or the yard away from the house.
If they are fully cured, a brief soak helps them crack with less of a mess, but you’ll need to allow time to ensure the nuts are dry enough to store without molding. They are edible straight from the tree, but curing allows them to shrink away from the shell such that extraction of the nut is easier, which increases the number of large pieces. I do not know what means of commercial extraction you’ll use, but orientation is important in different ways for both the crush and the saw methods if you are after a lot of halves and quarters.
This one is way too precocious when the nuts are buried before they have dried out. (Only 2.5% floating fresh frm the husks, and I could probably predict at least half of those doing everything myself.) I do not have any kind of refined pallet, but the market has its whims. As a consumer, I have never met a black walnut I did not like. The amount of time they are allowed to oxidize within the hulls allegedly affects the bitter element, and definitely affects how dark the shell will be. Depending on the application, you might want to exploit he potential, but I could not, at this point, say that I notice a difference enough to bother try testing various stages out. The ones that dry in the husk are more likely to be duds from the natural process I’ve experienced, and the ones that the husks are … less fresh … are the ones that have the worms in them here.
Incidentally, when the nuts fall, the bruising releases the juglone they contain as a protective measure for the nuts. Not much can get through them, but the juglone is an insecticide for a lot of the things that might otherwise try. Catching them somehow before they fall seems likely to yield the sweetest nuts, but again, I can’t see where it should matter too much to those who like black walnuts.
There’s my nickel tour. Most of it is likely useless from the commercial perspective, but maybe it yields some clues to questions you want ot ask, and maybe it does give some useable nuggets to folks like me with just a couple of trees and a bit of time to play.
Oh, last point, the stain will work its way through even thick latex kitchen gloves. To those with some sensitivity to the juglone, it is part of what comes through. Less aged hulls will be your friend. The foamy mulm that results from an agitation based cleaning process seems likely to be your biggest enemy.

Carl - your wild black walnuts are a different species than those in Texas, and both are different from those in California, and all three are different from the black walnuts of central Asia.

There is a LOT to unpack so be prepared to read for a bit.

Stan Matzke in Southeast Nebraska is one of the few people who planted a commercial black walnut grove with nut production as primary objective. His trees were all grafted with varieties adapted to the climate. I visited him in 2009 while he was harvesting nuts. Unfortunately, he passed away a few years ago. Takeaway, grafted trees will be necessary to produce nuts.

Billy Hansen and Brian Sparks in Iowa would be possible contacts about growing commercially. It has been 10 years or more since I spoke with either of them. You may be able to contact them or other interested growers through Also look at Northern Nut Growers as there are several publications available that can help. The Walnut Council is another resource though their primary focus is timber.

I strongly suggest talking to Bill Reid or Mark Coggeshall regarding walnut growing in general. Bill will tell you “there are no walnut varieties capable of commercial production”. He is partially correct. Don’t let his pecan site fool you, he also had a decent size planting of black walnuts and can tell you how several varieties performed in Kansas/Missouri conditions.

Actual production of black walnut is highly similar to pecan production. The major difference is 150 years of commercial pecan production vs almost no commercial walnut production. This means equipment for handling walnuts will be adapted from other industries and/or hand built. If you seriously anticipate planting large acreage of walnut, you will require nut handling equipment by the 5th year after planting. Black walnut on average is more precocious than pecan, but has lower average production as mature trees.

Variety is going to be your first and most serious question. My planting is in eastern Alabama in a similar climate to yours. The varieties I would strongly suggest using are Neel #1, Farrington, and Thomas with a few Sparrow for pollination. These have all been highly productive and all make reasonably high quality nuts. Thomas is the most consistently productive. A huge warning that Thomas often is contaminated with mycoplasma (plant viruses) and should not be grafted from infected trees. Get clean scionwood! Thomas also produces a high percentage of very good seedlings. When you talk to growers about varieties, you will hear an awful lot about some supposedly great varieties that either fail to produce enough nuts or have some critical flaw. Football II is a good example as a very highly productive tree but the fatal flaw of producting shriveled kernels from overbearing.

You have to make a choice early whether your main objective is nuts or timber. Regardless of which, I do NOT advise tapping them for syrup, it damages the tree and reduces production over time. With timber production, seed nuts are planted on 10 to 20 foot centers for a very dense stand. As the trees grow, slower growing trees will be shaded out and larger trees will be favored with more rapid growth. Done properly, sellable timber takes 40 to 50 years. It is a very high value crop in some conditions. Growing for nuts is similar but use grafted trees planted on spacing from 20 to 45 feet apart.

Black Walnut varies significantly in growth depending on latitude of origin of the seed nuts. I collected nuts from a tree south of Selma Alabama a few years ago that grew up to 50% faster than local seedlings in north Alabama. Rapid growth is very desirable regardless of objective for timber, nuts, or both. Thomas seedlings tend to grow faster than most named varieties. If you decide to plant nuts, Thomas would be a good choice.

You can tie up a LOT of money purchasing and planting grafted trees. I spent a lot at Nolin Nursery about 25 years ago getting varieties that were heavily touted as good varieties and/or good producers. The best producers turned out to be the varieties I obtained scionwood and grafted myself. This is highly climate specific so keep it in mind when speaking to growers in northern states. If I were starting a walnut planting today, I would start by planting seed nuts and growing trees until they were old enough to graft.

Fertilizing is hugely benficial with walnut similar to pecan. Irrigation is a pain to set up but may be justified in your climate. Leaf sampling will give the best recommendations. I have been putting 500 pounds of 13-13-13 on my planting every 3 to 4 years. They would grow and produce better if I put more.

I suggest putting some time into studying walnut diseases.

You ask for specifics regarding nut production. Wide spaced trees grown for nut production can produce about 1500 pounds of nuts per acre or with excellent care could go over 2000 pounds per acre. This is a numbers game where more production determines how profitable your operation will be. You won’t get high production with 95% of the named varieties available today.

There is only one number that is important in determining if a nut growing operation is profitable. That is “pounds of sellable kernel per acre”. The minimum amount to make a profit is 500 pounds/acre. This takes 2275 pounds of Thomas nuts as they average 22% kernel.

While Hammons is the largest producer of black walnut kernel in the U.S., they don’t pay enough for walnuts to make a living. This means you will need to develop local sales outlets which adds another aspect to farming.

Are you sure you wouldn’t rather plant pecans?


I’m not sure that makes a bit of difference beyond the fact that I already noted that my tree is not a named cultivar. What makes it to the shelves in the store does not differentiate which species of BW they are, and usually don’t even note the cultivar. As a different example, you grow several species of Pawpaw, which are not exactly a west coast fruit. The OP is not automatically confined to a Texas local variety, and rootstocks on Walnut trees run the gamut worldwide but have leaned heavily into J. nigra, which mine almost certainly is an example of.

The distinctions you point out certainly could point toward why so many claim different alleopathic results and different levels of bitterness that do not seem to yet have any consistency. Which are realistic points to be considering, to the extent possible, when considering a farm and which varieties to include.

Central Asian species are not technically black walnuts. Juglans Ailantifolia and Juglans Mandshurica belong to a separate group to the true black walnuts.

That said, Juglans Hindsii and Juglans Nigra are genetically very similar. Hybrids make exceptionally fast growing trees, as once sold by Luther Burbank. IIRC, they were called the “royal” hybrid.

In order of adaptability to nut production, Juglans Regia, Juglans Nigra, Juglans Ailantifolia (cordiformis), and Juglans Hindsii should be somewhat viable according to region and climate. Juglans Cinerea would be on it except that butternut dieback destroys the trees.

I’ve looked at the native walnuts of Texas and Arizona. They tend to be small trees with low production of single nuts on terminals. Juglans Major might have some use as a hybrid for soil adaptability in dry climates with high ph soil.

Of the various hybrids, Juglans Regia X Juglans Nigra or Juglans Regia X Juglans Hindsii are commonly used rootstocks. Juglans Cinerea X Juglans Ailantifolila makes a hybrid that can survive butternut dieback, but otherwise is not exceptional. I’ve seen several Juglans Regia X Juglans Nigra hybrids grown for nuts though none of them IMO was viable for the purpose. The tend to have shells and nut structure intermediate between Regia and Nigra.

One thing that is generally true for black walnuts is that they are drought tolerant. They tend to produce very large sprawling root systems that are highly effective when absorbing water.

Interesting trivia, “walnut” is thought to be a corruption of “Gaul Nut” which dates from Roman times. The genus name “Juglans” is derived from Jovis Glans or more literally Jupiter’s testicles.

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Yes, this is very true. Many members here seem to have the belief that the wild “black walnut” growing in their locale is the same as all other black walnuts worldwide. It is a notable error since several of them are not graft compatible.

The last time I delved deep into walnut speciation there were about 20 different named walnut species with most of them in central and South America. In the U.S., we have Juglans Nigra, Juglans Cinerea, Juglans Hindsii, Juglans Californica, Juglans Major, Juglans Microcarpa, and Juglans Hirsuta. That is 7 different species just in the U.S. Juglans australis Juglans boliviana, Juglans jamaicensis, Juglans molis, Juglans neotropica, Juglans olanchana, Juglans steyermarkii, and Juglans Venezuelensis are all South American members of the black walnut group. Juglans Regia, Juglans Ailantifolia, and Juglans Mandshurica round out the species I can recall off the top of my head. A few other species have been named, but the best I recall, not proven to be separate from already acknowledged species.