Sampling nut varieties to decide upon trees

With everyone chatting about what they want to try for next year, I’ve been thinking about nuts. What could grow here in costal zone 5b and almost as importantly what I would like to grow.

I’ve got chestnuts and Hazels planted already and the shagbark, oak and butternut are native in this area, but I’ve been reading about heartnuts, carpathian walnuts, hicans, northern pecans, and black walnuts.

I quickly realized that I couldn’t make an good decision without tasting said varieties. So I put in a call to Cliff England and he sent me out a sampling of various nuts:

He sent me out shagbark, shellbark, black walnut, heartnut, and northern pecan, and even tossed in a few named varieties in the small bags

There might even be couple hicans in with the shagbarks given the difference in shape? I’m unfamiliar with the hican shape. Thats one below:

In terms of taste the black walnut was a very strong walnut flavor with a note that reminded me of the smell of paint, for some reason. It wasn’t really unpleasant, but not what I would describe a delight to eat either. The shell was hard and tough to crack, but I don’t have a proper nut cracker for them and was using a hammer and vice. The named varieties, Thomas and Meyer were a LOT easier to crack. I overdid it in fact and got a throughly crushed kernel as a result. I do think they had better flavor than the non named.

The heartnut was a dream to crack. A bit of pressure on the seam and it opened right open. In this case the named variety didn’t open up as easily as the unnamed. The kernels didn’t quite fall out and left little bits behind in the shell, but remained by far the easiest nut to crack. The flavor was kind of a bland walnut flavor without any bitterness and perhaps very mildly sweet.

The northern pecan cracked very easily, but not cleanly. I suspect there is a technique to it. I got lots of small pieces of nut with some quarters, but found myself picking up every single crumb. The pecans had a wonderful flavor. Sweeter and moister or perhaps oilier than other pecans I have had. (I assume the store bought pecans are southern varieties?) A delicious nut.

The Shellbark hickory was the hardest nut to crack. Even with the hammer I ended up using a dental pick to extract nutmeat from nooks a crannies. A really thick shell. I would hope most named cultivars are easier? The taste was a bit pecan-like but I found it less sweet and almost bland.

The shagbark hickory was much easier to crack than the shellbark. I didn’t need to use the hammer or vice and could do it with the hand nut cracker, but that resulted in a fragmented nutmeat. Given how the taste of shagbarks is talked up I think I must have a bad batch (though I haven’t tried them all yet). I wanted to spit this out as soon as I started to chew. There were musky, sour, almost rancid notes… very unpleasant.

That one that might be a hickan ( I will defer to those with actual experience in that judgment) was easy to crack and had a mild pecan flavor but not very sweet

In order of preference by taste, from this small sample:

Northern Pecan > Heartnut > Black Walnut > Shellbark > Shagbark

In order of ease of cracking:

Heartnut > Northern Pecan > Named Black Walnut > Shagbark >Black Walnut > Shellbark

What do you all think? Did I get a bad batch of Hickories? Would cracking some more and roasting change matters? Any thoughts about nuts for this area? I’m in a costal zone 5b.


Don’t forget to try butternuts and filberts. And Korean pine nuts.

I think you got a bad batch of hickories. I would say shagbark is similar to pecan but more nutty in flavor and often less tannic. I mostly use hickory in baking since it is hard to get a lot of nut meats, and it really lends an excellent sweet-nutty flavor to baked goods. I don’t think you get the same flavor with pecan. But hickory-nut anything is about a once or twice a year thing for me.

Great write-up!
Buarnut might be another one to try.
Plant more hazels? (My fav for early bearing, flavor)


You got bad shagbark nuts. I know… because…
I’m afraid that those shagbarks came from me; I recognize them… I sent Cliff 20 lbs of them this fall - collected from a local property near my home… There are two really good ones on that lot that I gather every year for my own use… but those I sent to Cliff didn’t come from those trees… and I’ve since cracked some from the same batch I sent to Cliff - they’re not good - kernels are dark, and they taste rancid to me - but I know that they are from this year’s crop. I’d felt bad about it after I cracked them out - but I was under the impression he mainly wanted them to grow seedlings for rootstock use… and I didn’t charge him anything for them, anyway. That tree was so productive that I was going to graft copies of it next spring - but after sampling the nuts… that’s a big noper!
Some trees have nuts with better cracking characteristics… some have better flavor, some bear more heavily than others… but if they’re nasty… who needs 'em? (and I probably have another 30-40 lbs of nuts from that ‘bad’ tree and its closest companion(they’re probably siblings - nuts are almost identical)

I hate for you to have a bad impresson of shagbarks… they’re perhaps my second favorite, after a good pecan. You should let me send you some good ones. Email me: lpittman(at)murraystate(dot)edu - let’s talk about it.

And yes, that’s a hican in your third pic. Vigorous growers, but ‘shy’ bearers, and exquisitely attractive to weevils. They’re mostly a bust for me.
Thomas Myers is one of the best black walnuts for the Ohio River Valley area. Large, thin-shelled nut with high kernel % - and it’s lateral-bearing and has good anthracnose resistance.

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Hi @Maine,

Calculate your frost free days, cooling degree days & heating degree days. I suspect you’ll only be able to grow ultra-northern pecans. Knowing your FFD’s, CDD’s & HDD’s will lend a hand in figuring what you are able to grow.

This link will guide you to determine this info:


Thanks for the link Barkslip. It seems I’ve got about 160-170 Frost free days. Cooling degree days (summer heat) however seem to be a problem for some nuts. The CDD here seem to bounce between 200 - 600 or so.

According to this: Northern Pecans: Northern pecans: Climatic adapation
it seems I have no chance of pecans actually filling where I am. Would this be your conclusion too?

Thanks for the suggestions JessieS, Northwoodswis4,

Buartnut isnt something I’d considered yet nor is pine nut. Butternut is proving hard to find, but I think I’ve finally located at least a few.

Here’s a quote from a member here who has crops (Robert Harper) in Connecticut, zone 6b.

"Most pecan experts will tend to base which pecans will shuck split and which will not have enough time, n areas of the country that get around 1,000 cooling degree days.

The problem with their information is that most of them are in pecan growing areas to start with. The other problem with the them is they are repeating information they were taught in school about pecans. Information that was based on pecans that farmers use in the south.

it has only been within the last 35 years that that pecans that will shuck split out side of the pecan farm area have been recognised. Pecans that only require around 500 cooling degree days, not 1,000 cooling degree days. Pecans that will shuck split at under 160 days and not 175 days.

Heat degree days use to be corn heat degree days. It use to be the number of heat units needed to grow corn in certain parts of the country. I don’t know to much more about it.Except that John Gordon use to tel me to look for pecans that would ripen in around 1900 heat degree days. John Gordon and Doug Campbell had/have a nut test farm around Niagara Falls. Which is cool most summers."

Given that @Maine you should certainly try ‘Warren 346’ (Type 2 pollination shed) and another Type 1 pollen shed pecan. Personally, I would email Grimo Nut Nursery and ask what other pecans they have for sale that are type 1/a good pollinator for ‘Warren 346’. Also, their “Shellbark Keystone” is one of thee finest shagbarks you will ever grow. Whatever you do please do not tell them they do not have the real ‘Keystone’ which is a shellbark… because what has happened is they likely grafted the correct ‘Keystone’ many years ago and the graft died but the seedling took over. All the leaflets are in 5’s, which is indicative to shagbark hickory. You should get one. And get a ‘Grainger’ shag for pollination. Both are premium shagbarks.
Grimo Nut Nursery

I’ve bought from them. They send very beautiful grafts.

LuckyP is correct. You cannot beat an excellent hickory! Try making a hickory pie instead of a pecan pie sometime. It will blow your mind. For a good cracker, ‘The Mr. Hickory’ is king. I use it for all the thick shelled nuts. For a pecan cracker, I use a squirrel nut cracker I mounted on a horizontal with a try I built. Here’s this:

My Mr. Hickory:

Again, please don’t mention to anything to Grimo about that “Keystone.” Thank you.




If you liked the heartnuts well enough, they grow north of you, on PEI. Butternuts too and buartnuts. I have korean pines, but young yet, so only their second crop. They make a rich, sweet nut.

I would recommend looking at black walnuts differently than in the way you seemed to judge them. I love them as the lead flavor in ice cream or to add flavor and a little crunch to baked goods like zucchni/banana/etc. bread/muffins and cakes and other baked goods, but I’d come to very similar conclusions as you if I judged them as a fresh eating nut. That really strong flavor is almost too much to want to just snack on, but I think it really becomes an advantage of using black walnuts in things. The more I eat black walnuts in things, the more I really enjoy them and their flavor. I only have wild, unselected (except by me between the wild trees I have to choose between) black walnuts, so they are slow to crack, so I don’t use them in large quantities, but they still can really improve things.

We have lots of black walnuts on our farm, my wife doesn’t know if they’re native or not. My wife likes them a lot more than me, I just cannot get over the sharp bitter flavor. Comparing them to the milder tasting persian/english walnuts, it’s no contest for me.

My sis brought us a couple 5lb bags of half-shelled Pawnee pecans from OK. We’ve prob already ate a pound of them. Nothing like freshly shelled pecans!

That’s funny, I think there’s a weird taste to English walnuts. I could probably learn to like them, but not having eaten very many I don’t care for them. But I love black walnuts (although, like I said before, not so much for simple snacking.)

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That’s just why I love heartnuts. They’re a much more flavorful Juglans than a Persian but not so thickly heavy flavor-wise as a black walnut. I could eat heartnuts one after another almost similarly to pecans. And my goodness . . . shellbarks and shagbarks are soooooooo good!



So there is some hope for pecans! Lovely!

I was eyeing the Grainger shagbark even before you mentioned it.It sounded like one of the good ones, but I was concerned whether the nut would mature properly in my climate.

My lips are sealed about “Keystone”. Out of curiosity what are the other two finest shagbarks?

That is a really nice nut cracking setup you have there. Simple, good looking and easy cleanup. I may have to imitate you! Also is there a reason you chose the Mr Hickory Nut cracker as opposed to the various other hardshell crackers I see floating about?

Thanks for all the time you’ve put into replying to me I really appreciate it!


I hadn’t considered them as a baking nut…hummm… I’ll have to go crack the rest and whip up a little something. Black walnut pancakes for breakfast maybe? Thank you for the new thoughts.


How old are your korean pines? I’ve tasted the store bought nuts but never fresh. I would assume, like most things, fresh is better.

Yes, fresh is much better. I think my trees are 12, maybe 13 years. I planted seeds last year and know their exact age, so can report back in a while.
I have a picture somewhere, and if we add 3 years for the branches we cut off to run the lawnmower under them, then we can count the tiers of branches to get the age.

add 3 or 4 for branches cut off

I’d love to hear more about your Korean pine nuts. I bought bare root Korean pine nut saplings on two occasions, but the first time all but one failed to get going and the second time all three failed, so I only have one tree, which is doing fine but as I understand it will never make any nuts without cross-pollination. I also tried buying seeds, but they weren’t pre-stratified, and I failed at getting any to germinate. I think I still have a few seeds in the fridge. Any pointers on germinating pine nut seeds?
And what about using them? How much work are they?