What nut trees should I plant?

I know this is a fruit forum but I’m sure many of you also grow nuts as well so I’ll give this a shot. I recently purchased a large acerage and would like to not only expand the types of fruit I grow but also plant some nut trees. I’m zone 4b/5a nw ia. The information is a bit more limited on this subject compared to fruit. I’m leaning toward shagbark hickory and american hazelnut seedlings. You can purchase these from the dnr for a buck a piece, will they be inferior to say starks or gurneys seedlings other than plant size? I’m ok with tiny plants, they seem to do better a lot of the time. I’m wondering if anyone in my zone has suggestions as to which ones I should plant? Maybe heartnut? Also, which nursery should I order from? It seems places that sell seedlings list them as ok for my zone but when I look at grafted varieties they are zone 5 which is risky.

I’m not from your area so take my input with a grain of salt. If they are hardy in your area I suggest adding a few of the hybrid filberts being released. Jefferson is supposed to have a large nut and it is replacing other varieties due to its blight resistance. Disadvantage is that they cost more.

Although I haven’t ordered from them myself, at least not yet, I would definitely look at Nolin River Nursery. I’ve heard nothing but good things about them.

Grimo Nursery in Ontario might also be a good place to get ideas, even if you’re not going to order internationally.

Are you familiar with the Northern Nut Growers Association? You might want to get in touch with your state chapter.

Although they’re very small, I really like American hazelnuts. I’m in a very different location from you, but for me they’ve been super easy and reliable. And the nuts are just as good as any hazelnuts other than being very small. I’ve just grown seedlings, but I’m hoping some of the named varieties will have all the good traits of the seedlings and relatively larger nuts, too.

I don’t think European hazelnuts (Jefferson, etc.) will grow in zone 4/5.

I would definitely grow shagbark hickories in your location, but for production, whether just for yourself or for any larger scale (as opposed to breeding, experimenting, etc.), I would only be thinking grafted trees. But there are two options for grafted trees: (1) buy grafted trees, and (2) either grow seedlings from stratified nuts or buy seedlings and then graft them, probably after they’re about 6-8’ tall and growing really well. Grafting hickory/walnut family trees takes some practice and learning, but it’s definitely doable, even for someone who’s never done any grafting before, especially if you can practice on some easier species between now and when your nuts are ready to graft.

I also really like improved (larger, relatively easier cracking) black walnuts. Choose varieties that were selected in or have done well in northern locations.

I wouldn’t order from Starks or Gurneys. State forestry nurseries and similarly really cheap sources can be a good source of trees, though, especially for rootstock.

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butternuts produce sooner than walnuts. beaked hazels grow wild here and are early producers but a smaller nut. pine nuts are another option.

Timbur chestnut.

Cousinfloyd I checked out nolan nursery. They do have several Grafted hickory varieties that have me interested. But at 40 dollars for a 1 to 2 ft stick I have to ask is the improvement over the average seedling significant? If it is I could probably buy a few varieties and graft later on as you mentioned. One concern is I wonder if this nursery offers refunds like the large nurserys, kind of scary spending a couple hundred and having everything die on me.

Talk to John at Nolin and you can get a good idea how he stands behind his plants. I’ve bought trees from him for nearly 20 years and have never had one die. Please note that you MUST do due diligence to take care of nut trees the first year. Once past the first year, they require very little care.

Here are some thoughts:

Pecan: Warren 346, Lucas, Campbell NC4, and Iowa

Black Walnut: Sparks 127, McGinnis, and Cranz

Hickory: Porter and Grainger

There are plenty of others that would work. This is just a sample to give you some possibilities.

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Fusion_power I couldn’t find the black walnut varieties you mentioned on nolan’s website. Do you have a source you would recommend for those varieties? I think the grainger hickory will for sure be on my ordering list. I read an older thread somewhere about it easily separating from the shell. The northern pecans on his website sound as though they would do ok here which goes against my research. At 70 bucks a tree I might not want to try anything borderline, im guessing he refunds dead trees but if they died after 2 to 3 years due to a harsh winter, probably not. I could ask… Are there any American hazelnuts that have been bred to grow larger or would all those varieties be european crosses and less hardy?

Check out Badgersett for hazelnuts. You might want to give a call to talk about the background. They have hybrid hickories that have decent cold hardiness, but if I were planting, I would get the named varieties of pecan listed above.


I don’t know anyone who is currently producing grafted trees of the black walnuts. You might talk barkslip into grafting a few for you next spring. I’ll gladly supply scionwood. If you are up to starting from seed, I’ll send you some seed of each of the walnuts later this fall. You can then graft them in a couple of years.

I don’t know actual area so am guessing a bit about your climate. I think you are somewhere north of Sioux City. I worked in Corning Iowa in the winter of 1978/1979 so am familiar with the climate. I still remember -30 degrees with 30 mph winds and whiteout conditions.

There is a thread about black walnut that is worth reading.

and one about pecan

Wow that was alot of information in those threads might need to read through that again. Didn’t realize there were so many varieties. If you think the pecans would survive and produce in my area, I’ll order a cpl of the mentioned. I am from north of sioux city and it sounds like your familiar for what the seasons can be like. It almost always hits at least -20 before wind chill at some point during the winter. After looking at all the black walnut cultivators there are no recommended zones for each, are most zone 4? I’m interested in getting some walnuts, let me know how much, would I have to graft them or do they come out pretty similar to there parents? If I’m just going to graft them I could use seedlings from the dnr. Only 90 cents a plant.

Let me see what the trees produce. If I have a good crop, I’ll send you a box of nuts for the cost of postage.

Black walnut has adaptation zones just like pecan. The three I recommended are specifically chosen because they can handle your climate. S127 is an Archie Sparks selection that originated in Iowa. McGinnis is a selection from Nebraska. Cranz is from Pennsylvania. They are cold hardy and should make it in your climate. The only other that I know for sure would be productive in your climate is Burns. Rhora has it as a grafted tree. http://nuttrees.com

You ask an interesting question “do they come out pretty similar to their parents”? I can give a partial answer based on growing out several Thomas and Farrington walnuts over the years. In my experience, elite walnuts that are pollinated by other elite walnuts tend to produce offspring that are significantly better than average wild black walnuts. I have a Thomas seedling that is as good as if not slightly better than the parent. I have several seedlings from Farrington that are as good as the parent. This is very unusual compared to pecan which almost never produces offspring as good as the parent. If you planted 500 black walnuts and chose the best 50 seedlings for nut size and production, at least 3 or 4 of them would be significantly better than the parents and the rest of the 50 would be good enough to keep. There is a lot of potential for improvement in black walnut!

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St. Lawrence Nurseries has some cold hardy nut trees

Oikos has cold hardy stuff (albeit small seedlings)

Good cold hardy hybrid hazels

Good Luck

What about years to bearing, though? I think I’ve heard that some nut trees take decades to begin bearing as seedlings, but that trees grafted with mature wood (as grafts almost always are) can cut that time way down.

Winkler is one. Edible Landscaping in Afton, VA has sold it. I have one, but it’s tiny and I haven’t gotten any nuts from it yet.

I think there are also some hybrids that should be plenty hardy for you, but hardiness isn’t an issue for my location. The readily available hybrids seem to all be seedlings with all the variability that goes along with that. I don’t see why more people wouldn’t prefer named varieties (that are normally propagated by layering) when it comes to hardy hazelnuts.

I think definitely. If you’d be happy with what the average wild tree produces, it would seem to make more sense to go wild forage for nuts somewhere rather than growing them (unless maybe squirrels or other wildlife basically ruin the opportunities wild foraging in your area.) They are really expensive, though. I might be inclined to buy a very small number of grafted trees and take very good care of them and then plant a bunch of seedlings for the rest of what I wanted in order to graft onto later (by which time your purchased, grafted trees should hopefully be a source of scion wood, either to graft yourself for more trees of the same varieties or to trade.)

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Are oikos hazelnuts copies of their parents? If so this might be a better source than badgersett for hazelnuts as it’s my understanding that they sell only seedlings…

This is kind of what I’m thinking right now. Coughing up the money and getting a few named varieties of hickory, pecan, walnut and hazelnut and starting seedlings at the same time, later grafting to these. I’m also interested in the pecan hickory cross that badgersett sells. These sound great, but they sell them as seedlings so might not end up with anything great. Wish I could buy everything at one place but it seems like everyone has maybe one type of the hardy tree and not the other.

They (oikos) are seedlings from productive plants…so it’s a bit of a crap shoot

Jeff at Z-nutty has cultivars that he has found productive. Has layered plants and is working on tissue cultures. He would be a great person to talk to if you are interested in Hazels. A lot of his stuff is not currently on his website.

Black walnuts average 5 years to first nut produced from a seedling. The longest I’ve had to wait was 7 years. You are correct re pecan as I have some 15 year old seedlings that have not yet produced the first pecan. Grafts of black walnut usually produce nuts the second year for large established rootstocks or the 3rd year from transplant.

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Well here’s what my list looks like so far.
Rhora nursery: order 1 black walnut, Burns.
Badgersette: order 11 hazelnut xl seedlings and 11 hickory hybrid seedlings.
Nolan: hickory 1 grainger and 1 wilcox.
Pecan 1 Lucas and 1 dumbell lake.

I’m still questioning whether the pecans are worth a try or not. I would really like to hear from someone who has successfully harvested them in northern ia or southern mn or at least my zone 4b/5a. I might have to remove something off this list not sure if I’m comfortable spending more than 250-300 as this doesn’t include my list of fruit trees I plan to order. I’m placing nut trees at somewhat higher priority this year though as I know it can take a decade sometimes for them to produce.

You might also get the T92 hican from Nolin.

The pecan varieties I named will produce in your climate. Dumbell Lake is a decent variety that originated not too far from you. Witte also originated relatively nearby.

You will wind up with plenty of walnut trees before this is done so don’t worry about getting any more.