We love hazelnuts because, aside from being the key ingredient in Nutella, they are multipurpose. As a permaculture homesteader, planting the hazelnut is not just great for your food forest; it also has so many practical and commercial purposes.
What Does The Hazelnut Tree/Bush Look Like?
Without pruning, hazelnuts are bushes that can grow very tall hence the shrub-like appearance. Their leaves are heart-shaped and have double-toothed edges, usually alternating along the branch.
The hazel plant can be a tree or a bush, depending on how you grow it. It grows into a height and width of 16 feet. If you want it to grow into a tree, repeatedly cut the other low-hanging branches and leave a few stems at the center.
They can grow for as long as forty years, during which they produce nuts throughout. Other times their lifespan could go up to a century.
Initially, they were native to the eastern and southern parts of Europe. Over time, they spread toward the North and East parts of the world, with evidence of hazel remains being found in parts of China as well.
Evidence of a significant Mesolithic nut-processing activity was found in Scotland. Scientists believe that during the aftermath of the ice age, hazelnuts were the staple food for humans living at the time. Since then, the plant has spread worldwide, with Turkey as its dominant supply accounting for almost 80% of the world’s supply. The rest of the 20% is produced from countries such as the United States and parts of Europe.
The hazelnut plant has various varieties, some are a result of genetic breeds crossed together, and others are an evolution from the traditional species. There are two significant breeds, however; Corylus avellana and Corylus maxima. The only difference would notably be in the size of the nuts and the growth rate of the plants. In this article, we’ll closely look at an overview of both.
Fun Fact: In ancient Rome the plant symbolized happiness and fertility in French.
Hazelnut flowers are wind-pollinated hence don’t need pollinators such as bees or butterflies for pollination. The plants have separate male flowers called catkins. As summer ends and the season of spring begins, the catkins shed pollens early before leaves emerge. On the other hand, the female flowers emerge from a bud and require pollen from a second tree because they are self-incompatible. For that reason, two pollen-compatible strains of hybrid trees are planted in an orchard.
The hazel prefers moist lowland soils that are found in ancient forests. They can also be found growing in hedges, meadows, pastures, and on the banks of streams or rivers, waste places, abandoned plantings, edges of woods, steep slopes and alongside paths and roadsides.
How To Grow Hazelnut Trees In Your Food Forest
When To Plant
The best time to plant the hazel is in the spring, right after the first frost, when the plants are dormant. This ensures that the heat doesn’t shock the tree.
After extraction and sorting them out, perform a test that will establish seeds you will use during planting. In a bucket full of water, drop the seeds and allow them to settle. Some will float, and others will sink. Use those that sink to plant as they are more likely to yield more. Those that float may not produce healthy seedlings.
Pretreatment In Preparation For Planting.
In a large pot, place large stones for drainage and cover them with sand. Then, mix the assorted healthy seeds with horticultural sand using the ratio: one handful of sand to one handful of seeds. Once you’ve layered all that, top it up with another layer of sand and leave the pot in the shade. Make sure to cover the pot with mesh to avoid mice and other predators from feeding on the seeds.
Once the seeds have started showing signs of germination, they are ready for sowing. In different pots, place them two to three centimetres deep. Make sure they’re firm and water them. It would be best if you also kept the pot moist.
If you have seedbeds, you can broadcast them. Every square yard should get about 200 seedlings which will hopefully produce a total of 100 plants. The seeds must be pressed into the soil to ensure they’re deep and firmly placed into the ground. After that, cover the seedbed with horticultural grit.
- You’ll need to ensure that the ground is clear from any weeds and grass. By now, your seedlings should be two years old and ready for transplant.
- Wet the roots and transplant them in holes deep enough to accommodate the entire root structure.
- If you can, refill the hole with enhanced soil or soil specifically meant for hazelnuts. Ensure to tamp it firmly around the roots.
- Once the hole is three-quarters full, add two gallons of water. If you have any natural homemade liquid fertilizer, you can also add it as the last gallon.
- Alternatively, you can opt to purchase a shrub or tree and replant them later on.
- To establish a coppice area, let the plants grow for three to four years before cutting them back to the ground. This will encourage straight strong stems similar to a coppiced hazel.
Hazelnut is mainly resistant to pests and diseases; therefore, weeds are the most necessary things to look out for.
Companion plant/ trees
The best companions for the hazelnuts are plants that are Nitrogen-fixing or plants that attract pollinators and improve the soil around them. These plants include comfrey, Primrose, coriander, asparagus, wild garlic, currants and various bulbs. Avoid plants such as fennel, leeks and beets.
Hazelnut is also one of the few plants that is juglone resistant, meaning that it can be planted as a barrier plant between walnut trees and other plants.
Conditions for growth
Hazelnuts grow in areas with cool or moist summers, mild cool winters or maritime climates. Any tropical or subtropical climates are ideal for growth. Good cultivator selection can also improve results.
Loam soil is perfect for the hazel plant. Make sure the soil is low on nutrients and is primarily neutral.
Hazelnuts flourish in moderately well-drained soils. Soils that retain too much water or drain too much water as well will not encourage healthy growth.
Rich soils cause the plant to leaf at the expense of fruit. Avoid overly fertile grounds.
More sunshine encourages more fruit yield. However, hazelnut plants can tolerate growing under shade if the area is hot and dry but must receive direct sunlight for approximately four hours.
If you’re growing these trees in a cold area, avoid planting them in frost pockets. In hot regions, avoid extremely windy locations. When the climate becomes very dry and hot, create shelter and set up an irrigation plant to prevent the hazelnut plant from drying out or dying.
Taking care of the hazel once grown is relatively easy as the plant does not require much. Though, there are few things you need to do to make sure you have healthy plants.
This encourages the tree to grow stronger and have strong trunks. You can skip pruning if you have a potted nut tree. To prune, you need to choose six-strong branches at the top and cut everything below. You should also clear any low-hanging branches. If you allow the plant to stay in its natural shrubby form, you don’t need to shape the tree. On occasion, you can snip any suckers that grow from the roots and thin the bush evenly, especially during winter when the plant is dormant. That prevents additional stems from growing which congest the plant. Allow the plant to be airy and light.
Wrap it with a guard to protect the tree truck from scalding from the sun and prevent injury from rodents. Mulching around the tree once you’ve planted also ensures no weeds from around it and allows the plant to grow and flourish. Add more mulch when necessary. During the dry season, water the soil just enough to maintain the required level of moisture.
Hazelnuts don’t need additional fertilizer in good soil. As mentioned earlier, too many nutrients encourage massive leafy growth at the expense of fruit and lower the fruit yield.
Nonetheless, look out for stunted growth or the leaves turning yellow. In such cases, consider higher NPK amounts in your fertilizer. If you can, use organic fertilizer. Nitrogen is essential for growth, and potassium encourages the plant to increase yields, improve its quality and develop more resistance to pests and diseases.
Pests and Diseases
We know rodents such as the squirrel feed on nuts and particularly hazelnuts. They can cause a severe decline in your yields during harvests. There’s no particular method to keep them away. And they’re not the only pests to watch out for.
- Nut weevils– these are small brown beetles that are mostly found in the United States. It attacks and damages the kernels during their development stage. Look out for tiny holes on the side of the nut. To control this, spray insecticide during spring and collect all fallen fruits to avoid them escaping into the soil and reappearing in the spring to lay eggs in your hazelnuts.
- Filbert worm– they cause similar damage as the nut weevils. They are controlled the same way as well.
- European Filbert Blight- This is a fungus that causes branches to wither and cause the leaves to fall off. In July or August, bumps form on the twigs that rapture into fungal spores that eventually lead to the tree dying. You can control the fungus by applying organic antifungal application four times a year.
- Tent Caterpillar- These pests affect many trees, including the hazelnut plant. You can spot them by seeing any large egg masses deposited on twigs. Spraying them off with a strong steam of water or raking them up and disposing of them can control these pests.
- Aphids- known explicitly as the hazelnut aphids, these insects feed on the leaves and husks of the plant. They cause a reduction in the fill and size of the nut. If you notice that the infestation is light, steaming will get rid of the insects.
- Hazelnut Mosaic- this is a virus that causes the leaves to become yellow in colour and reduces yields. By using thermotherapy, you will have managed the spread of the virus.
- Other pests and diseases include root rot, cankers, powdery mildew, and bacterial blight. It is therefore important to consider the problems in your area and choose a variety resistant to that.
Potential environmental factors that might hinder its growth
Heat– too much heat will cause the plant to dry out and wither. They are susceptible to windy conditions as they will eventually dry out. Consider creating shade for them and putting up an irrigation plant to ensure they stay moist and healthy.
Cold- if you’re growing them for nut production, flowering begins to happen at the beginning of the winter season. Temperatures lower than -10C (13F) will cause damage to the male plants and cause the production of pollen to stop, reducing the chances of fruit. Since not all catkins lengthen at the same time, as long as the cold season is brief, there will be minimal damage to the plants.
Pests and Diseases- as mentioned earlier, pests and diseases cause damage to the plant’s health, reduce yields and possibly kill the plant. Using organic pest control methods will undoubtedly improve the quality and increase the yield of the hazel.
You can pick the nuts from the tree if you’d like to. Conversely, ripe nuts fall from the tree, and you can opt to shake the tree for more ripe nuts to fall. It’s crucial to note that you may find the first few nuts you’ve harvested are empty and that is normal.
Make sure to spread them out to dry for the next two to three weeks, preferably in a warm place. In storage, air and dryness are essential. Places such as nets, crates, slatted boxes and cloth bags provide the perfect condition for storage.
Coppicing The Wood
Hazel coppice is a practice used in wood production from the plant. Contrary to popular belief and expectation, coppicing wood allows the plant to grow stronger and healthier. It also extends the plant’s life, which, if properly managed, can reach close up to a century old. The coppice cycle can be after ten years and is often planted and practiced on 600-800 plants per acre.
If you’re planting the hazel for coppice, keep the spaces between the plants to a minimum of up to 6 feet and a maximum of 8. In the seventh to the tenth year of growth, the stems are usually grown to a height of 12 to 14 feet and can be cut at any moment thereon. As the years progress, the regrowth rate slows down and has to be managed appropriately so that the plant doesn’t completely die.
When To Cut The Wood
Coppice should be practiced during winter when animal movement is significantly reduced. Harvesting wood during summer may encourage a fast regrowth of leaves that will invite animals to feed on them.
How Much Wood Can Be Harvested?
A food forest of 75 hazelnut plants can produce up to 1 ton of dry wood.
Uses For The Wood
Aside from the most traditional use for wood, firewood, poles from coppice (also known as wands), which are long and flexible, are used for wattle fencing, thatching spars, walking sticks, fishing rods, basketry and pea and bean sticks.
Benefits Of Growing Hazelnut In The Food Forest
In permaculture, the hazelnut has several outstanding benefits, including:
Hedging- naturally, the plant has a shrub-like structure that provides a dense screen. Properly trimming it shapes the plant into a proper fence.
Agroforestry- traditionally, they are grown alongside plants such as the mulberry, vines, gooseberries and currants.
Windbreaker- hazelnut is tolerant to the wind. You can set up two or three plant rows to act as a windbreaker where alternate rows are coppiced.
Landscape- they have a pleasing shape altogether, and during spring, the catkins provide such beautiful flowers. During fall, the leaves turn a lovely shade of orange with yellow edges.
They are best eaten raw or cooked and are rich in protein, iron, magnesium and vitamin B and E. Additionally, they have heart-healthy fatty acids, omega-6 and omega-9. Hazelnuts have a high presence of fibre and act as antioxidants containing proanthocyanidins which have been scientifically proven to fight cancer.
You can opt to roast them and include them in your breakfast choices, salads, pasta dishes, smoothies and make a paste out of them and use them to your liking. There are various recipes on the internet on how best to use them to make delicious meals.
The leaves are mainly used as cattle feed, the twigs as rabbit feed and goat feed. They also provide bee fodder by providing a source of early forage through pollen production. In addition, they provide pollen/nectar to other pollinators as well.
Hazelnut is crushed to produce oil used in paints, cosmetics, hair products, combined with other oils to make oils used in salad dressings, massage oils, skincare products and aromatherapy oils.
The Bottom Line
From your simple garden to a large farm, hazelnuts offer excellent home and commercial opportunities. By knowing what you want to achieve, whether it’s harvesting nuts or coppicing wood, select a suitable breed and learn how to maintain the plant to give you the best yields in both quality and quantity.