Since chestnut production is still a pioneering endever, there is not tried
and true methods of chestnut tree variety/cultivar selection and orchard
layout/design. When designing an orchard layout there are some "does and
don'ts". Lets start with the don'ts because they are the most important
before any tree is planted.
1. Don't plant chestnut trees in clay soil
2. Don't plant chestnut trees in wet spots
3. Don't plant all the same cultivars
4. Don't plant chestnut trees to close together
5. Don't plan on cultivating the soil near the chestnut trees
6. Don't plant European chestnut trees east of the Rocky Mountains
7. Don't plan on planting grass with 3 feet of any tree
Here is a short list of the does:
1. Use at least 3 different cultivars with at least 2 pollen producers
2. Plan on planting each tree on a 6-10 inch mound of sandy loam soil
3. Leave an area in the orchard for tree rehab and seedling development
4. Plan on using rows of trees
5. Purchase trees from a reliable nursery
6. Putting up fences to keep deer out
7. Protecting trees at the base from rodents
8. Plan on eating some chestnuts
The first step in orchard design is to select the chestnut variety/cultivars
for the orchard. For a list of chestnut tree cultivars for the Eastern, Western
and Pacific USA regions go to Sweet Chestnut
Cultivars for the USA.
If possible, check with nearby growers to find out which
cultivars perform the best in your area. Once you have chosen the trees for
your orchard, you will need to decide how tall you plan on letting the trees
The height the chestnut trees are allowed to grow is dependent on the chestnut
cultivar. American chestnut trees are a timber form tree and should not be
pruned. Research has demonstrated that a chestnut tree will not produce
chestnuts on shaded branches. A second generation grower in Ohio has
determined that chestnut trees product almost all of their chestnuts in
a 15' vertical section of the tree. It does not matter if the 15 feet starts
at 3 feet from the ground or 20 feet from the ground. The closer to the
ground the first limbs are, the more maintenance the trees will require.
Continuing with the task of deciding what the trees in your orchard will
look like, deciding what form you will maintain the trees is critical to a
productive orchard. Some chestnut cultivars have a tendency to grow straight
up and others like to sprawl. Chestnut trees that have the sprawling form are
more prone to branches breaking under heavy nut loads. Chestnut trees like
the American chestnut that are timber form will not effectively utilize the
area allocated for each tree because the tree just wants to grow straight up
to the sky.
Let's get to the math portion of the tree height determination. Since sunlight
penetration is a direct relation to chestnut production, the goal must be to
deliver as much sunlight as possible to every branch. From year to year the
amount of sunlight falling onto the trees remains fairly constant with the
exceptions of the weather and tree shading each other. During the growing
season the days get longer until late June and then the days start to get
shorter. As the days get linger the higher in the sky the sun is (solar
elevation). As the days get shorter the sun will be lower in the sky. The
farther north or south of the equator the lower the solar elevation will be.
The two important variables here is the solar elevation and the tree spacing
when trying to optimize chestnut production in your orchard design.
Half way between the equator and the North Pole you find the 45th parallel.
The solar angle at 1:00 PM on the first day of each month April through
October is: 4/1 = 49.74; 5/1 = 60.28; 6/1 = 67.11; 7/1 = 67.89; 8/1 = 62.63;
9/1 = 52.96; 10/1 = 41.53. By using these angles in some geometry calculations
we find the closest the chestnut trees should be spaced is 21 feet based on
the 15 foot nut production section of the chestnut tree. Good orchard practice
is to allow 20% margin above the minimum spacing. This would add 4 feet to the
minimum of 21 feet for a total spacing of 25 feet between trees. Many chestnut
growers feel the minimum spacing between chestnut trees should be 30 feet. If
the trees are allowed to grow without pruning, chestnut trees can require as
much as 60 feet spacing between trees.
When selecting a plot of land for your chestnut orchard you will need to
consider how big a plot of land you will need. Financial considerations are
usually the limiting factor. If a specific production is the target
converting production targets to plot size requirements can be mostly
guessing. Top producing European cultivar chestnut orchards in California
produce about 2000 pounds per acre. Top producing Chinese cultivar orchards
produce about 1200 pounds per acre.
The next step in chestnut orchard design is to select specific cultivars. This
is very important because not all cultivars produce pollen. In many areas
cultivars have to match each other so the bloom time matches the active pollen
times. Precoce Migoule ripens its nuts in mid September, one of the earliest,
but that does not mean it is first to bloom. The Colossal and the Nevada are
matching for the bloom but nut fall is about 2 weeks apart. Chestnut cultivars
that do not produce pollen are what are called pollen sterile. Some cultivars
that are pollen sterile are Colossal and Marrisard. One other important
consideration is the quality of chestnuts produced in the orchard. The quality
of a chestnut is composed of many criteria. Some of the physical
characteristics are size, color, ease of pellicle removal, shape and overall
look. For the palate, some of the characteristics are texture, sweetness,
moisture content and overall taste. What makes this part of the selection
process more difficult is that people do not agree with each other about what
looks good and tastes good. If nut quality is very important to you, then
check with growers close to you to find out what cultivars they are growing.
Then in the fall purchase a few pounds of chestnuts from them to eat for
yourself and friends. This should help you find a good cultivar for your
It is time to finalize the tree spacing and the orchard layout so plans and
budgets can be formalized. To find out hour many trees you will need to
purchase us the following equation:
Square feet per acre (43560)/ tree spacing squared = trees needed at the
selected spacing. This equation assumes the trees will be planted in squares.
Let's put an example into action - assume your orchard will be placed near the
45th parallel and the chestnut trees will be planted on 30 foot centers:
43560/(30 x 30) = 48.4 trees per acre - rounding a little will make it a
simple 50 for planning purposes
In addition to purchasing chestnut trees you will also need grass seed,
fertilizer and ground preparation. Many experts will suggest to not fertilize
chestnut trees in the first year. What is being suggested with adding
fertilizer to the plan is most soils have some deficiencies. The fertilizer
helps correct these deficiencies and chestnut trees will do much better it the
soil is in good shape before the trees are planted. Before much can happen you
should get a soil test performed. The soil test should include PNK and micro
nutrients. Once you have the results contact your local extension agent to
review the results and to guide you with the fertilizer requirements you will
need for the soil. You may want to use the term "soil amendments" when talking
with an extension agent because the soil may need addition components other
than just fertilizer. Here is an example of the costs for preparing a (no
trees or brush) 5 acre partial for chestnut trees (2009 costs):
Soil test $50.00
Ground work - contracted tractor work $300.00/acre * 5 acres = $1500.00
Soil amendments $110.00/acre * 5 acres = $550.00
Grass Seed (Orchard grass) $3.00/pound applying 7 lbs per acre on
5 acres = $175.00
Chestnut trees - grafted (from regional nursery) $20.00 per tree at 50
trees per acre on 5 acres = $5000.00
Labor - Planting trees 10 trees per hour - 5 hrs per acre - 25 hrs
for 5 acres at $15.00/hr = $375.00
Total cost of this list for 5 acres = $8025.00
If your orchard will be located in an area where the orchard will need
irrigation then you will need to work out a plan to deliver the proper
amount of water to the chestnut trees. Irrigation systems can be very
complicated and costly, possibly costing more than getting the trees in the
ground. There are many variables with the cost of putting in a watering
system in an orchard. Soil type and location of the water source are two of
the most important when engineering a water system. Other variable that are
part of designing a water system:
1. Given the water source, what is the maximum flow rate allowed by the water
2. How many square feet are going to be watered at one time?
3. What is the flow rate of the sprinklers?
4. How many sprinklers will be run at one time?
5. How will you make sure the ground does not get too wet, possibly killing
the chestnut trees?
6. Does the water need to be filtered or chemically modified before being
applied to the orchard?
Not done yet. More to come..
Return to Chestnut Guide Index
6160 Everson Goshen Rd
Everson, WA 98247
Ph: (360) 966-7158
Fax: (360) 966-7994
Washington Chestnut Company
6160 Everson Goshen Rd.
Everson, WA 98247
Ph: (360) 966-7158