Time to germination: Usually purchased as saplings
Time to harvest: 4 years
Light requirements: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained soil
Hazelnuts come from the hazel tree, but are also called filberts and sometimes cob nuts. The nuts can be eaten on their own, usually roasted but hazlenut is also commonly ground into a paste and used to flavor candies and chocolate. Hazelnut oils are also used in syrups. One particularly well-known hazelnut product is Nutella spread.
Hazelnuts can be grown from zones 9 up into zone 4 (even sheltered areas of zone 3). The cooler regions should stick to the American hazelnut variety as the European type is less cold-tolerant. As a crop they are grown extensively in Turkey, and there is a Turkish variety for that climate.
As with most nuts, they are high in protein as well as fat. There are also high levels of B vitamins and fiber in a hazelnut.
Starting Your Tree
Most people who start hazelnut do so with purchased saplings rather than by planting nuts. Many trees available will be grafted trees, meaning the rootstock is from one kind of tree and the top branch portion is of another. Typically, the Turkish hazelnut is used for rootstock to help with blight resistance. Grafted trees are perfectly normal, and will produce nuts as per their tops not the roots.
If you are going to grow hazelnuts, you will have to have the space for at least 2 trees. They are self-infertile and will not produce any nuts unless they are pollinated by another tree.
Your tree location should have space for mature trees around 10 feet tall, and between 12 and 15 feet across at the crown. Keep your trees spaced about 20 feet between them to allow enough room, but no farther than 40 feet or they won’t pollinate each other.
Dig a hole large enough to hold the root ball, and then dig down a little deeper so there is loose soil in th bottom of the hole. Plant the sapling, and keep it moist for the first few months. Then it should be fine unless you get a stretch of particularly hot or dry weather.
Hazelnuts tend to grow very bushy, and will sprout lots of suckers from the base of the trunk. To maximize your nut production, it’s best to cut away the extra suckers or sprouts as they form at the base and try to keep your tree trained to a central trunk shape.
Your trees are a more drought-tolerant than other nut trees, so you shouldn’t have to worry about regular watering unless the level of rainfall has really dropped. Water hazelnuts at least once a week during drought, but that should be all that’s required.
Once your tree has started to produce nuts, you can give it an annual fertilizer feeding though it’s not essential. A standard formula is fine, though a fertilizer designed for trees would be better.
Pests and Disease
One of the biggest threats to hazelnuts in North America is the eastern filbert blight. It will kill off your trees unless you spray regularly. Thankfully, there are several varieties of tree that have been bred with resistance. Geneva, Slate and Grimo are all good trees to grow if you feel blight may be a problem. Though the disease is common in the east, western regions are starting to see signs of it as well.
In the insect world, you will need to be on the look-out for leafroller moths. Actually, it’s their larvae (caterpillars) you need to be aware of. These plain brown moths lay their eggs, and the caterpillars then spin webs in the leaves, causing them to roll up into a tube. If you see any such activity, cut the branches off immediately. You can spray pesticides, but the rolled leaves usually protect the worms. A few won’t harm your trees, but in large quantities, they can eat enough leaves to kill a tree.
Harvest and Storage
The best time to harvest your hazelnuts is after their husks have dried, split open and dropped the nuts out of the tree. This usually happens in the late fall, and you will have to check the ground almost daily in order to gather the nuts before the local squirrels and birds make off with them.
Small-scale nut growers usually just rake up the nuts, or lay out a tarp to help gather them up. If you have a lot of trees, you can buy various gadgets and tractor attachments that can help harvest the nuts off the ground without too much bending over.
Before you plan on storing your hazelnuts, you need to dry them. You can either shell them first or dry them in the shell, but leaving the shell on will mean a much longer drying time. You’ll need to spread the fresh nuts out somewhere well-ventilated and very warm. It can take several days. The nutmeats should be dry right through, and all the white color should have darkened. Nuts in the shell will need to be cracked open to properly check.
Once dry, you can store your hazelnuts. They store better unroasted. You can keep dry hazelnuts for up to 2 years in the freezer, or a full year even just in the fridge. You’ll want to keep them dry, so store in a plastic bag or jar. You can freeze them while in the shell, but they will take up so much space that way that it’s not really practical.
If you don’t want to store all your nuts in the freezer, they can be kept in any dry cool location. They need to be in a tight container to keep out moths that will infest your nuts. Check often for mold, and use them up within a few months.
Your trees will start to produce nuts at around 4 years old, but it can take up to 10 years before they start to give a full crop. They should keep producing for up to 30 years.