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Choosing Nut Trees for Commercial and Amateur Projects in Eastern Ontario

Prior to massive European-style agricultural development, the most productive lands in east-central Ontario were rich deciduous forests. Oaks, butternuts, beech, hickories, black walnuts, chestnuts and hazels were common and were often substantial food resources for many forest dwellers. However, modern Ontarians praise their forests mostly for white pine and sugar maple and have forgotten or do not know all the rest of the remarkable species rarely seen on woodlots and in provincial parks. They almost disappeared from our landscapes and may become extinct if we do not boost the propagation potential of remaining populations or even individual majestic nut-bearing trees.

It is easy to say that a potential exists, but it is not that easy to transform the potential into a great resource ready to use and enjoy. This is a challenge for all commercial tree-growing projects, and nut trees are not an exception.

Highlights for Commercial Nut Tree Projects

american hazel CEF WEBYoung American hazels produced a lot of nuts the past two seasonsQualifying your project as a commercial one assumes you will make some profit. Certainly, planting nut trees is a good choice because nut trees could be rewarding well before they reach full maturity. What is needed for success? First, articulate clearly the project goals that will allow you to produce edible nuts and other living tree by products in quantities that are at least adequate for the local market. Also, in a decade or two you may expect a reasonable supply of wood for manufactured products, like figured woods, destined for wider markets. To be successful at the end, you have to make the right selection of trees at the beginning.

A few dozen species, hybrids and cultivars of nut trees, have proven to be adaptable to our climate and soils. Some of them are not native to the land, but would be good additions to native trees. Korean and Siberian nut pines are similar to white pine (five needle pines) with one significant difference – they produce high-quality nuts.

The nutritious quality of nuts can determine your selection. All species of the walnut family offer large and tasty fruits. Persian walnut, butternut and pecan will produce the best products if the growing season is long enough and seed sources are from a similar climatic zone. Further north, the fruits of hazels or nut pines may be relatively small, but the market for them is not that small.

Trees and shrubs can often produce a lot of fruit. Harvesting time can be busy, with demanding labour requirements, as it is for apple or berry growers. The work may be hard, but nut producers still have a big advantage – many nut trees. Walnuts in particular drop mature fruits to the ground. Just rake your crop and clean it.

black walnut CEF WEBA heavy crop can be found high on these black walnuts, which were planted in the early 1900sCleaning nuts by removing husks is an easy job if you grow hazels, pecans or Persian walnuts, but it is a challenge to work with black walnuts and butternuts. The husking of butternuts is certainly a challenge. If you don’t like such a job, plant nut pines. Drying cones opens the scales for the easy release of wingless seeds.

A fair rate of return on investments in nut trees can last for decades. Modern cultivars of hazels become heavy nut producers in five to seven years and can continue for another 25 to 30 years, assuming proper rejuvenation maintenance. Oaks or walnuts will produce plenty of fruits when trees develop sizeable crowns. Yes, you have to wait 15 to 20 years, but then trees will produce heavy crops every four to five years for many decades. Hundred-year-old bur oak, black walnut or Korean pine trees could be the best producers of nuts if you are the lucky owner of a well-planned and well-kept woodlot.

A last but not least advantage of the nut grower is the variety of marketable byproducts – wood, shells, husks, bark, etc. Recently, markets for these products have been very limited for a reason: processing machinery is expensive and an operator needs large volumes of nuts, wood, etc. So, expansive markets require more raw materials coming from local woodlot owners growing nut trees. The earlier we start nut tree plantations, the sooner Ontarians will enjoy local nut products.

Highlights for Amateur Nut Tree Projects

nut treeProperties merged, boundaries disappeared, oak remainsStaying away from an entrepreneur career, you can still be a very successful nut grower, pleasing relatives, friends, and yourself with tasty nuts. Also, you may build nice furniture or carve ornaments for your home and cottage. What can serve you longer than a walnut or oak desk or cabinet? The National Gallery of Canada has a 500-year-old walnut dinner table in their collection of fine arts. High-quality products last forever.

A good variety of nut trees will provide a reliable source of tasty nuts every year. Mast years will be a headache as you think how to give away the excessive quantity of fruits falling to the ground in your orchard or alley of nut trees.

Large, long-lasting trees are preferable to shade your house or protect it from strong winds. Oaks, pines, Gingko, beech and hickory can do a good job for you. Also they can mark your property lines and tell your neighbours: There lives a wise owner of the land.

For your reference in tree selection:

Looking for vigorous growth? Consider Quercus rubra, Juglans nigra, Carya cordiformis, Corylus avellana, Pinus koraiensis, Ginkgo biloba

Looking for pest-free trees? Consider Juglans nigra, J. ailantifolia, J. mandshurica, Corylus colurna, Carya cordiformis, C. ovata, C. illinoinensis, Quercus palustris, Q. imbricaria, Q. liaotungensis, Q. variabilis, Q. velutina, Pinus cembra, P. koraiensis, Ginkgo biloba.

shagbark CEF WEBShagbark hickory nuts will fall free when the huskWant to keep trees’ growth under control? Nut trees are not the best choice, unless you are prepared to trim them annually from a very young age.

Looking for urban, stress-tolerant trees? Consider Juglans nigra, Corylus colurna, Quercus palustris, Ginkgo biloba.

Want to quickly fill a vacant spot? Consider Juglans nigra, J. ailantifolia, Corylus avellana, Quercus rubra.

Interested in a long-lasting legacy? Plant Juglans nigra, J. mandshurica, Carya cordiformis, C. ovata, Quercus alba, Q. macrocarpa, Q. bicolor, Q. robur, Fagus grandifolia, Pinus cembra, Ginkgo biloba.

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