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Past Articles Library | Trees | How to Grow and Care for Hickory Trees

While I do have a little group of nut trees, hickory trees is one of those trees that I do not have.  It is a great nut tree to start with because it is one of the shorter types of nut trees around, which means its mature size is less than 80 feet.  But while it is a wonderful tree, as I learned finding sapling in garden nurseries can be a challenge.  What to do, what to do?  Well, the solution is simple.  I will just have to grow my own.

To begin this process, starts with collecting the nuts but what in the world does a hickory nut look like.  A hickory nut husk is a four piece unit that depending on the type of hickory tree it is may be thick or thin skinned.  Once you find your hickory nut supply, the next step is to remove the husk.  If you find the husk green, wait on removing the husk.  On the other hand, if it is brown then you are ready to go.

If the husk is still on the nut, remove it and place the nuts with the shells still on in a bucket.  Soak the nuts for 4 days.  As the days go by, remove any nuts that float to the surface.  These represent the seeds that will not germinate.

Keep in mind that the nuts should be fresh and should only be kept for no more than 7 days before soaking.

When it comes to the seeds (nuts), the approach describe above is the best but there are times when that will not work.  In situations like this, do not fret you can hold off the seeds by artificially creating the cold exposure.  How do you do this?  Well, it starts with a few simple supplies.  The supplies you will need are a resealable bag, and peat moss.  Soak the seeds as described previously.  Once the 4 days have passed, moisten the peat moss and place in the resealable bag.  Next, place the seeds (nuts) inside the bag and seal up.  Put the bag with the seeds in the refrigerator at a temperature of 33 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  They can be kept in this environment for 30 to up to 150 days. 

If you plan on planting your seeds after soaking, the next step is to choose and prepare the garden space.  Hickory trees like a sunny location that has a well-drained soil but…….. Before finalizing the spot, do a little digging.  Hickory trees do not do well in areas where a lot of rocks are located in their planting zone.  This causes the long taproot to be deformed or killed.  If you find this situation, consider another area.

Once you have your location selected, the next step is to prepare the area.  This starts with removing any vegetation in the area.  While keeping a little ground cover can reduce soil erosion, conserve soil moisture, and keep the roots cool, the vegetation can also rob moisture and nutrition from the tree. 

Now that the weeds have been removed, you are ready to dig the hole.  The hole will need to be 3 inches deep.  After the hole has been dug, place one soaked nut in the hole and fill in.  Place a garden stake in this location so that you know where you planted your seed.  Repeat this process every inch until you have used all your seeds. 

While the planting space may seem close, this gives you a lot of options in the spring with it comes to thinning.  For nut production, more than one tree will need to be present and they will need to be at least 20 feet apart.

After you have planted all your seeds and marked their locations, the next step is to protect your seeds.  Since the hickory seeds are planted in the fall, they become a favorite treat for animals such as squirrels.  To keep the animals away from the seeds, place a piece of metal mesh over the top of each planted area.  Secure the metal to the ground with U-shaped stakes, rocks or bricks. 

While you really do not need to do much during the fall and winter, when spring arrives you will need to remove the metal mesh and check out to see if your seeds have germinated.  When doing this, make sure to leave the plant stake in place.

Once you begin to see the seeds germinate, begin to select the strong from the weak. Add a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch to the ones you want to keep.

At this point, the only thing you will need to do is to continue to monitor the soil moisture and water when needed.

Now that your hickory tree is established, it really is self-sufficient but it can have some pest and disease problems.   One of the pests that are commonly found on the hickory is the pecan weevil.  These weevils appear in late summer and have long noses.  Once the female has mated, she will drill a hole in the young nut and lay her eggs.  When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the inside of the nut. 

The best way to control this pest is through a little hard work.  This starts out by rolling a sheet or tarp under the tree.  Once that is done, place a bucket of soapy water near the tarp.  This soapy water will be used to drown the pecan weevil.  Next, begin to gently shake the tree.  Be careful when doing this step.  You want to shake hard enough to dislodge the pest but not so hard that you also dislodge the nuts. 

Continue to do this step all the way around the tree.  Check the sheet or tarp for the pest.  If you find them, place them in the soapy water to drown. 

Repeat this process for several days until you no longer find them on the sheet or tarp. 

Another issue that hickory trees have is the pecan scab.  How do you know if you have this?  Well, take a look at the leaves.  If you see dark green to black spots on the leaves then you have pecan scab.  As the disease progresses, the effected leaves will develop holes.  The disease can also affect the nut.  When this happens, the husk becomes very tight.  This tightness prevents the nut from expanding and growing properly.  This, in turn, will cause the nut to be small or die. 

If you find that you have this problem, there really is nothing that can be done to prevent or solve this problem.

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