Quick Guidelines to Planting Chestnuts
American chestnut seedlings are quite variable in their hardiness and vegetative health. Choose a seed source from a climate as similar to your area as possible with regard to minimum and maximum temperatures, latitude, and altitude. Many hybrids and pure Chinese trees do poorly if there is a warm period in the middle of winter they may lose their cold resistance and be damaged when the cold weather resumes. If you are gathering your own seed, be aware that isolated, unpollinated chestnut trees will produce burs anyway, with little, flat, shriveled nuts inside-these are not viable. Chestnuts are incompatible so you need more than one tree to produce viable nuts.
Most experienced growers prefer to plant their nuts in the spring, as fall planting can lead to extensive, even total, losses to rodents. Nuts collected in the fall must undergo several months of cold storage before they can be planted in the spring. Chestnut seed has strict requirements for storage-it must not dry out at all or become soggy; it must not freeze or be stored very long above 40 F. Chestnuts have been stored successfully packed in: sand, sawdust, peat moss, unmilled sphagnum, vermiculite, and plastic bags with a few holes. The storage medium must have some ability to retain moisture but must also be able to drain, as the nuts “exhale” quite a bit of water during storage and can become too wet in a totally closed container. The acid nature of sphagnum or fresh sawdust is useful in slowing the growth of spoilage fungi. If using a neutral medium such as vermiculite, wash the nuts in a diluted Clorox solution (mix one part household bleach with nine parts of water) and then rinse in sterile water (boiled water that has been allowed to cool). The storage container must be mouse-proof if keeping them outside. An alternative is the refrigerator. Layer the nuts and the moist (not wet) storage medium (in a jar) and cover loosely (with a Saran wrap-like material). Check the jar once a month, and if any green growth is evident, repeat the Clorox wash as stated above. It is common for nuts to start sprouting in storage (usually between late February and late March). If the roots get much longer than 1 inch, they are hard to plant. Refrigeration between 32 and 34F. may slow the sprouting somewhat.
Plant the seed with the root shoot down or on a flat side if there is no root yet. Even in spring, planting chestnuts in wild areas is usually futile because of rodents. The way to get the most trees established is to plant the seed in a garden-type setting, a seed bed, which is protected from mice, squirrels, chipmunks, woodpeckers, blue jays, etc. Then the trees can be transplanted when they are one year old (or more) to their permanent site. If only a few seeds are being planted, you may want to start them in large pots, temporarily, until transplanted. Plant the seed about one inch deep, and when the seedling is about 8″ tall (roughly 4 months), it can be planted in a permanent site. If using a pot, make sure it is big enough so that (lie roots do not become root-bound. Twist off the old nutshell before planting outside.
Chestnuts will do best on well-drained but moist soil. Soggy soils can actually kill seedlings. Sandy or gravelly soils are best, and loam soils are fine-heavy soils are less desirable. Deep soils will produce better growth.
More Planting Information…
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Later on… How do we tell which chestnuts best resist the blight? …
Inoculating Chestnuts with Blight