We are glad you share our enthusiasm for growing American chestnuts!
More and more folks are inquiring about getting chestnuts to plant, probably due in part to the continually increasing publicity about the work of The American Chestnut Foundation (TACF), and the prospect for blight-resistant chestnuts becoming available for planting in Maine’s forests in the near future. TACF’s chestnut breeding program in Meadowview VA is progressing and has begun producing seeds with intermediate blight resistance. Small numbers of these seeds are available to TACF members and donors at https://a51bb9ffbf.nxcli.net/store/seed-level-membership/ .
Our breeding program in Maine is progressing (there are satellite breeding programs in 15 states now) and should start yielding Maine-adapted seeds with intermediate blight resistance for test plantings in about 5-10 years from now. We expect that blight resistance will improve during the 2020s and ’30s, as we refine the populations in our seed orchards, based on the results of our test plantings and emerging genetic technologies.
Meanwhile, the Maine Chapter collects seeds from several of the remaining native chestnut trees in Maine every year, for research purposes, to supply Fedco Trees, and grow seedlings that we give to volunteers and new members and sell to support our breeding program. These will be susceptible to blight, but we have seen that trees grown in Maine from wild chestnut seeds can thrive for 10-30 years without blight.
We all want to plant blight-resistant chestnuts ASAP, but with that option still a few years away, planting native-Maine American chestnuts will be very rewarding:
# They are likely to thrive blight-free at least until blight-resistant chestnuts are available.
# Your 5-10-year-old native chestnut trees can provide an ideal nursery shelter for a planting
of blight-resistant chestnuts when they are available.
# Growing inexpensive native chestnuts now will give you the best chance to start testing
the suitability of your sites and learn what is needed to get good growth.
# Growing native-ME chestnuts helps preserve the genetic diversity of our remaining chestnuts.
# On a good site, chestnuts can grow 4 feet in height and 1” dbh per year.
# At 10 to 20 years, your native chestnuts will be producing nuts, poles, and small saw-logs.
# Direct seeding in a forest cut can be very successful if you give each seed protection from rodents and birds. Small openings in forest canopy or
forest-field transitions are ideal for planting chestnut seeds. The soil must be acidic and well-drained.
Here are your options for planting American chestnuts this spring:
1. Buy native-ME pure American chestnut seeds from the ME Chapter of TACF:
$30 for 10 seeds
$50 for 25 seeds
$100 for 100 seeds
2. Join ME Chapter of TACF for $40 and receive 10 seeds as a new member reward (available only to Maine residents.)
3. Help the ME Chapter with planting or orchard maintenance, and receive 10 seeds or 2 seedlings of native-ME chestnuts.
4. Buy March-planted seedlings in 1-qt pots from Eric Evans in Camden for $10, or at Viles Arboretum in Augusta, in summer months, for $15. Viles splits the proceeds with ME-TACF.
Buy 2-yr-old native-ME chestnut seedlings from Fedco Trees (www.fedcoseed.com/trees/) for $22. Fedco buys seeds from the ME Chapter, and gives us $3 from each sale. Sold out for 2020
6. A donation to TACF at the level of $300 or more entitles you to small numbers of American-type seeds with intermediate blight resistance. See https://acf.org/store/seed-level-membership/
7. Many commercial mail-order tree catalogs offer hybrid chestnut seedlings that are described as being blight-resistant and good nut producers. These are likely to be mostly Chinese and so would not be well-suited for forest plantings or northern locations, but could be an interesting addition to a home orchard.