Four trees with edible nuts

Freshly harvested hazelnuts. Getty Images

While many gardeners grow their own fruit and vegetables, few grow their own nuts. Nuts are highly nutritious and some can be grown in UK gardens, allotments and community orchards. Edible nuts grow on large, bushy shrubs or trees, which come in a range of sizes, depending on the type. Nut trees look attractive, are long lived, and are often good for wildlife, too.

There are three types of nut that grow well in the UK: walnut, cob nut (hazlenut) and sweet chestnut. In milder regions almond trees can be grown with some success, but they may not crop reliably.

Where to grow nut trees

Nut trees vary in size, from relatively small and bushy shrubs to large trees, so it’s important to choose the right one for your garden. In small gardens, almond trees trained as fans, and hazelnuts, make the most efficient use of space.

Most nuts need good soil and plenty of sunshine. It’s a good idea to avoid planting them on low ground, where cold air gathers, known as a ‘frost pocket’, as this can damage early blossom, and therefore the crop. Some types of nut tree need a pollination partner (at least two trees of the same type). Nut trees described as ‘self-fertile’ are suited to growing alone.

When and how to harvest nuts

Harvest nuts from a large tree by laying a sheet or similar on the ground beneath it, then gently shaking the tree or using something like a broom handle to gently move individual branches, then gather the fallen nuts.

Almond ripening time varies according to variety – a good indication of ripeness is when the hull or outer casing starts to split open. Bear in mind that this may not happen after a cool, damp summer, when you may need to cut off the casing yourself.

Cobnuts are ready to harvest when their husks turn yellow.

Sweet chestnuts need to be ripe and brown – there’s no need to pick them, simply wait until the prickly-cased nuts fall from the tree in autumn.

Walnuts can be harvested from summer onwards to pickle and eat ‘green’ or left to harvest when fully ripe in autumn. Wear gloves when handling, as well as old clothes, as walnuts produce a brown dye.


Edible nut trees to grow in the UK

Types of nut trees that are hardy and suitable for growing in the UK include almonds, cobnuts (also known as filberts or hazelnuts), sweet chestnuts, and walnuts. All of these have an edible fruit that is enclosed in a hard, protective casing.

 

Almond (Prunus dulcis)

Almonds ripening on the tree. Sarah Cuttle
Almonds ripening on the tree. Sarah Cuttle

Almonds are attractive trees and make a beautiful display of early spring blossom, bearing masses of small pale pink or white flowers on bare branches, before the serrated, dark green leaves appear. The flowers are pollinated by early bees and develop into large, rounded green and velvety fruits, each one enclosing a single almond. Correct siting is vital as the early flowers are susceptible to frost damage. Almond nut trees therefore do best in areas with mild winters and warm summers, grown in a sunny site such as against a south-facing wall or fence. Almond trees are susceptible to peach leaf curl disease, so buy varieties that have good natural resistance where possible. Some varieties require a pollination partner, so if you have a small garden, opt for a self-fertile variety.

Almond varieties to grow

Almond ‘Ingrid’ – a reliable variety for growing in the UK with reasonably resistance to peach leaf curl disease. Masses of pale pink flowers are followed by nuts that mature from August onwards. Self-fertile. Height x Spread: 5m x 5m (less if fan-trained)

Almond ‘Princess’ – free-fruiting and self-fertile, ‘Princess’ makes a handsome display of pale pink spring blossom and bears nuts that ripen in September. H x S: 5m x 5m (less if fan-trained)

Almond ‘Robijn’ – good resistance to peach leaf curl disease and flowers later than most almonds so is less susceptible to frost damage. Light pink spring blossom followed by soft shelled and sweet tasting nuts. H x S: 5m x 5m (less if fan-trained)

 

Cobnut/Hazlenut (Corylus spp.)

Cobnuts ripening on the tree. Jason Ingram
Cobnuts ripening on the tree. Jason Ingram

Forming large bushy shrubs or small trees, hazlenut may be grown in an informal border or as specimen plant in grass. While the native hazelnut species (Corylus avellana) is widely sold for hedging and woodland planting, it produces relatively few nuts compared to named varieties. Growing two different varieties together for pollination produces the best crops. Grow in reasonably fertile soil that is not too rich, in sun or partial shade.

Cobnut varieties to grow

Cobnut ‘Kent Cob’ – a popular variety with yellow-green spring catkins followed by good crop of nuts. Self-fertile. H x S: 3m x 3m

Cobnut ‘Cosford Cob’ – yellow-green catkins in early spring are followed by a heavy crop of nuts that ripen from mid-August. H x S: 3m x 3m

  • Buy cobnut ‘Cosford Cob’ from Crocus

Cobnut ‘Purple filbert’ – a combination of showy purple foliage, purple spring catkins, and edible autumn fruits, make this an ideal selection for a small garden. Forms a large bushy shrub. H x S: 3m x 2m

 

Sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Sweet chestnuts ripening on the tree. Getty Images
Sweet chestnuts ripening on the tree. Getty Images

Sweet chestnut is native to southern Europe and North Africa, but is naturalised in the UK and is often planted in parks and woodland throughout the country. Its shiny brown nuts are borne in prickly green outer casings. Chestnuts are used in a variety of recipes and are traditionally roasted and eaten at Christmas. Sweet chestnut develops into a substantial tree more than 15m high and wide, so is suitable only for very large gardens. Not to be confused with conker or horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum), which bears similar but inedible nuts. Grow sweet chestnut in sun or partial shade, in moist, well-drained soil.

Sweet chestnut varieties to grow

Sweet chestnut ‘Marron de Lyon’ – produces large dark brown nuts from an early age. Has a more compact growing habit than most sweet chestnuts. H x S: 10m x 8m

  • Buy sweet chestnut ‘Marron de Lyon’ from Otter Farm

 

Walnut (Juglans regia)

Walnuts ripening on the tree. Sarah Cuttle
Walnuts ripening on the tree. Sarah Cuttle

Walnut is a handsome tree with greyish bark and large, shiny, deep green leaves. It bears nuts from summer to autumn. Walnut trees need a sunny site and deep, rich, fertile soil. Prune from late summer to early autumn as sap is likely to bleed if pruned at other times. Named varieties of walnut tree are produced by grafting and start producing fruit relatively early, from four years old. Walnut tree species usually take many years to fruit.

Walnut varieties to grow

Walnut ‘Broadview’ – a reliable cropper that starts producing fruit from just three years old. Self-fertile. H x S: 7m x 6m after 10 years, larger with age

  • Buy walnut ‘Broadview’ from Crocus

Walnut ‘Buccaneer’ – the shape is more slender and upright than most, so it’s a good choice where space is limited. Self-fertile. Crops from around four years old. H x S: 6m x 4m after 10 years, larger with age

  • Buy walnut ‘Buccaneer’ from Suttons

Walnut ‘Lara’ – self-fertile and early cropping, ‘Lara’ is also a little more compact than many walnuts, although still forms a substantial tree over time. Produces nuts from about four years old. H x S: 7m x 6m after 10 years, larger with age

  • Buy walnut ‘Buccaneer’ from Dobies

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