Grow chestnuts from seed

Growing Chestnut Trees

Will your future yuletide seasons include native chestnuts roasting on an open fire? It’s entirely possible if you’re prepared to plant some Castanea dentata and then tend them very carefully for at least the first three years.

Where to Get Them

Not many American chestnut trees can be found anymore, so it’s likely you wouldn’t recognize one if you saw it. Even the leaves can vary from one region to another. So rather than scrounge the woods looking for a sapling to transplant, you might want to consider ordering nuts, or young trees, direct from Edgar Huffman.

Edgar says he learned the best procedure for growing chestnut trees by observing how squirrels conceal the nuts. Apparently the furry creatures instinctively know the way to bury the seeds so that they’ll sprout. Here’s how it’s done:

Plant the nuts in pairs in a well-worked germination bed, one with its pointed end out, the other with its pointed end in. Naturally, if you live in an area where there are squirrels, you can expect to have a hard time sprouting any nuts without running interference. Huffman prevents squirrel raiding by planting the seeds inside an old bicycle rim (the squirrels think it’s a trap and leave it alone). He can get as many as 125 nuts planted in one rim, which will produce—if they’re handled properly—more than 100 young trees.


How to Plant Them

Mr. Huffman recommends transplanting each newly germinated seed into a cut-down paper milk carton for easy transportation. Once you’ve done so, prepare a hole—about a foot in diameter—just as you would for any nut tree. Dig it deep, making certain there’s no rock in the bottom. Then, plant with great care. If the chestnut’s long taproot is injured, the tree may always be inferior. Be sure, also, to avoid exposing the young root to drying air for any longer than necessary.

Here’s another tip that’ll help you achieve a successful transplant: Maintain the seedling’s original compass direction. For instance, if a branch was pointing east when the tree was at its germination and early growth site, that same branch should be pointing east after the tree is transplanted. (If you can’t remember which way the limbs began growing, it’s a good bet to turn the longest ones to the east. Then, when placing the tree in. the ground, lean its top to the south about one inch.)

Huffman also suggests planting at least two chestnut saplings near each other (but no closer than 25 feet). The proximity of the trees will help bees cross-pollinate the fragrant blossoms more easily in the spring.

Keep in mind too that trees in a chestnut grove will grow tall and straight, while loners out in the open will branch out much the same as oak trees do.

How to Order

As a result of the lessons learned in his years of studying chestnuts, Edgar Huffman can produce saplings each spring at a phenomenal rate. If you’re Interested in purchasing some, though, you should know that it’s first come, first served until they’re all gone. One-year-old transplants, which are shipped in May, sell for $5.00 each. A dozen ready-to-plant chestnut seeds are $15. The blight treatment (which is supposed to keep for years) costs $5.00 per pint or $40 per gallon. All products are sent with complete instructions.

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut flowers

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut flowers

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut in bloom

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut in bloom

(Photo courtesy of NetPS Plant Finder)

Height: 40 feet

Spread: 40 feet


Hardiness Zone: 4b


A hybrid small tree with very prominent upright panicles of red flowers in spring; ideal for many landscape applications, makes a great accent tree for smaller landscapes; spiny seeds are few and far between for easier maintenance over other varieties

Ornamental Features

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut features bold spikes of ruby-red flowers rising above the foliage in mid spring. It has dark green foliage which emerges light green in spring. The palmate leaves turn yellow in fall. The fruit is not ornamentally significant. However, the fruit can be messy in the landscape and may require occasional clean-up.

Landscape Attributes

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut is a dense deciduous tree with a more or less rounded form. Its relatively coarse texture can be used to stand it apart from other landscape plants with finer foliage.

This tree will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and is best pruned in late winter once the threat of extreme cold has passed. It has no significant negative characteristics.

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut is recommended for the following landscape applications;

  • Accent
  • Shade

Planting & Growing

Briotti Red Horse Chestnut will grow to be about 40 feet tall at maturity, with a spread of 40 feet. It has a low canopy with a typical clearance of 4 feet from the ground, and should not be planted underneath power lines. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for 60 years or more.

This tree does best in full sun to partial shade. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn’t be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This particular variety is an interspecific hybrid.

Horse Chestnut Seeds: How To Grow A Horse Chestnut Tree

For additional interest in the landscape, consider growing horse chestnuts. They’re perfect for adding drama either standing alone as a specimen planting or among other tree as a border planting.

What are Horse Chestnuts?

You may be wondering, What are horse chestnuts? Horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) are large flowering trees, similar to buckeyes, with showy, white blooms in spring. These are followed by attractive, spiny, green seedpods from midsummer through fall. In addition to their beautiful flowers and seedpods, horse chestnut trees also exhibit interesting bark with twisted limbs.

One note of caution: do not confuse these ornamental tree with other chestnut trees (Castanea genus), which are edible. The fruit of horse chestnuts should not be eaten.

Growing a Horse Chestnut Tree

The most important factor when growing a horse chestnut tree is location. Horse chestnuts thrive in USDA plant hardiness zones 3-8 in areas having full sun and well-drained, but moist, humus-rich soil. These trees do not tolerate excessively dry conditions.

Horse chestnut trees are usually planted in spring or fall, depending on climate. Since they are normally purchased as container or burlapped plants, the planting hole should be about three times their width and deep enough to accommodate them with the top of the rootball flush with the soil.

Once the tree is placed in the hole, ensure it is straight before adding some of the soil to anchor it in place. Fill the hole with water, allowing it to absorb before adding organic matter and remaining soil. Tamp down lightly to eliminate any air pockets and add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and keep out weeds.

Water newly planted trees regularly. Established trees require little care other than occasional pruning in late winter as needed.

Growing Horse Chestnut Seeds or Conkers

The horse chestnut can also be grown from seeds or conkers. The spiny seedpods drop from the tree in fall when ripened and crack open to reveal the horse chestnut seeds inside. Horse chestnut seeds should be planted as soon as possible. Do not allow them to dry out. They also germinate rather quickly and are best sown outdoors in a cold frame. They can also be placed in a plastic bag outside for a couple of weeks.

Once roots begin sprouting, plant them in pots of composted soil. Horse chestnut seedlings can be planted in their permanent locations the following spring or fall, or whenever they reach about a foot or so tall.

Growing a horse chestnut tree is easy and well worth the little effort involved. The tree makes a wonderful addition to the landscape for years of enjoyment.

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