Growing black walnut tree

Growing Walnut Trees For Profit

Walnut Plantation

During the week, Tom Jenkins is a financial advisor, helping others invest for their retirement. On weekends, Jenkins sometimes packs a sack lunch and pruning saw and visits what he calls his “Walnut IRA.” His 20 acres of black walnut trees, originally planted in a 12 foot by 12 foot grid and gradually thinned to a wider spacing as the trees grew, will be ready for harvesting about the time Tom plans to retire. With the high price of black walnut logs, he figures his walnut acreage will be enough to make him a millionaire. Better yet, his property taxes for the walnut stand are almost zero, thanks to a special property tax rate to encourage timber production.

According to timber experts, black walnut trees, when planted to maximize tree growth, can grow as much as 3′ to 4′ per year in good soil, reaching a mature height of over 100′ and 30″ to 40″ in diameter, with 16″ diameter saw logs ready to harvest in 30 years.

Black walnut trees are native to the central and eastern U.S, but also do well in other parts of the country, and are grown for both nuts and timber. A walnut orchard can take a few years to come into full production, but then produces up to 6,000 pounds of nuts per acre. Black walnut logs bring premium prices, and have since the 1700s, with single trees bringing up to $20,000. Bruce Thompson, author of “Black Walnut For Profit,” estimates a mature stand of black walnut trees can bring about $100,000 per acre in timber value alone. The fine, straight-grained wood is used for furniture, veneer and gunstocks.

To bring in income while the walnut trees are growing, many new plantings are using “agroforestry,” which uses double cropping of trees with pasture crops for harvesting or livestock grazing. Trees are planted in widely spaced rows, at about 100 trees per acre, with other crops between the rows. In addition to pasture crops, high-value crops like raspberries or blueberries can be used.

Agroforestry can provide income four different ways. For the first few years, the only income is from the crop planted between the trees. As the trees become larger, they are thinned for nut production, with the wood from thinning being sold. Then, the nuts produce additional income. When the remaining thinned trees are mature, they are harvested for veneer logs.

The thinning encourages rapid growth of the best trees and removes less than perfect trees. The culled trees bring premium prices, even in small sizes. Culls are cut into 3 foot lengths and dried for gunstock blanks, which can bring as much as $300 each. To utilize even smaller sections of cull walnut logs such as limbs, manufacturers are using them for items like pen holders, paperweights and bookends. For these uses, rough knotty wood is just as good as the high grade logs.

For those with time and patience, a living legacy of walnut trees can be a priceless gift for children and grandchildren. According to professional timberland investors, the average return from a stand of walnut trees is 14 percent a year, with no taxes due until harvest. That beats returns on bonds, stocks and most other investments handily, and with intercropping, growers can even produce an income while the walnut trees continue to grow.

To learn more about other profitable trees, read Growing Trees For Profit.

Greetings Jeff:

Black walnut, for optimum growth and development, requires moist, deep fertile soils with a pH ranging from 6.5 – 7.5. Granted, walnut can grow on soils across a wide range of pH (4.5-8.5); however, that does not mean your planting “site” is an optimum black walnut location as there are other site factors that come into play (soil fertility, internal soil drainage, soil moisture, etc.). Even after you’ve found an optimum site or at least a good site, you will need to properly plan for the logistical aspects of managing a walnut plantation (site preparation; cover crops; seedling stock selection; annual maintenance such as herbicide applications to control perennial grasses; future pruning and selective crown thinning; etc.).

If you are going to plant one acre of black walnut as a future investment, I would probably plant at least 436 trees per acre: plant one tree every ten feet within your tree rows, with ten feet between tree rows (i.e., 43,560 square feet per acre divided by 10×10 spacing yields 436 trees per acre). 8×10 spacing (i.e., plant one tree every eight feet within the tree rows, with ten feet between tree rows = 545 trees per acre) is how I would design my tree planting if I were in your position and if I were using standard bare root seedlings.

On excellent sites, it may be possible to grow veneer-quality trees within a 40-year time horizon. On good quality sites, you’re probably looking at 40-60 years. Seeing that you live in Savoy, might I suggest you swing by my office on campus and we can discuss your objectives and options to determine whether or not black walnut is the ideal species to plant on the site you have in mind!

Walnut Timber Prices:

Planting Black Walnut Trees: Learn About Black Walnut Tree Growing

If you are an avid arborist or if you live in an area that was until recently populated by native black walnut trees, you may have questions about how to plant a black walnut tree. Also, what other black walnut tree info can we dig up?

Black Walnut Tree Info

Black walnut trees are native to the central and eastern United States and until the turn of the century, quite common. These trees can live to up to 200 years of age and are one of six walnut species found in the United States. In a natural setting, black walnut trees can be found growing alongside:

  • Elms
  • Hackberry
  • Box elder
  • Sugar maples
  • Green and white ash trees
  • Basswood
  • Red oak
  • Hickory

Intolerant of drought, black walnut trees have a lovely canopy, stretching up to 100 feet in height. Valued for their lumber, walnuts also provide food and shelter for native wildlife.

Black walnut roots, however, contain juglone which may be toxic to some types of plants. Be aware of this and plan accordingly.

The fruit husks from black walnut are used to make a yellow dye and the seed is used in candy making, abrasive cleaning products and explosives.

How to Plant a Black Walnut Tree

Consider planting black walnut trees if you live in USDA hardiness zones 5a through 9a with at least 25 inches of precipitation and 140 frost-free days per year. Black walnut trees do best growing in deep, fertile, moist yet well-drained soil with texture ranging from sandy loam, loam, and silt loam to silty clay loam.

Select a site that is facing north or east when planting black walnut and avoid areas in valleys, bottomland sites or where airflow is minimal, as all of these foster potential frost damage. You’ll need to choose an area of full sun as well.

To grow your own black walnut, it’s best to either purchase a tree, get a seedling from a local gardener who has a tree, or try to germinate your own by planting nuts. Gather the nuts and remove the husks. Plant six nuts, 4 inches apart in a cluster, 4-5 inches deep. As you no doubt have squirrels, pre-emptive caring for the black walnut trees is in order. Cover the planting area with cloth and pin it into the ground. Lay a layer of mulch (straw or leaves) over the cloth to prevent repeated freezing and thawing. Mark the planting site clearly.

The seeds will germinate in the spring. Remove the mulch and cloth in late winter. Once the trees have grown for a few months, choose the best ones and eliminate the others. Caring for black walnut trees is pretty straightforward after that. Keep them moist until they attain some size. Otherwise, the trees, although drought sensitive, have a deep taproot and should be fine as long as they are situated as stipulated above.

What may be the largest Black Walnut tree in the world on Sauvie Island, Oregon. Note the man standing to the right of the base of the tree.
Common Name: Walnut (Black, English, Persian, Carpathian)
Scientific Name:
Juglans nigra (Black Walnut) Juglans regia (English/Persian Walnut, Carpathian Walnut) Family: Juglandaceae
Comparison of Black Walnut (left) to English/Persian Walnut (right) Each plate contains all meat from 10 walnuts of each species
This very large deciduous tree is a popular nut and lumber tree. There are 21 species of tree in the Juglans genus. The most commonly grown tree for nuts is the English or Persian Walnut. The Carpathian Walnut is a more cold-hardy variety of the English/Persian Walnut, but many people consider them interchangeable. In the United States, the Eastern Black Walnut is a very common tree for nuts, which is prized for its stronger flavor but much more difficult extraction; however, it may be even more valued for its high quality wood from a relatively fast growing tree. Walnuts are great shade trees, great nut producers, and may be considered a wise investment for your children or grandchildren.
English Walnut 1901 – A.W. Mumford
The English/Persian Walnut is native to Central Asia. Alexander the Great introduced this tree to Macedonia and Greece in the 4th century B.C. The Romans continued this spread throughout Europe, England, and northern Africa. It was introduced to the Americas in the 17th century by colonists.
The Black Walnut is native to the eastern United States. It was introduced to Europe in 1629 to be used primarily as a high quality wood tree. It is more cold-hardy than the English/Persian Walnut.

  • Walnuts are the second larges nut crop in North America, second to almonds
  • The Black Walnut has a stronger flavor and more crunch than the English/Persian Walnut but is way more difficult to extract the nut meat
  • Walnuts can be tapped in spring and produces a sweet sap that can be drunk or boiled down into syrup
  • The Black Walnut is a very valuable tree, and there are actually walnut tree poachers in the United States – one case involved a 55 ft (16 m) tree that was worth $2500 in 2004
  • Many English/Persian Walnuts are planted on Black Walnut root stock
  • The Black Walnut is the host plant for caterpillars of the luna and regal moths – beautiful

Beautiful Black Walnut in autumn.
Primary Uses:

  • Fresh eating (raw)
  • Roasted
  • Dried
  • High quality lumber – very hard and very pretty, so it is used for flooring, furniture, and things like gunstocks, paddles, and tools

Secondary Uses:

  • Walnut oil
  • Hulls can make a brown dye for yarn, cloth, etc. and can even be used as a wood stain.
  • Walnuts can be tapped like a maple tree to make syrup
  • Dynamic accumulator (Need definition) – Potassium, Phosphorus (Black Walnuts also accumulate Calcium)
  • General insect pollen source
  • Extracts from the green husks of walnuts have insecticidal properties
  • Can be coppiced
  • Medicinal uses: nuts contain antioxidants, appear to protect the arteries, and may slow cognitive-decline

English/Persian Walnuts about to break from their husks while still on the tree.
Black Walnuts ripen in their husks, but the husks do not break open on the tree.
A ripe and recently husked Black Walnut nut – not an easy process!
Depends on the size and age of the tree:
Juglans nigra (Black Walnut) – 20 lbs (9 kg) to 100 lbs (45 kg) Juglans regia (English/Persian Walnut) – up to 6 bushels (210 liters); produces more than J. nigra

  • Late August – October, depends on species, variety, and USDA Zone
  • English Walnut nuts will fall from green husks when ripe. Usually pick nuts from the ground or from nut catching nets if you place them and then shake the tree. Commercial nut producers will have tree-shakers.
  • Black Walnut nuts fall with husk in place. The husk must be removed to get to the nut which must be shelled to get to the meat. They nuts taste better when the husk is still green and not black. There are many methods to extract the nut from the husk, but a hammer is often used. Once the nut is extracted (this process will stain everything), toss out nuts that are black and oily. Drop the rest of them in a bucket of water, and toss out the ones that float. Drain the nuts and lay them out in a warm, dry location. You can let them cure for over a month. Toss out any that become moldy. Then crack the nuts – a mounted vise works well – but be warned that cracking Black Walnut nuts can cause sharp shells to go flying. All this work is worth it if you’ve ever really compared the taste of Black Walnuts with the more mild English/Persian Walnuts.

Storage: Dried nuts will store for 2-3 years
Black Walnut (top) and English/Persian Walnut (bottom) leaves
Black Walnut bark. English/Persian Walnut bark has wider grooving.
USDA Hardiness Zone:
Juglans nigra (Black Walnut) – Zone 4-7 Juglans regia (Carpathian Walnut) – Zone 5-7 Juglans regia (English/Persian Walnut) – Zone 7-9
AHS Heat Zone: 4-9
Chill Requirement: 400-1,500 hours/units depending on the species and variety
Plant Type: Large Tree
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Canopy Tree
Cultivars/Varieties: Many varieties available.
Pollination: Some varieties are self-fertile (self-pollinating), and some are not. Most will have higher yields if they can cross-pollinate
Flowering: Late spring (May)
Life Span:
Years to Begin Bearing: 4-5 years for grafted varieties, 4-12 years from seedling
Years to Maximum Bearing: 10-15 years
Years of Useful Life: 100+ years
The flowers of the walnut tree.
Size: 75-130 feet (25-40 meters) tall and wide, will grow taller if there is light competition
Roots: Taproot
Growth Rate: Medium to Fast (Black Walnuts grow faster)
Looking up into a Black Walnut.
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade (about 50%)
Moisture: Medium moisture. The Black Walnut can tolerate less moist soils.
pH: 6.1-7.5 (Neutral to slightly alkaline)
Special Considerations for Growing:

  • Walnut roots and leaves produce juglone, a chemical that inhibits the growth of certain plants. Make sure that surrounding trees and underplanted plants can tolerate juglone.
  • Black Walnuts can be difficult to shell – just make sure you have a heavy-duty nut cracker. I’ve read about people who just run over them with their car to minimize the hassle, but the hassle is worth it!
  • Certain Walnut specific diseases exist. Choose disease resistant varieties to avoid these problems.
  • Rodents can be a problem for seedlings and young trees – they like to eat the bark.

Usually grafted from improved varieties. Walnuts grown from seed or wild stock typically have nuts that do not taste as good, and they also take longer to start producing a harvest; however, they are just fine for wood. If starting from seed, they will need 90 days stratification.
If planning on using as lumbar, then prune for a strong central leader. Otherwise, they don’t need much once established.

  • This is a large tree. Only raise it if you have the space or plan on cutting it down before it gets too large.
  • Walnut roots and leaves produce juglone, a chemical that inhibits the growth of certain plants. Make sure that surrounding trees and underplanted plants can tolerate juglone.

Revisiting a Black Walnut Plantation

Twenty years ago, I planted 1,600 black walnut seedlings on a site a few miles outside of Barre, in central Vermont. Four years later, I planted another 700. A dairy farm had operated on the site for many years before the cows made way for a ginseng grower in the 1970s. When I acquired the property, I felt an historical pull to keep at least part of the land working. When I began building my home, the excavator operator’s enthusiastic reaction to the quality and depth of the soil firmed my resolve.

So, without any previous silvicultural experience, I decided to become a tree farmer. Veneer quality black walnut timber would be my crop. I wasn’t the first person to try to grow walnut in Vermont, but I couldn’t find evidence that it had been previously attempted on this large a scale. Our county forester helped me to obtain a $3,000 cost-share stipend from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and I was committed. I bought one-, two- and three-year-old bareroot seedlings from New York, Michigan, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

The seedlings were planted 12 feet apart on a five-acre rectangle, each within five-foot-tall plastic tree shelters secured to wooden stakes. I applied glyphosate herbicide around the base of each tree annually for the first six growing seasons, as I had gleaned from my readings that fledgling black walnut plantations frequently fail without the elimination of competing vegetation.

Mortality was less than 15 percent over the first 10 years, occurred mainly over the winter, and was highest in the Pennsylvania-sourced cohort. Nonfatal winter dieback and late spring frost damage were common. Bud destruction caused by insects was ubiquitous and remains so, which makes corrective pruning to maintain timber form essential.

During the first few years, the plastic tree shelters regularly toppled over in strong winds. In dismay, I spent long hours replacing snapped stakes and setting things aright. Less tipsy were the shorter, four-foot shelters I used in subsequent plantings. Although the shelters eventually ended up in the landfill, they provided invaluable protection from deer and rodents and made herbicide applications quite straightforward.

The trees have grown vigorously and some are almost 50 feet tall. I still assiduously prune them in the late fall and over the winter. Two years ago, it became apparent that a major thinning was needed and I culled about 350 trees, which had no real commercial value beyond being really expensive firewood. Unhappily, yellow-bellied sapsuckers have also become involved in thinning the stand. Their tapping activities have maimed or killed dozens of trees, and they seem to have a knack for targeting trees based on their potential timber quality; they have eliminated some excellent trees and I’ve yet to find a way to thwart their activities.

My plantation has come a long way since Vermont Woodlands ran a short piece about it in the Autumn 1994 issue. The trees are now firmly established, timber form is generally good, and copious nuts are being produced. The local squirrels love me.

The key factors that have led to success, beyond hard work, include a good site (crucial), cold tolerant seedlings, early control of competing vegetation, and prevention of animal predation. It is likely that the moderating effect of climate change has favored the vitality of these trees. I consider myself, for better or worse, an agent of tree migration. However, any pride I take in this project is frequently tempered by the realization that it won’t be completed until the trees are mature…in about 50 years.

This series is underwritten by the Plum Creek Foundation, in keeping with the foundation’s focus on promoting environmental stewardship and place-based education in the communities it serves.


Black Walnut

By Martin Shervey

Black Walnut is one of the Midwest’s most valuable tree species based on price per board foot. Black Walnut can also produce edible nuts along with beauty.

Black Walnut can be used as food, wildlife attractant, beauty, and lumber, which has been in high demand throughout the world. Walnuts also provide light shade and a bright yellow fall color.

Propagation of Black Walnut

Black Walnut grows throughout the U.S. and Canada. It requires at least 25 inches of precipitation and 140 frost-free days each year. It grows best in soil that is deep, fertile, and moist but well drained. It does not grow well in shallow, dry, sandy, gravelly, or rocky soil. When choosing a site to grow walnut, you should look for a site with good airflow, but not windy, and in the sun.

The first thing in planting Black Walnut trees is to decide what purpose you want to plant them for. There are three main ways of planting Black Walnuts. Each way has a different primary use for the tree.

Lumber Production

If you are planting for timber production, you should plant your trees relatively close together. This encourages the trees to grow straight and self-prune themselves. The trees will grow more slowly, but the growth rings will be closer together; this is desirable in lumber. If you mix in white pines with walnuts, this will help control weeds. They can also be mixed in with red oak and white or green ash. Black Walnut should be thinned out and pruned to increase the quality of lumber at 10 year intervals.

Nut Production

Walnut trees grown for nut production should be grown farther apart to increase crown size and speed of growth. Nut production sites may be grown on poorer quality sites than lumber production because their lumber value is lower. It generally takes about 10 years for trees to produce nuts and best nut production begins at 30 years of age. Sod should be eliminated because it reduces nut production.


This is when you grow another crop in-between the rows of trees. Plants that can grow by Black Walnuts are Multiflora Rose, Black Raspberry, Morning Glory, Melons, etc. A list is provided at the Ohio State University Extension web site for which plants you can plant and which you cannot.

Black walnut can be planted as either seedlings or nuts. Seedling plantings are more reliable. The stock used should originate no more than 200 miles south or 50 miles north of the planting site.

Planting Nuts

Nuts should be collect from trees with good stem form of large nuts with a high percentage of kernels. They should be collected in September and October after they have fallen from the tree. The husks should be removed immediately and rinsed with water. Then place the nuts a pail of water and discard the nuts that float, for the nuts that sink are more likely to germinate. Walnut requires stratification before they will germinate. Small quantities can be stratified in a refrigerator but large quantities can be stratified by being placed in a pit and covered by 1 to 2 feet of mulch and left over winter. Then plant the nuts in the spring in 1 to 2 inch deep holes, 2 nuts to a hole. After germination, remove the weaker seedling to allow adequate growing space.

Planting Seedlings

This is a more reliable way to start Walnut trees. Seedling size should be ¼ to 3/8-inch in caliper one inch above the root collar. Planting should take place before bud break. Tree shelters help protect seedlings form animal damage.

Seed Harvest

Black Walnut harvest takes place from August through September, in Minnesota. The nuts should be allowed to ripen on the tree. This can be observed when the husk changes from solid green to yellowish green. The nut should have the husks removed before storage because the husk can discolor the nut and ruin the flavor.

The nuts should be checked for injury by placing them in water. Injured nuts will float in the water. Placing the good nuts in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area for two weeks should cure the nuts. The nuts should then be stored in a well-ventilated area at 60 degrees Fahrenheit or less.


Black Walnut prices for lumber can vary depending on vicinity to a lumber mill. The price of nuts is about $0.6375 an ounce for shelled nuts.

The tree cost can be about $78 for a 2-inch caliper tree to $64 for a 1.5-inch tree.


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