Almonds are all the rage at the moment and a lot of growers and farmers have cleared their land of everything else to try growing almonds exclusively. Just look at California, where nearly 7,000 farmers grew 2.26 billion pounds of almonds last year.
Never fear, you can grow almonds on a small scale as well. Whether you have a homestead or a small urban garden, many varieties of almonds are naturally compact. If you have a larger plant, you can easily prune it to your desired height.
Ready to have your mind blown? Almonds are technically not a nut. They’re related to stone fruit like peaches and cherries. It’s less surprising to know that they’re high in monounsaturated fats, vitamin E and protein, which is why some people call them a super food.
Almonds have a long history of being cultivated dating back to pre-biblical times. The Romans gifted almonds to newlyweds believing they were a fertility charm that would set the married couple up for many children.
In the 1700s, almonds were taken to California, but it would be many years later before growing almonds became a successful endeavor covering more than half a million acres.
Varieties of Almonds
There are two types of almonds – sweet and bitter. You only want sweet. Bitter almonds contain cyanide.
Mission or Texas mission is tolerant of soil that is less than ideal so it’s good for both home and commercial growing. This type produces later than most varieties and its nut is shorter.
Carmel is one of the most popular to grow in the home orchard. If you buy from a nursery, see if you can get Carmel grafted to Nemaguard or Lovel peach rootstock. This is quite common because of the excellent results this grafting produces.
Carmel is one of the smaller varieties, so if space is an issue, this is the one for you.
Another great almond for the home orchard is neplus ultra. The nut is long and the shell softer than most other almonds.
Nonpareil is a variety ready for harvest around August or September. It has a long and soft shell so it’s good for commercial production, but is good for the home orchard as well.
Monterey is a short tree, but it spreads wide.
This is the type of almond I would recommend you start with. It’s a dwarf variety so it doesn’t take up a lot of space and it’s self-pollinating, so no need for a second tree.
Other worthwhile varieties include:
How to Grow Almonds
The key to growing almonds is to remember that they’re native to the Middle East and Southeast Asia where the temperatures are consistently hot. As long as they get similar conditions, the plants will thrive.
Almonds grow in zones 5 to 9. They require mild winters and long hot summers.
Almonds require full sun. Protect the trees from strong winds especially in their first few years.
Almonds need loose loamy soil. Their roots extend a long way and they don’t like hard compact soil. The earth must also be well-draining. Almond roots rot if they get too wet.
Although almond trees aren’t fussy, the best production comes from soil that is 6.5 to 8 pH.
When to Plant
Plant in late spring when you are confident there won’t be any frost. Almond trees will more than likely die if temperatures drop below 50°F. Plant germinated seeds in the late winter or early spring. Plant un-germinated seeds in the fall.
Although almonds prefer being in the ground, you can plant them in containers. You need a container of at least 20 gallons. Fill with a blend of sand and a high-quality potting mix.
Water the container well until moisture drips out the bottom drainage holes. Allow the soil to dry out to about three inches deep before watering again.
Fertilize in spring and prune in the dormant season. Use liquid fertilizer if necessary when watering.
You can grow an almond tree from a nut but it’s a long and uncertain process. It’s much better to plant a tree from a reputable nursery.
If you still want to grow from a nut you need at least ten almonds still in their shells and place in a bowl of water. After eight hours crack the shell to expose the nut, but don’t crack all the way or remove the shell.
Place in a container lined with damp paper towels and cover in plastic wrap before placing in the fridge for around two months.
Once this stratification process is complete, plant in seed raising mix in containers and water once a week until germination.
Most almonds are not self-fertile and need another tree to assist in pollination. Not all almonds pollinate each other, either, so talk to your local nursery to see what pollination pairs work well in your area. Garden prince is a self pollinator, so it’s a good option if it grows in your zone.
Almonds have deep roots so the soil needs to be loose and loamy. Make sure you have added well-rotted organic matter to the soil. Dig a hole twice the size of your root ball and lower the plant in carefully.
Once you’ve backfilled the hole, water in well and stake the tree for the first year of growth.
Space your almond trees around 15 to 25 feet apart depending on the mature size.
Caring for Almond Trees
Fertilize in spring. Use a good quality fertilizer and sprinkle around the dripline of the tree before watering in well. Fertilize again in the fall before dormancy.
Although almonds grow in arid environments, they’re not totally drought resistant. They may survive dry years, but the harvest will be affected.
In the first two years, water regularly, at least once every week or two. After that, water the plants with a deep soak every three weeks or so, being careful not to drown the roots in water. Allow the surface to dry out before watering again.
Almonds benefit from pruning. I prune if there are diseased limbs, branches rubbing or to maintain size and shape. Only prune in the dormant season because almonds bloom on the new year’s growth.
You should also shape the tree during the first year’s dormancy. This video will show you how:
Companion Planting for Growing Almonds
Almond works well planted alongside a variety of herbs.
Don’t plant almonds with tomatoes and potatoes.
Common Problems and Solutions for Growing Almonds
Unfortunately, almonds suffer from a variety of issues. Don’t let that put you off, with a little care, they can be productive and happy.
Yellow or brown spots appear on the leaves and sometimes you’ll see little webs. That’s when you know you have spider mites. These tiny arachnids can damage an almond tree enough to kill it. Spray the tree with a strong blast of water to knock them loose and then use neem oil regularly to keep them away.
There are some insects that seem to infest everything you plant, and leaf rollers are one of them. They’re small caterpillars that embed themselves on the backs of leaves and roll them up with silk to form a shelter.
As the caterpillars grow, they feed on the leaf. A few of these aren’t a big deal – just remove the leaf and discard in the garbage. If there are a lot, however, the almond tree may suffer defoliation which affects your harvest. Use neem oil regularly to make the leaves unpalatable for this caterpillar. You can also use an insecticide during the dormant period.
Borers are a group of insects rather than just one. Any insect that bores into the tree has the potential to destroy it. Peachborers and peach twig borers tend to attack almonds in particular.
Borer young eat their way through any living tissue and cause the tree to be stressed or even kill the tree if the infestation is bad enough. The best defense is to have a healthy almond tree by keeping it well-fed and mulched with just enough water. I had a bad infestation and treated it with carbaryl which fixed the problem.
These caterpillars feed from April to June and make the tree leaves look like little skeletons. If there are a few only, remove the leaves or branches and destroy. If there is an infestation, use an organic insecticide.
Sap sucking monsters like scale literally drain the life from your almond tree. Their excrement, which is called honeydew, also attracts ants and other pests. I avoid scale with regular sprays of organic neem oil. You can also use an insecticide during dormancy.
Hull rot is a devastating fungal disease that affects the size of your harvest, the health of the leaves and the wood of the tree.
Initially, you’ll see leaves on random branches wither and die. Then, as the nut hulls split naturally, you’ll see black spores on the outside and inside of the hull with the nut rotted. If the infestation is bad, the infected branches die off.
Hull rot is caused by overwatering, overfeeding and over-fertilizing. Too much nitrogen is an invitation for fungal diseases in almond trees. Carmel, Monterey, and Fritz have the most resistance to hull rot. Nonpareil, Winters, and butte are the most susceptible.
Crown gall is a bacteria in the soil that causes growths to form on the roots and branches of growing almond trees. If you spot these spongy galls, which typically show up near the base of the tree, prune out any infection if you can. Otherwise, apply Gallex to the tree.
The best prevention is to purchase resistant varieties and avoid ones like Lovell peach and Nemaguard, which are susceptible.
This powdery mildew fungus typically impacts the hulls of growing almonds. The nuts aren’t usually impacted. Treat it with sulfur sprays or a fungicide during the jacket split and mid-spring.
Pavement and southern fire ants feed on hosts found around almond trees and they can damage nuts that drop to the ground. Keep weeds out of your orchard and use cover crops around the trees. You can use ant baits prior to harvest time and be sure to grab your almonds off the ground as soon as possible so the ants don’t destroy them.
Almond Kernel Shrivel
Almond trees impacted by kernel shrivel bloom later than healthy trees. It can also stunt new growth and cause leaves to be smaller than they would be otherwise. It’s particularly prevalent on trees that are planted on peach tree rootstock. Remove diseased trees and only purchase from sources that are certified disease-free.
Wilt is caused by a fungus that attacks many different kinds of plants. It causes leaves to yellow and stunts tree growth.
You can’t cure it, so prevent it by watering at the base of plants, keep plants healthy and well-fertilized, and use a cover crop like corn, barley, or wheat prior to planting. You can also solarize the soil before planting.
Almonds are ready to harvest when the husk splits. Usually, the higher nuts split first, around August to September if you live in the northern hemisphere. Trees start producing 2-4 years after planting.
I leave my almonds on the tree until at least 90% of them have split. If you have squirrels this may not be an option.
Pick all of the almonds you can reach, including those that have already fallen on the ground. I use a stick or grabber to reach the higher ones. This is where keeping your tree to a manageable height comes in handy!
If I have a big harvest, I place a tarp under the tree to catch any that fall. Shaking the tree often makes them fall as well. Get the kids involved because harvesting almonds is fun and takes a lot of energy.
Once you’ve collected the almonds, the next step is to remove the husk by hand and dry the nuts in the sun. Simply remove the husk and lay the nuts in a sunny area, protected by netting. Turn or shake them every so often.
After a couple of days, crack one open and test if the nut is hard and dry. If it’s soft and rubbery, it’s not dry enough. Repeat this test each day until the nut is dry. You should be able to hear the nut rattle around inside. Almonds not dry enough will get mold on the inside.
Store dry almonds in a container for up to eight months or in the fridge for up to a year, but to be honest, they never last that long in my house.
The Bottom Line
Almond milk, almond paste, almond flour or good old sliced almonds – the options are endless. There’s something so fulfilling about growing almonds in your garden, not to mention the stunning floral display they give you each spring. If you have any amazing uses for almonds, let us know!