For some of us, winter wouldn't be complete without hazelnuts. Baked with herbs, roasted on an open fire, or crushed over a chocolate cake, the buttery crunch is hard to beat. They aren't just good during the holidays, though. Nuts are a good source of protein to have around, and they store nicely for a long time.
Beyond eating, hazelnuts are also a good source of material for wattle fencing and basket weaving. Your livestock will appreciate the leaves and twigs, as well. The nuts and leaves even have some medicinal uses.
Unlike some other nuts we could mention, growing hazelnuts is a cinch. On top of that, they produce quickly, so you don't have to wait a decade for your first harvest. So if you've been looking for a good source of healthy food to grow in your garden that won't take up a ton of room and that you can start enjoying in just a few years, the hazelnut is the perfect option.
We'll tell you how to get started and how to make your hazelnut plants thrive.
In general, hazelnuts grow about 12-feet high and 18-feet wide, though you can control this somewhat. That means they are small enough for easy management. Because of their small size and because the nuts readily fall off the tree, no ladders or special equipment is necessary to collect your harvest.
The plants produce sweet nuts in the late summer and into fall. They start bearing after 3-5 years, which is much sooner than other nuts. Walnuts take 7-10 years to begin to be productive, and pecans take ten or more years. Following are a few of our favorite varieties.
Barcelona is the primary variety grown in the Pacific Northwest, making up 60% of commercial acreage. It's also popular with home growers because of its heavy yield of large, flavorful nuts. However, it prefers a little shade in hot, sunny areas. It grows about 18-feet tall and ripens in August.
The Daviana is a good companion for the Barcelona variety because they cross-pollinate freely. It grows 15-feet tall and ripens in August.
3. American Hazelnut
The American hazelnut is native to the eastern and midwestern parts of the United States. Modern cultivars are resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight and produce small, thick-shelled nuts in the fall. Grows to be about 18-feet tall.
4. Beaked Hazel
The beaked hazel is native to Northern US and southern Canada, and along areas of the Pacific Northwest and New England. For the past few decades, it has been quarantined in some areas of the US because it has been decimated by Eastern Filbert Blight. Now, you can find disease-resistant varieties in nurseries. This smaller tree grows to about 12-feet tall and can even be grown in a container. Ripens in August.
This compact shrub produces proportionally small nuts. It also has a beautiful fall color. The bush hazel is a petite variety, growing up to 10-feet tall, but you can maintain it as small as 6-feet. It can also be grown in a container.
This plant is relatively new to the scene. It was produced by Oregon State University to be immune to blight and to resist mold. Produces medium-sized nuts just 2 to 3 years after planting, with a high nut-to-shell ratio. Grows up to 12-feet and ripens in September.
Another cultivar from Oregon State University, it's also resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight. Grows 12-feet high and ripens in September.
8. Hall's Giant
As the name suggests, this plant produces huge fruits, though the tree itself only gets about 10-feet tall. It can resist poor weather conditions, but it does prefer a little shade in hot, sunny areas. Ripens in August. This is one of the few hazelnuts that you can grow without a second tree for pollination, though your yields may be smaller than they would be otherwise.
If you want to grow hazelnuts for desserts, the Wepster is your cultivar. It was developed by the baking industry to produce a high yield of ideally shaped, medium-sized, flavorful nuts. It's also resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight. Grows about 8 to 12-feet tall. Ripens in September.
10. Tonda di Giffoni
This European cultivar is prized for its delicious round nuts. It flowers early in the season and fruits ripen from August to September. Grows about 12-feet tall.
The hazelbert is a close relative of the hazelnut developed by plant breeder Fred Ashworth. He crossed the American hazelnut with the larger European filberts to create a hardier and more prolific producer. They are a compact tree that grows 8-12 feet tall. The bushy trees produce gallons of tasty nuts per plant each year. Must be planted with another hazelbert to pollinate.
Hazelnuts grow readily in zones 4–9, and some can even handle zone 3 depending on the variety. They can withstand temperatures to 15 F, but anything below that during the blooming season may cause crop loss.
Hazelnuts can handle anything from loamy to clay soil, but don't do well in peaty or wet areas. Avoid overly rich soil because it will cause the tree to leaf at the expense of fruit.
Mature plants are drought tolerant and appreciate a well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5.
When growing hazelnuts, they can handle a little shade, especially in hot and dry areas. They need at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day to produce well. The shadier the spot, the fewer fruits the tree will produce.
When to Plant
Hazelnut transplants are best planted in early to late winter when the plants are dormant, and heat won't shock the tree.
If growing hazelnuts from seed, plant them outdoors or indoors in the fall.
Hazelnuts grow fairly quickly with a gain of 13–24 inches per year according to the Arbor Day Foundation.
Growing From Seeds
If you have the time, you can grow hazelnuts from seeds. Plant the nuts in a 6-inch pot filled with potting soil or outside in the garden at least 15-feet apart. Seeds need to be scored, which means to use a file and scribe a small “slash” in the outer coat of the seed. This will help with germination.
Plant seeds in the fall and keep them in a protected during the winter with a thick layer of mulch or a cold frame. You can also plant them in a pot and keep them protected in a greenhouse or indoors. They take several months to germinate so be patient. Wait for the seedling to reach 8-10 inches tall before transplanting.
Hazelnuts planted from seeds will take 7-8 years to become productive.
Growing From Suckers or Runners
Another method for growing hazelnuts is to find a thicket of wild hazelnuts or have a friend who is willing to share. Hazelnuts can be propagated from underground runners or the suckers that pop up around the bush. After the tree has gone dormant in late fall, dig up a sucker and its roots, or dig into the root ball and pull out a runner with roots attached.
Plant in a prepared bed with about 20 feet between the future plants. To make the bed, mix your existing soil with peat or sphagnum moss, vermiculite, and potting soil until you have an airy mixture. I generally use two parts of moss to one part vermiculite and add that to five parts of existing soil and five parts potting soil.
Plant the roots about 12-inches below the topsoil line and heap soil around any stems that extend above the ground. Water thoroughly.
Growing From Transplants
The most common way to plant hazelnuts is to purchase seedlings from a nursery. These are young trees usually one to three feet tall. Plant them 20 feet apart in full sun.
Dig a large hole, at least twice as large as the root ball so that the roots can get off to a good start. I like to remove the sod or top layer of the soil and put this on my compost pile because it has grass and weed roots which can repopulate.
Then I add some peat moss and potting soil to the existing earth in the hole to improve water retention and drainage, if needed. You can also add sand if you have heavy clay. Hazelnuts like well-drained soil.
Set the plant in the hole, but don't place it too deeply. Hazelnut roots like to grow near the surface.
Finally, backfill the hole and press the soil down with your feet to remove any air pockets. Give the plant a good soak.
How to Care for Hazelnuts
Hazelnuts are relatively easy to care for and don't usually require any special treatment. Though hazelnut can handle dry conditions, they do best if you water them regularly with at least 1-inch of water every 10 days.
In spring hazelnut bushes produce yellowish male catkins and tiny red female flowers on the same plant. Hazelnuts form catkins and flowers early in the spring – mid-March in the Midwest where I live – and won't form leaves till several weeks later.
Because they flower so early, insects are still dormant, so wind has to do the work of pollination. That's good news because it means don't have to wait for bees or butterflies and you don't have to do any manual pollination, as some fussy plants require.
Even though they produce both male and female flowers, they still require cross-pollination with another hazelnut. Plant in pairs or be sure that a nearby neighbor has some hazelnut plants.
Nut clusters, called burrs, form about the same time the plant leaves out. The burrs contain anywhere from one to twelve nuts inside. Nuts mature inside the burr and are ripe in the fall.
Hazelnuts will naturally grow into a shrub, but you can also prune them into the shape of a tree. To form a tree, choose six strong branches near the upper part of the bush and trim everything below, as well as any low-hanging branches.
If you allow them to take their natural shape, you won't need to do much pruning. Snip the suckers that grow out of the roots and thin the bush evenly on occasion in the winter when the plant is dormant.
Fertilize the plants in spring with well-rotted organic matter or a well-balanced fertilizer sprinkled into the drip line of the tree. Granular fertilizer should be worked into the earth surrounding the tree. Use 2 pounds of fertilizer per 100 square feet of soil.
Common Hazelnut Pests and Diseases
The hazelnut is trouble by the nut weevil. Nut weevils are small brown beetles that are widespread throughout the United States. The nut weevil attacks and damages the kernels while they are still developing. You know you have weevils when you see a tiny hole drilled into the side of the nut.
Control by raking up fallen fruits in the fall and spraying with an insecticide in the spring. It is important to pick up the nuts every day so that the weevil does not escape and go into the soil.
Once in the soil, they will dig down and overwinter, re-appearing in the spring to lay eggs in your hazelnuts.
European Filbert Blight
Hazelnut is susceptible to a fungus known as Eastern Filbert Blight, which has decimated orchards in the Pacific Northwest.
Infected branches will wither, and trees will lose leaves. Later, bumps form on twigs that rupture fungal spores in August or July. Eventually, the bush will die.
To spot, keep an eye out for cankers on the branches. You can control the fungus with an anti-fungal application four times a year. These days, there are so many cultivars that are immune to the fungus that we recommend you start out with one to save yourself any trouble in the future.
Hazelnuts are also susceptible to filbertworm, which acts similar to the nut weevil, boring a hole into the shell of the nut. This can be controlled in a similar way.
Hazelnut mosaic can cause leaf yellowing and may reduce yields. Thermotherapy is the most effective way to treat the virus.
Hazelnuts are attacked by insects called Filbert or Hazelnut aphids. They are medium to small insects that feed on the leaves and husks of the plant, reducing the fill and size of the nut. Light infestations probably won't cause an issue, and you can just wipe or spray aphids off the plant using a strong stream of water. Heavy infestations need to be treated using an insecticidal spray or by introducing Trioxys pallidus, a parasitic wasp that controls aphids.
Tent caterpillars impact hazelnuts and many other trees in the Pacific Northwest. You can spot them by the large egg masses on twigs. You can remove the masses or spray them off using a strong stream of water. Rake up and dispose of any egg masses.
Like many nut trees, hazelnuts can also be attacked by root rot, powdery mildew, bacterial blight, and cankers.
There are hundreds of hazelnut cultivars, so when you decide on what to grow, consider the pests in your area and select a variety that is resistant.
Best Companion Plants for Hazelnuts
Nitrogen-fixing plants like crimson clover or white clover, or plants that attract pollinators and improve soil like comfrey make good companions for growing hazelnuts.
Primrose, coriander, currant, asparagus, and garlic also make good companion plants for a hazelnut.
Avoid planting with fennel, beets or leeks.
Harvesting and Storing
Hazelnuts start producing three to five years after planting. Nuts are usually harvested in August and September, or as late as October depending on your agricultural zone and variety. As the leaves and burrs start to turn color, you can begin to harvest.
If you don't want to go to all the work of harvesting off of the tree, you can let the nuts fall to the ground and rake them up every few days. Keep in mind that hungry animals may make off with your bounty if you let them fall.
Otherwise, the nuts are easy to shuck from the burr. Simply shake the tree. Mature plants yield about one to two gallons of nuts per bush or up to 20 pounds.
The nuts need to dry for several days before storing. You can lay them out on a tarp in sunny weather or on a rack inside.
You can store them in the freezer for up to six months. If you are like me, they won't last that long!
Roasting hazelnuts are easy. Just lay them out still in the shell, in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast at 350 degrees for thirty minutes. I stir them up a little about halfway through. Roasted nuts can store up to two years.
Now for the best part of growing hazelnuts: cooking them. Hazelnuts can be eaten raw or cooked. Like most nuts, hazelnuts are healthy for you. They are rich in many essential nutrients including 14 grams of protein per serving. Hazelnuts are rich in B vitamins and also have high amounts of thiamine B1 Niacin B3. They have 21% recommended daily value of Vitamin E and are rich in iron and magnesium.
Hazelnuts have heart-healthy omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. They are high in fiber and antioxidants particularly proanthocyanidins which have been shown in studies to fight cancer.
I think hazelnuts are great for breakfast. They are a nutritious start to the day and make my sweet tooth happy. I like to mix them with fruit and add them to oatmeal. For Sunday breakfast when I usually make something fancy for my family, I like to top off pancakes with roasted hazelnuts or pralines.
If you are a southerner, you know all about pralines. They're a traditional southern treat that is fun and easy to make.
To make pralines, melt one tablespoon butter into a pan and add 3/4 cup brown sugar and 3/4 cup granulated sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add 3/4 cup cream and 3 tablespoons butter. Stir the mixture constantly until everything is melted and has turned a caramel color.
Toss in your hazelnuts and bring to a soft boil. Stir occasionally. Once the syrup has reduced, scoop out the nuts and place them on parchment paper to dry.
Hazelnuts are also great added to salads and pasta dishes or churned into nut butter.
Other Hazelnut Uses
Even though it's most famous for its nuts, the hazelnut plant is useful to have around the farm for a number of different reasons.
Hazelnuts are a nice plant for landscaping. They have a pleasant shape and have showy catkins in the spring. The leaves are a dark, rich green and serrated and they have pretty red and orange fall foliage.
Another advantage of the hazelnut is they are great for hedgerows because they form a dense screen without growing too high or wide. They can also handle wind, so they make a good windbreak.
Hazelnut wood has a long history of use for fencing, walking sticks, fishing rods, and baskets. The long, malleable branches are perfect for coppicing in wattle fences and thatching spars. They were traditionally used for fences in Europe and early America.
Leaves from a hazelnut bush make good fertilizer. Use the leaves as mulch to help suppress weeds and make plants to thrive.
Oil from the hazelnut can lower cholesterol and is a powerful antioxidant. The nuts aren't the only useful part of the plant, medicinal extracts made from the leaves have been used in treating sore throat or diarrhea. When applied topically, a leaf extract is helpful in treating rashes, sunburn, and eczema. There is some evidence that hazelnuts can improve heart health.
After pruning, you can toss twigs to rabbits and goats for a meal. Cattle love to munch on the leaves.
Hazelnuts are versatile, hardy and beautiful. In fact, we can't think of a reason not to try growing hazelnuts in your garden. We'd love to hear about your favorite ways to eat them. Tell us your recipe in the comments below.