Nut trees may be established by planting seed, by planting trees, or by grafting onto established seedlings. Planting seed where the tree is desired eliminates the problem of successfully transplanting a tree. But because most nut species are not genetically uniform, variations in tree and nut characteristics are likely. An improved variety can later be grafted onto a seedling tree. Improved varieties can be grafted onto young wild seedling trees in areas where such seedlings are present.
Nut seeds have natural seed dormancy that must be overcome before they will germinate. The simplest method of breaking dormancy is planting the seed in the fall. However, the planted nut, however, must be protected from mice and other wildlife. Plant the seed about 2 inches deep. Cut the bottom out of an ordinary "tin" can and cut a 1-inch hole in the top. Push the can into the soil over the nut so that the top is about level with the ground and the hole in the top is directly over the nut. Mulch with straw but remove the mulch in early spring. Tin cans usually will rust out and do not need to be removed; aluminum cans must be removed before they damage the young tree by girdling or confinement.
For spring planting, seed dormancy can be broken by placing the nuts in damp (not soggy) peat moss or sawdust in a closed plastic bag and keeping them in the refrigerator for 6 to 12 weeks or until planting time. Plant the seeds 2 to 3 inches deep early in the spring.
Young nut trees (except filberts) have a long tap root with very little branching. After transplanting, the development of fibrous roots is slow. These root characteristics mean that nut trees are among the most difficult to transplant successfully. Extra care is required.
Late winter or early spring is the best time for planting. Trees should be planted immediately after they are received from the nursery.
Dig a hole that will accommodate the tap root without bending. Prune off any broken or damaged parts of roots. Place the tree in the hole at the same depth at which it was growing in the nursery. Fill in around the roots with loose soil, tamp firmly, then settle the soil around the roots with a bucket or 2 of water. Finish filling the hole with loose soil and settle it with more water. Then prepare a small catch basin around the trunk for future waterings. Protect the trunk from sun damage by wrapping with waterproof treewrapping paper or burlap.
Do not put fertilizer in the hole or on the soil surface after planting. Start fertilizer applications 1 year after transplanting.
During the first growing season the young tree will need watering every 10 to 14 days, depending on rainfall and temperature. The slowness to develop new roots puts a strain on the young tree. Partial shade during hot weather will help the tree survive the critical first summer. At the first sign of drooping or wilting of the new shoots, provide partial shade if watering does not correct the wilting.
Heavy pruning of the top is essential for survival. After planting the young tree, cut off about half of the top to balance the root loss in transplanting; make sure, however, that several good buds remain.