Growing Hazelnuts is about as worthwhile a green fingered activity as I can imagine. They bring with them so many benefits, from forage for local pollinators to coppice for crafting, to of course – Buckets of delicious, healthy nuts for your table.
The majority of the world’s Hazelnut cultivation can be found in Turkey, where they produce a whopping 550,000 tons of these delicious little nuts each year.
To put into perspective how far ahead of the pack Turkey is when it comes to growing Hazelnuts – Coming in at second place is Italy, at less than a fifth of that figure – 100,000 tons. That’s quite the lead.
Found naturally as an understory plant, when growing your own Hazelnut tree you should expect to see a mature height of around 20ft (~6m) – unless actively managed to remain below that.
Nuts for Nuts? Take a look at our Comprehensive Guide to Growing Sweet Chestnut Trees for a deep dive into this wonderful nutty world.
Hazel trees will grow as multi-stemmed shrubs, spreading wide and dense unless trained otherwise. Single-stemmed standard trees can be achieved through intensive training and pruning, however this is an ongoing and work-intensive process.
It’s a real shame that they aren’t grown here in the UK on anywhere near the same scale as our continental neighbours. Unlike Walnut and Sweet Chestnut trees – who at best view our climate as a bit of a challenge – Hazelnut trees are a native species, having thrived across the length and breadth of our rainy little island for at least 10,000 years.
Safe to say they feel pretty at home here.
And as we’ll explore further over the course of this article, the benefits on offer to both the person growing Hazelnuts and their surrounding environment – are numerous.
Food, materials, pollinator forage – there are a whole host of rewards to be reaped. So without further ado, let’s take a look.
Hazelnuts, Cobnut & Filberts : What’s the Difference?
Consider yourself a bit of a Nutter? Take a look at our Comprehensive Guide to Growing Walnut Trees for all the info you’ll need toget started.
Commercially cultivated Hazelnut trees are generally referred to as either ‘Cobnuts’ or ‘Filberts’, two similar yet distinct species of Hazel often confused for one another. Cobnuts trace their origins back to ‘Corylus Avellana’, the European Hazelnut tree, whereas Filberts trace their line back to ‘Corylus Maxima’ – The Balkan Hazelnut tree.
While both provide commercially viable Hazelnuts superior in size, taste and yield to the common Hazel, Cobnuts are generally eaten fresh rather than dried.
An easy way to spot the difference between the two is to look at the developing nut while still encased. Cobnuts have short husks, from which the nut itself protrudes. So if you can see a nut poking out from under its husk, you’ve got yourself a Cobnut. Filberts on the other hand have long casings, which envelop the nut entirely.
In truth, the whole Cobnut or Filbert debate is pretty convoluted. While each traces its origins back to a different sub-species of Hazelnut, both are used largely interchangeably to describe different commercially viable cultivars of Hazel.
I suppose for us hungry lay-men, all that matters is that both will provide all the benefits associated with this wonderful family of plants; Delicious, nutritious nuts, Ample coppice wood and a whole array of benefits for local wildlife.
What does a name matter.
Hazel Tree Uses
Timber & Coppice
For hundreds of years people have been growing Hazel trees for not only their ample supply of hazelnuts, but also for their excellent coppice.
In practice, coppicing is a form of woodland management where certain types of trees are allowed to grow for a set period before being cut back to ground level, at which point the cycle restarts.
Hazel trees are particularly suited to this kind of management; They grow quickly, produce very versatile wood and enjoy much longer lifespans as a result of being coppiced.
The wood harvested from a Hazel coppice can be used for a huge variety of purposes, largely depending on the size of the limbs when cut. Larger limbs were traditionally used for fencing & construction purposes due to their load-bearing strength, while smaller limbs were used for crafting, wattle fencing and framing due to their flexibility.
Of course if you don’t have a need for such materials, Hazel wood can always be used as a fuel.
Regardless of the intended use, managing a coppiced patch of woodland is wonderful for local wildlife. The intermittent removal of the canopy layer allows for light to reach the woodland floor, providing much needed breathing room for a whole range of flora and fauna to thrive.
Now while you can certainly still harvest an intermittent crop from this type of Hazel stand, it’s not really advisable. We’ve set our two hazel stands apart, maintaining the nut production with standard pruning techniques while coppicing our timber stand.
At the end of the day the choice is up to you. Whatever you decide, growing Hazel trees for coppice wood pays huge dividends not only to the grower but also the surrounding environment, and is a great addition to any patch of land.
Cooking & Nutrition
Of course for your average back-garden nut farmer, the quality and utility provided by a well managed coppice isn’t always going to be top of the list of concerns. It’s we came here for, and we would like them by the barrel full please.
Hazelnuts have long been used as a staple crop, with evidence dating back at least 8,000 years suggesting their harvest and processing all the way up in sunny Scotland. Those ancient Scots had good taste.
And it’s no surprise that we Humans have kept this nutritious little plant around for thousands of years since. The Hazelnut itself is an amazingly versatile crop, which grows quickly and easily across a huge range of climates.
Anybody not living under a rock will of course know about a certain chocolate / hazelnut spread which might just be (in my opinion) the most delicious thing to grace the Earth. But the Hazelnut is so much more than this.
It can be baked, ground or chopped into a whole range of both sweet & savory goods. Served fresh they’re delicately sweet, while roasted they take on a stronger, earthier flavour profile, perfect for fresh salads.
And they don’t just taste good, they’re also hugely nutritious additions to any balanced diet. Packed not only with a plethora of Nutrients & Minerals, but also a range of Antioxidants, adding hazelnuts to your diet has been linked to better cardiovascular health, decreased inflammation and even lower rates of cancer.
Easy to grow, nutritious, versatile and of course – Delicious. What’s not to love about the humble Hazelnut?
How to Care for your Hazelnut Tree
As with any gardening endeavour – When it comes to growing hazelnuts it pays to read up a little before digging your first hole. To that end, we’ve put together a quick overview of some of the essential steps involved in raising a happy, healthy hazelnut tree.
Planting Your Hazelnut Tree
When it comes to planting your Hazel tree, don’t worry too much about soil amendments and the like.
Hazels don’t particularly enjoy nutrient-rich soil, and will overcompensate with excessive leaf-growth and a distinct lack of hazelnuts if planted in such ground. Ideally they prefer to be placed in a spot with good drainage, but will usually get on just fine in anything less than a bog.
A light, relatively sandy soil is their preference, with a pH level between 6-7. Be sure to check your planting site with a pH Tester Kit before digging your hole, and amend as necessary to achieve the best results.
Once you’re happy with your proposed Hazel-home, dig out a hole twice as big as your Hazel tree’s root ball, once you’ve spread the roots out a little by hand.
Backfill with your excavated soil and feel free to amend the soil with any desired additions. We prefer to keep our amendments for top dressing as it doubles up as a weed-suppressing mulch, but in truth, either way will usually work just fine.
One amendment we’d highly recommend adding to your backfill however is a good Mycorrhizal Root Powder, to give the microbial life surrounding your growing Hazel tree as little kickstart.
Mycorrhizal activity is not yet fully understood, but is known to be an integral player in any plant’s ability to harvest resources from their local environment.
They are present in any and all soils, however a little addition is thought to speed up their population growth and in turn, help your Hazel tree grow bigger and stronger faster.
We’ve noticed this effect anecdotally since using this powder in all of our plantings and wouldn’t go without it nowadays.
Pruning Your Hazelnut Tree
Pruning your growing Hazelnut trees is a pretty simple endeavour. Firstly, think about whether you’d like to grow it as a standard tree or as the multi-stemmed shrub which comes naturally to the Hazel.
We’d advise growing Hazel trees in their natural, multi-stemmed form, as this significantly cuts down on the pruning required while making harvest significantly easier.
Either way, be sure to only prune your growing Hazel trees during their dormant period, to avoid damaging bleeding and an increased chance of disease infiltration.
Ensure that all tools are sharp enough to make a clean cut, and clean both before and between different individual plants to avoid spreading any unnoticed disease.
Pruning a multi-stemmed Hazel is a doddle. Simply remove any diseased, damaged or crossing branches on your first pass, taking a note of the overall shape of your Hazel tree.
Then, on your second pass prune for shape and light-penetration, removing enough anything up to ⅓ of your Hazels material in one calendar year.
If you decide however to grow your Hazel as a standard, you’ll have to put in a little more work to keep things ticking along.
Firstly, be sure to keep on top of the suckering stems which will sprout annually from the base of the plant. Designate a ‘Central Leader’ to give your Hazel structure and trim any lower limbs, creating a crown of fruiting branches surrounding the upper half of your central leader.
From here, simply prune as you would any other fruit or nut tree, looking for disease, damage and desired shape. Enough light should be allowed into the canopy in order to develop a healthy harvest.
Feeding & Watering Your Hazelnut Tree
Given their unfussy nature there’s not a huge deal to say with regards to feeding & watering growing hazelnut trees.
It will be beneficial to their growth to dress them at least annually with a good layer of organic mulch. We use a mixture of wood chips, horse manure and homemade compost from around the farm depending on what’s available.
No need to be too fussy – A thick layer of whatever organic mulch you can find will provide all the nutrients and weed-suppression needed to ensure a healthy year ahead for your growing Hazelnut tree.
With regards to watering, Hazel trees are pretty drought tolerant once established, but should be watered through any extended dry spells over the first 2-3 years of their lives.
Here in the Uk you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. There’s a reason Hazel trees have thrived in our climate for thousands of years at this point – They seem to quite like it! Imagine, enjoying the British weather? Madness.
Harvesting Your Hazelnuts
Hazelnut ripening is highly dependent on the weather, however will usually occur between September and October. Be sure to check regularly during this period, looking for changes in the papery outer husk of the Hazelnut itself.
You’re looking for a looser shell, slightly drawing back from the nut as a sign of ripening – However if ever in doubt, a good taste test will soon tell you whether your crop is ripe for the picking.
Picking can usually be carried out relatively easily by hand, given the manageable yield size and (generally) smaller overall size of Hazel trees. However, tools such as the Nut Wizard can make this job a little easier if you prefer.
As with any nut crop – The Grey Squirrel will be your main contender when growing Hazelnut trees for their outstanding crops. Turns out they love those little nuts just as much as we do. Game on.
It’ll of course be area dependent, with more built-up areas of the country perhaps having no issues with these grey-haired nut-burglars.
However if you do live in a Squirrel hotspot, tools such as nets, sprays and traps can be used to try and stem this problem, as well as keeping an active presence around your growing Hazel trees once the nuts start to emerge.
Take this into consideration before diving head first into growing hazelnuts and line up your plan of attack well in advance, would be my advice.
Storing Your Hazelnuts
You’ve spent all year lovingly tending to your growing Hazelnuts; Feeding, watering, battling the tide of fluffy tailed marauders – But you’d rather not finish off 10kg of hazelnuts in one sitting. What to do ..
Store the little bleeders.
Luckily for us spoiled gardeners, hazelnuts make reasonably good storers, staying fresh for around six months in a fridge and far longer still in a freezer.
They can be stored in or out of their husks, although we prefer to de-husk before placing them into long-term storage.
If you’re struggling for space however, fear not – Drying Hazelnuts and storing them in jars or vacuum containers also works extremely well, keeping your nuts fresh for anything up to six months with no need for refrigeration.
Common Pests & Diseases
Interested in effective, organic methods to reduce pests and disease throughout your garden? Check out our posts on both Companion Planting & Attracting Ladybirds to kick your pest-control into overdrive.
Having written about both Sweet Chestnut & Walnut Trees and their specific – often quite deadly diseases – it brings me nothing but joy to say that growing Hazelnut trees in the UK is a generally worry-free exercise.
What a relief.
There are no major pests or diseases which trouble the Hazel tree. Aphids & Gall mites have been known to attack them causing minor damage, but aren’t considered to be of any major concern.
So; If the barrels of healthy, delicious nuts, the great environmental credentials and ample coppice wood wasn’t reason enough for you to cover the garden in Hazel – How about its almost spotless health record?
This growing Hazelnuts business is looking more and more attractive by the minute.
Best UK Hazel Tree Cultivars
Take a look at our post dedicated entirely to the Best Hazelnut Cultivars for an in depth look at a whole range of different choices when it comes to growing hazelnuts. There’s sure to be at least one or two cracking varieties there for you.
And there we have it, a comprehensive overview of everything you’ll need to know before diving head first into growing Hazelnuts of your very own.
As always I hope this guide has been useful. If you’d like to be kept in the loop of whatever comes next from us here at the EcoGeeks then please feel free to subscribe below.
Have a great day.