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My Walnut Trees Don't Produce Nuts

 
Bethanny Parker
Posts: 26
Location: Grant, MI
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I have two black walnut tress on my property, but we have been living here for two years, and so far, haven't gotten any nuts. I have found an odd nut here or there in the yard, but I've never seen any in the trees and I only ever find one at a time, so it may just be that the squirrels have dragged them home. (I get an occasional corncob from the farmer's field across the road too.)

I have come up with a few things that could be problems, but of course there is no way of really knowing for sure why. I just want to come up with a list of practical things I can try to see if we can get some nuts out of those trees. The only tips I have really seen are pruning or girdling the branches or protecting the trees from frost. These trees are probably 50 feet tall, so those really aren't practical solutions. I wonder if there is something I can plant under the walnut trees that will help them.

Our soil is wet and has a lot of clay in it. We are right next to a wetland. I have read that walnuts like well-drained sandy or loamy soil with plenty of organic matter. Maybe planting things like comfrey and chickory underneath would help?

I also read somewhere that walnut trees have a two-year process for producing nuts and can get into an every-other-year cycle of nut production if something happens to make the yield extremely high or low one year. Well, the first year we were here, our winter was the mildest I have ever seen in Michigan. I heard that a lot of fruit trees had issues with production that year, so I wasn't too worried when we didn't get any walnuts. We also had a pretty dry summer.

The second year, winter was normal, but the culvert going under the road right next to our house got clogged and the water from the ditch was diverted into our yard when the snow melted in the spring. Our whole back yard was basically a swimming pool (a very cold one) for at least a week. Walnut trees don't like their roots to be saturated, so that could also be part of our problem. The culvert has been replaced, so hopefully that won't be an issue anymore. Of course, this year we have about the worst winter I've ever seen--there's just no end to the weird weather, is there?

Since we have only been here two years, I don't know if these trees have ever produced. All I have to go on is the past two years.

Does anyone have any ideas? I'm going to get walnuts this year even if I have to forage, but it would sure be nice to have them in my own back yard.
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1570
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Bethanny Parker wrote:so it may just be that the squirrels have dragged them home.


This.

We also have a walnut tree, along with a few cobnuts. The local squirrel population strip every nut from every tree before they ripen. We then get walnuts sprouting all over the place where they buried them and forgot.

Last summer I trapped and shot 17 squirrels in our garden over a month or so and barely made a noticeable dent in the local population.
 
John Elliott
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Anything you plant under the black walnuts will probably be killed by the juglone they give off. They really like to be by themselves, to the point that they go to chemical warfare with other plants to make sure they are left alone.

I know that southern Minnesota is iffy for nut production, because they get a late freeze, and walnuts are sensitive to frost damage in the flowering stage. But you said you had mild winters, so that is probably not the culprit.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe your soil can be improved by digging in a lot of limestone or marble chips. Besides improving the drainage, it will add a lot of calcium to the soil and harden the water. Calcium does help to break up clay, that's why gypsum is a recommended amendment for clay soils. Black walnuts really do well in the Ozarks, and that area is thin soil on top of lots and lots of limestone. If you can trench a foot deep along the drip line and backfill it with limestone or marble chips, I'll bet you would see an improvement.
 
Afghani Nurmat
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Location: southern germany
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Hi there,
maybe a bit off-topic, but how is calcium going to break up clay? don`t want to wiseguy or something; i`m just interested because my soil is based on limestone and under the two inches of topsoil there is a massive layer of minimum one foot clay/loam. would be so happy to find an alternative to digging up tons of clay to make growbeds for rootcrops (which i love).

and to the walnuts i can say with ours it was quite the same; less and less fruit every year. we did and still do take away the leaves in autumn, because if you let them rot on site nothing else will grow there except moss. then i figuered that does take away their mulch and started to replace that leaves with compost and i think it made the difference. it has only been two years though and maybe we just had better weather conditions.

take care,
afghani
 
Bethanny Parker
Posts: 26
Location: Grant, MI
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John Elliott wrote:I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that maybe your soil can be improved by digging in a lot of limestone or marble chips. Besides improving the drainage, it will add a lot of calcium to the soil and harden the water. Calcium does help to break up clay, that's why gypsum is a recommended amendment for clay soils. Black walnuts really do well in the Ozarks, and that area is thin soil on top of lots and lots of limestone. If you can trench a foot deep along the drip line and backfill it with limestone or marble chips, I'll bet you would see an improvement.


Thanks for the suggestion. Is there a reason for doing it at the dripline as opposed to closer to the tree? Sorry if it's a dumb question: On the scale of permaculture knowledge, even though I've been trying to soak up all the knowledge I can for months, I still feel like I'm pretty close to "newbie."
 
wayne stephen
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Bethanny , How close are your trees to other trees ? Walnut trees that grow close to other hardwood trees - as in a forest - will grow straight trunked with little canopy . These trees have far less nut production than far spaced walnuts which have a full spread and low branches.
 
Bethanny Parker
Posts: 26
Location: Grant, MI
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wayne stephen wrote:Bethanny , How close are your trees to other trees ? Walnut trees that grow close to other hardwood trees - as in a forest - will grow straight trunked with little canopy . These trees have far less nut production than far spaced walnuts which have a full spread and low branches.


Uh-oh. Yep, my trees are surrounded by other trees and are tall with small canopies.
 
John Elliott
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Afghani Nurmat wrote:Hi there,
maybe a bit off-topic, but how is calcium going to break up clay? don`t want to wiseguy or something; i`m just interested because my soil is based on limestone and under the two inches of topsoil there is a massive layer of minimum one foot clay/loam. would be so happy to find an alternative to digging up tons of clay to make growbeds for rootcrops (which i love).


No problem going off on a tangent. The usual way of adding calcium to clay soils is by adding gypsum, which is calcium sulfate. It has low solubility, as does limestone (calcium carbonate) and the difference between the two is that sulfate stays in the soil and tends to lower the pH, whereas carbonate can volatilize as CO2 and it raises the pH. Either of these forms of calcium, added to the soil, provides a continuous source of Ca++ ions, which promotes flocculation, or clumping of the otherwise flat sheets of the clay structure.

Let me make an analogy and use a ream of paper to represent clay soil -- lots of sheets stacked up one on top of the other. If you pour some water on a ream of paper, most of it is going to slide off the top sheet and most of the sheets in the ream will stay dry. Now to represent the calcium ions, take some coins and start restacking the ream of paper with one sheet, a couple of coins, another sheet, a couple more coins, another sheet, a couple more coins, and so on. The stack has been expanded, the sheets of paper pushed apart. Now water doesn't slide off the top sheet, the space between the sheets is opened up for the water to flow into. If you take some sheets and fold them in half with a coin in between, well now you have opened up more space, which is what flocculants do.

Because of its solubility, calcium in soils is usually an all or nothing situation. In the clay soils of the southeastern states, all the calcium was washed out to sea over millions of years. I'm constantly adding gypsum and lime to get my calcium level up. Tomatoes will tell you when your soil calcium is low, because you will have problems with blossom end rot. On the other hand, many parts of the country used to be inland seas where thick beds of limestone were laid down. Think the Ozarks and Carlsbad Caverns -- or any place with limestone caves or grottoes. These areas have very hard water and all the problems that entails.

So if you have limestone and clay, the problem becomes one of making sure the two are well mixed. Having a lot of organic matter also helps, because the humic acids in the decaying organic matter will help to solubilize the clay and make it available to flocculate the clay.

 
wayne stephen
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Location: Western Kentucky-Climate Unpredictable Zone 6b
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Bethanny , Those 50ft tall straight trunked walnut trees are the most valuable lumber trees in North America . No reason to worry about the nuts .
 
Bethanny Parker
Posts: 26
Location: Grant, MI
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wayne stephen wrote:Bethanny , Those 50ft tall straight trunked walnut trees are the most valuable lumber trees in North America . No reason to worry about the nuts .


Maybe so, but I do like walnuts. I think I'll give them one more season before I decide to sell them for lumber.
 
John Elliott
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Bethanny Parker wrote: Is there a reason for doing it at the dripline as opposed to closer to the tree? Sorry if it's a dumb question: On the scale of permaculture knowledge, even though I've been trying to soak up all the knowledge I can for months, I still feel like I'm pretty close to "newbie."


It's approximately where the feeder roots of the tree are, so you will get calcium to where it is needed faster -- or so the thinking goes. You could probably just mulch it with 2-4" of crushed marble and limestone and let the rain carry the calcium into the soil. It would be an interesting experiment to see which method gives you better results.
 
allen lumley
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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20 year old walnut trees are barely out of juvenile status, At 30 years of age they are just starting to entire their young prime, any thing younger than that
while possibly serving as round wood Timbers will barely function better than any better than ''Soft '' Wood ! BIG AL ! !!!
 
James Colbert
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Walnut trees will often yield nuts every other year or in even greater intervals. This is especially true for trees grown from seed. It is an adaptive mechanism to minimize predation of their seeds. The idea is if the tree bares nuts every year some nut loving animal will come in set up shop and say this is a great place to live. This is good for the animal but bad for the tree as the tree wants to procreate. So instead many wild walnut trees will store up energy over one or more seasons and then produce a massive flush of seed/nuts. Many are consumed by animals but enough survive and are able to grow. I would give those trees a couple years as one flush of nuts from a good sized tree will last you years, easy. You might also want to add some nitrogen fixers to the mix as walnuts are heavy feeders and nitrogen fixers tend to be able to withstand Juglone (the chemical given off by black walnuts that suppresses the growth of many plants) and Black Walnuts grown amongst nitrogen fixing trees produce less Juglone so potentially you could grow more things near the Black Walnuts. This may help coax them to bare.
 
Victor Johanson
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Black Walnuts are dichogamous--they produce pollen first, then pistillate flowers, or vice-versa. The timing has to be right for cross pollination to occur. If both trees are on a similar blooming schedule, viable pollen might not be available when needed. This is something professional growers have to consider when planting their orchards.
 
Bill Erickson
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I agree with feeding at the drip line, that is where the tree roots that feed the tree will be. I don't agree with digging a trench there though. I had some pecans in my yard in North Carolina, didn't produce anything. Then I did some drip line pruning. This simply taking a garden spade or ordinary shovel and putting into the full depth at the drip line. I then fed the tree some calcium and other nutrients that the tree will like and water it in. I used a bunch of compost and calcium on mine, had more nuts than I could shake a stick at after that, once I "calmed" the squirrels down with an air rifle - the .22 was too dangerous in the city limits. Little buggers will take green nuts, taste them and then toss them down. Tree rats Squirrels aren't the brightest bulb in the box.
 
Bill Bradbury
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My walnut trees have at least 20 species of plants growing directly under them in Hugelbeds. They are around 100 years old, have never been fertilized and produce nuts every year. My truck doesn't like the juglone rich sap that flows out in summer, but the plants don't seem to mind. The key is to have a tall bush like sumac or Utah honeysuckle that takes the brunt of the sap and actually digests it. Then the lower, more sensitive plants are unaffected. Since the sap is not tasty, I only plant fruit under them that is early bearing. I use Nanking Cherries as they are done fruiting before the summer heat.
 
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