6 Popular Nut Trees to Grow in Your Own Backyard

Close up of a woman holding a woven basket filled with freshly harvested walnuts.
My Garden Life
June 10, 2024
Table of Contents

By Kelly Miller

If you’re deciding on a tree for your yard, why not plant one that provides food? Nut trees take a few years to begin producing, but then offer many years of tasty plant-based protein.

Choosing a Nut Tree for Your Property

Compared to most popular garden plants, nut trees won’t grow in as many regions. Make sure the type you choose can thrive in your hardiness zone.

Many nut trees grow best in warm, dry areas, yet require lots of water. Thus, it’s important to consider local climate and water supply, since many warm regions sometimes face drought and water restrictions. To care for these thirsty trees, consider implementing water-smart strategies such as rain barrels.

If everything works out, the reward is many years of delicious, nutritious nuts that usually first appear 3–5 years after planting. Peak productivity occurs a few years after that.

6 Nut Trees You Can Grow

Below, we’ll introduce the growing needs of six popular nut trees. Note that the hardiness zones listed below refer to areas where these trees may grow, although the “thriving ranges” usually occur in warmer zones. In cooler climates, some trees can grow but can’t produce nuts. For example, pistachio trees grow in zone 7 but aren’t a safe bet for producing harvests.

1. Growing Almond Trees (Prunus dulcis, syn. Prunus amygdalus)

Hardiness zones: 5–8
Years till harvest: 3–5

Most of North America’s almond trees are grown in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida where they are provided with ideal almond-growing conditions. Almond trees may survive in cooler regions (zones 5–8), but they’re susceptible to frost damage.

Growing an almond tree requires a sunny location, a 15-foot (4.5 m) distance from structures and other trees, and consistent watering. Because most almond trees are not self-pollinating, two trees are required for nut production.

There are two types of almond trees: bitter (ornamental) and sweet. Choose a sweet cultivar if you want to eat the nuts. Additionally, there are self-pollinating varieties to choose from if you only have room for one tree. There are also cold-hardy varieties for planting outside of typical almond-growing regions.

Clusters of almond drupes containing the nuts developing on the branch of an almond tree - Prunus dulcis, Prunus amygdalus.

Harvesting Almonds

Almonds are generally ready for harvest in August and September. You’ll know when the nuts are mature as the outer husk of the drupes start to dry and split. Almond drupes mature from the top of the tree first, so you’ll want to be sure to keep an eye out for the first nuts maturing up high.  

Close up of a branch of almond drupes splitting open to reveal the ripe nuts.

2. Growing Pistachio Trees (Pistacia vera)

Hardiness zones: 7–11
Years till harvest: 5-7

Pistachios grow best in hot regions. In North America, they’re mainly grown in central California, but they can also thrive in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and the Southeast.

Pistachio trees require winter cooling as a necessary part of the fruiting cycle, but regions that experience freezing temperatures are generally too cold. However, despite their picky weather requirements, pistachios are drought-tolerant and can handle extreme heat.

Two trees (male and female) are required for pollination and nut production. Trees should be at least 20 feet (6 m) apart.

Nut trees-clusters of pistachio drupes ripening on the branch of a pistachio tree -Pistacia vera.

Harvesting Pistachios

A newly planted pistachio tree may take 5-7 years to become productive. Pistachios are produced in clusters and become ready for harvest in late August through September. The clusters on mature trees can be quite large with as many as twenty to fifty nuts per cluster. The seeds are enclosed in a hull that turns from green to a reddish color as the nut matures. The hulls will split when they reach maturity and it’s important to harvest and remove the nuts from the hulls as soon as possible once the hull-splitting occurs.

A close up of a pistachio nut just removed from the outer husk.

3. Growing Common Hazelnuts (Corylus avellana)

Hardiness zones: 4–9
Years till harvest: 4–8

With their rich, sweet flavor, hazelnuts are a delicious snack. They’re also tasty in spreads and baked goods.

Compared to almonds and pistachios, hazelnuts prefer cooler climates. Thus, most hazelnut production in the US occurs in Oregon, rather than California. Hazelnuts are also less sensitive than other nuts trees to soil quality and drought. They’re considered an environmentally friendly crop that demands less water and pesticides than other nut trees.

Plant hazelnut trees in sunny locations at least 15 feet (4.5 m) from structures or other trees. In order for pollination and nut production to occur, it’s necessary to plant more than one tree from more than one variety.

Close up of clusters of hazelnuts developing on a branch of a hazelnut tree -Corylus avellana.

Harvesting Hazelnuts

You should expect a young hazelnut to take 4 to 8 years to start producing nuts. Hazelnuts can be harvested once they begin to loosen in their husks. This is usually around the time the foliage starts to change color, in September and October. The nuts may drop to the ground and you can also shake the branches to loosen nuts that are nearly ready.

A wooden bowl of hazelnuts ready to be cracked to remove the tasty nut inside.

4. Growing Pecan Trees (Carya illinoensis)

Hardiness zones: 5–9
Years till harvest: 4–8

Pecan trees are native to the American South and Mexico. The leading pecan production states are New Mexico, Texas, and Georgia, but pecan trees grow well in much of the South. They may grow in cooler northern climates but are less likely to produce nuts.

Pecan trees can reach grand heights of up to 70 feet (9 m) and require at least 30-foot (2 m) distances from one another and from structures. They thrive in sunny locations with deep, well-draining soil.

At least two trees are needed for pollination, preferably from different varieties.

A branch with a cluster of green pecan nuts developing on a pecan tree -Carya illinoensis.

Harvesting Pecans

A young pecan tree may take anywhere from 4 to 8 years to become productive. As the pecan nuts mature the husks will start to turn from green to brown and eventually start to split allowing the nut to drop to the ground. Pecan nuts will mature and drop over a period of time so you may have pecans falling from September into November.

Pecans are most flavorful if they are allowed some time to cure. In nature this process occurs when the nuts are on the ground, but you’ll want to gather nuts before they might become damaged by insects or scooped up by birds and other wildlife. Place your nuts in a single layer in a warm, dry space for about two weeks for curing and drying. Then you can shell and store the nut meats.

Freshly harvested pecans spread on a table ready to be cracked to retrieve the nut meats encased in the shells.

5. Growing Black Walnut Trees (Juglans nigra)

Hardiness zones: 4–9
Years till harvest: 4–7

Black walnut is native to eastern North America. Compared to the nut trees described above, black walnut trees are more adapted to cooler, wetter regions. They also grow tall, over 70 feet (2 m), and should be planted at least 30 feet (9 m) from other trees or structures. Note that these trees produce a chemical called juglone that inhibits the growth of some plants. Therefore, black walnut isn’t a great option for planting next to a garden unless you choose plants that are tolerant to juglone.

On a large yard, a black walnut tree can grow into a beautiful landscape feature that offers shade, lovely foliage that turns yellow in fall, and plenty of hearty, flavorful nuts. Eventually, the tree can also become a source of quality timber.

Walnut trees (both black and English) are self-fertile and don’t require two trees to produce nuts. However, the presence of a second tree does improve yields.

Round green black walnuts developing on a black walnut tree -Juglans nigra.

Harvesting Black Walnuts

Young black walnut trees may take 4 to 7 years to become productive. The nuts will fall to the ground as they mature, typically between September and October. You’ll need to remove the nuts from their outer husks. Since the husks are high in tannins that can cause staining, you may want to wear gloves during this process. Also, it is best to dispose of husks in the trash since they are high in juglones. You don’t want to contaminate your compost pile with this plant inhibitor.

Black walnuts make you do some work to retrieve their delicious nut meats. There are a variety of methods for removing a black walnut from the husk, then cleaning, curing, and finally cracking the nuts. You may want to do a little research to find a method most suited to your situation. 

A table with freshly harvested black walnuts with some nuts removed from the husks ready to be shelled.

6. Growing English Walnut Trees (Juglans regia)

Hardiness zones: 3–7
Years till harvest: 4–7

The walnuts sold in stores come from English walnut trees. Compared to black walnuts, they’re easier to crack open and have a milder flavor that’s better suited for baking.

Like black walnut, English walnut trees are bigger, more cold-hardy, and less water-demanding than other nut trees. English walnut trees produce nuts as far north as southern Canada.

English walnut trees require full sun, deep soil for root growth, and 30-foot (9 m) distances from other trees and structures.

Freshly harvested English walnuts with the green husks splitting to reveal the brown nuts inside-Juglans regia.

Harvesting English Walnuts

You can expect to harvest English walnuts about 4 to 7 years after planting. The nuts fall to the ground when ripe. The hull usually splits when English walnuts are ripe making it relatively easy to remove the inner nut. In addition to the hull splitting, the tissue between the nutshell and the husk will be brown in a ripe nut.

You’ll want to remove the hulls of the English walnuts as soon as possible, clean the nuts thoroughly to remove any residue, and cure the nuts for two weeks by laying them in a single layer in an area that is warm, dry, and well-ventilated. After that they will be ready for cracking and removing the nut meats.

Close up of a bowl of English walnuts in the process of being cracked to remove the nut meats.

General Tips for Harvesting and Storing Nuts

It can take a newly planted nut tree a few years to become productive. Once your tree starts producing nuts, it’s important to allow the nuts to remain on the tree long enough to mature.

  • Expect to harvest over a period of weeks as nuts will mature at different rates. You’ll want to be vigilant since you will quickly start to get competition from wildlife for this delicious and nutritious food source.
  • For smaller trees you can place a tarp on the ground to capture nuts as you shake them free. With tall, mature trees you will likely have to harvest nuts as they fall to the ground from the top branches. You may be able to use a stick to shake lower branches to speed up harvesting. 
  • For longevity, store nuts in the refrigerator or freezer. Most shelled nuts keep well for about six months in the refrigerator and a year in the freezer. You can tell if nuts have gone bad if they have a rancid smell, bitter or sour flavor, of if they appear darkened or shriveled.

Get Your Trees Off to a Great Start with Expert Planting Techniques

A nut tree is an investment. To enjoy years of beautiful growth and tasty harvests, it’s important to get off to a good start by properly planting your sapling. Review our How to Plant a Tree guide to get started.

A dad and son planting a tree sapling in an open grassy area.

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