Chestnut (Castanea sativa): cultivation and care in the garden

The chestnut is a genus of trees that belong to the Fagaceae family . It produces seeds in the form of chestnuts that are delicious, especially in winter when we eat them hot. This tree has a lot to say and not only because of those chestnuts, and it would be a great satisfaction if you saw one of them grow in your garden through these tips. You dare?

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CHESTNUT GROWING

There are many families and genera of plants, but we consider it a good idea if we gradually introduce them into Gardenprue. Specifically, the Fagaceae family is made up of many trees that are known to us, some evergreen and others deciduous. We can find oak, beech, holm oaks and of course, chestnut.

Commonly we will find 4 species of chestnut trees that are geographically distinguished:

  • Asian species: chestnut from Japan ( Castanea crenata),  chestnut from China ( Castanea mollissima ),  Castanea davidii, Castanea henryi  and  Castanea sanguinii.
  • American species: American  chestnut ( Castanea dentata),  Castanea pumila,  Castanea alnifolia,  Castanea ashei,  Castanea floridana  and  Castanea paupispina.
  • European species: common chestnut ( Castanea sativa).

TREE CHARACTERISTICS

The chestnut is considered a  large tree. A well-cared adult specimen can exceed 20 meters in height. In addition, it provides very good shade, due to its wide and rounded crown morphology.

It produces a large number of branches supported by a thick trunk and valued wood, with a light brown color and a smooth texture.

Chestnut leaves

Its leaves are relatively large and compound, formed by 5 leaflets. The sum of all of them can exceed 20 cm in length. They have a light green color, with different shades on the underside providing a slight yellowish touch.

It is considered a deciduous tree, typical of cold climates, where they lose their leaves in autumn to rest throughout the winter. In early spring or mid-spring (everything will depend on the cold of the environment), it will emit new leaves and return to its splendor and leafiness.

Chestnut flowers

Do not underestimate the flowering of chestnut trees. Although it is not as visual as the Prunus  trees (almond, apricot, peach, etc.), it emits inflorescences that exceed 20 cm in length and of various shades (mainly white and pink).

In this tree, the male flowers are different from the female ones. In the Mediterranean area, flowering occurs well into spring , between the months of May to June.

Fruits (chestnuts)

What can we say about the fruits that are not known. Round shape, brown colors and highly valued in gastronomy. It would be very difficult to describe their flavor for someone who has never tried them, and it would be strange if it were so, at least in Europe.

However, we may not be so familiar with the cover of the fruit, which looks like a hedgehog (like the one in the main image) and is very curious. The collection chestnuts starts from October, remaining in the tree up to 30 days. What we eat is the seed (chestnut), and the hairy cover is what protects it, commonly referred to as the hedgehog .

When the chestnut falls from the tree to the ground, the hedgehog is said to have matured and therefore opens, showing the seed. But that does not mean that the chestnut is already at its optimum point of ripeness, ready to eat.

In fact, you have to wait a little longer after separating the hedgehog from the seed to find the optimal point, although due to its low water content, it keeps very well .

GROWTH HABIT

Despite what we may think, the chestnut is a fast growing species, something that we value very positively if we decide to grow it in the garden, either as an ornamental species due to its size, or due to the production of fruits, chestnuts, which are so well thank you in the cold months.

It is also a long-lived tree, perfectly over 80 years old, although already, in a long-lived period, its growth slows down, its trunk cracks and it becomes more susceptible to attacks by pests and diseases.

As we will anticipate in the care guide, it is a tree that needs acid soil, so we must refrain from planting it in very alkaline soils with a high presence of limestone. If it’s your whim, you can make soil pH corrections .

Taxonomy

  • Order: Fagales
  • Family: Fagaceae
  • Genus:  Castanea
  • Species: Castanea sativa

CHESTNUT TREE CARE GUIDE IN THE GARDEN

CLIMATIC CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHESTNUT TREE

The chestnut ( Castanea sativa ) is a crop that adapts quite well to the climate . As you have seen, it is spread all over the world. Preferably temperate climates with humid conditions are best for you. In the first years of life, it is necessary to shelter it both from the cold and from intense exposures to the sun.

If we see a map of the distribution of chestnut trees in Spain , we find it mainly in the Mediterranean area, Extremadura and Galicia. In Europe, the main populations are in France and Italy.

Temperatures

In terms of resistance to cold , when the chestnut is adult it does not have problems but it is necessary to take care of the late frosts when the chestnut is flowering, although they do not pose a serious problem due to the late tendency of sprouting.

Its cultivation should be avoided in areas with very hot summers, especially if they are dry . In humid conditions, closer to the sea breeze, it can grow with fewer problems.

Humidity

As we have commented, the environmental humidity is important for the correct flowering and fruit formation. In fact, it is important to guarantee a certain atmospheric humidity in the period that includes the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, just when the fruits enter their final stretch and gain size.

SOIL CONDITIONS

As we have mentioned before, the chestnut grows well in places with good humidity. Likewise, it is also demanding in terms of soil moisture, which in some way is also related.

A very useful technique to increase the percentage of soil moisture and preserve it for a longer time apart from other benefits is the mulch technique  to which we have already dedicated an article. With this you will achieve an increase in the availability of organic matter in the soil, an increase in humidity and therefore a reduction in irrigation and many other things.

The best soil pH is somewhat acidic , around 6 although it grows without problems from 4.5, and it needs deep soils with good drainage capacity ,  since it does not support flooded, compact or clay soils. We will explain the problem of alkaline pH below.

Being a calcifugal tree, it very easily absorbs the calcium it gets from the soil, as much as it can. That is why in alkaline soils , calcium is in abundance and causes chlorosis and growth problems (in advanced cases even death).

We must avoid heavy soils at all costs, with a large percentage of clays. Often its high capacity to water the soil causes diseases caused by facultative fungi to develop, such as Phytophthora cinnamomi,  which causes the disease known as chestnut ink .

FERTILIZER AND IRRIGATION NEEDS

IRRIGATION

Regarding the irrigation needs, we have to start from the basis that the chestnut tree needs humid conditions in the soil but without getting waterlogged . We will assume the amount and periodicity depending on the time in which we are.

Even so, when the chestnut tree is adult, its deep and powerful root system allows it to obtain water where other trees cannot, so in most cases, they are nourished by rainwater.

The time of most demand in humidity is in spring and at the beginning of the formation of fruits. The most common way of watering is through a drip system . For young species (<5 years of age), placing an emitter of 4 L / h is enough, expanding up to 2 and 4 drippers or emitters in adulthood.

In production, a chestnut tree can consume between 20 and 30 liters of water per week (or more) during the summer, the equivalent of 3 to 4 irrigations of 1 hour a week.

SUBSCRIBER

In terms of subscriber, it is a fairly demanding tree with the conditions of organic matter in the soil. Before we have talked about mulching , but in this case it is very useful because you can take advantage of the leaves that come off the chestnut in autumn to make a leaf mulch that will gradually decompose and become part of nutrients for the tree.

If for aesthetic reasons you do not like to have the leaves around the trunk decomposing, you can opt for already decomposed compost that will perform the same effect.

In the transplant, we will contribute a minimum of 8-10 kg of organic matter in the planting hole, well mixed with the soil. Along with this contribution, you can also add a little iron chelate . Every year or every two years, we can contribute between 3 and 5 kg per tree, around the trunk.

CHESTNUT MULTIPLICATION

The multiplication by means of seeds has a good response since the germination power is quite high . We select the chestnuts that are in the best condition and we plant them either in autumn or in spring in good humidity and temperature conditions. If all goes well, they will take around 1 month to germinate.

If you don’t have seeds, you can also get new plants from vegetative methods such as  elbowing. That is, a stem that has not yet separated from the mother is induced to produce roots, at which point it can be separated and transplanted.

CHESTNUT PRUNING

Pruning is an important action in production chestnut trees, but one that we can easily extrapolate to ornamental chestnut trees grown in the garden. With this we improve aeration and reduce the proliferation of pests and diseases.

With this, we work under the following dynamics:

  • Vigorous branches are kept long to stimulate the production of flower and fruit buds.
  • Low vigorous branches are pruned short to increase vigor.

The chestnut season can be done at any time of the year , although it is recommended to do it before or after the vegetative rest. With this we favor that all the wounds caused in the cuts heal well. The usual time is usually in autumn , after the harvesting of the fruits and before the leaves fall, with heavy pruning, and in spring , before sprouting.

PLAGUES AND DISEASES

The chestnut tree suffers from an important range of pests and diseases that must be identified and controlled every year. We emphasize the importance of having a deep soil with good drainage, since it is the critical factor to avoid the premature death of chestnut trees in conditions of root asphyxia.

Pests

Several groups of insects and mites are known to affect chestnut trees after their budding.

  • Chestnut wasp ( Dryocosmus kuriphilus )
  • Precocious chestnut tortrix ( Pammene fasciana )
  • Chestnut intermediate and late tortrichid ( Cydia fagiglandana and Cydia splendana )
  • Yellow drill ( Curculio elephas )

Diseases

  • Armillaria mellea
  • Phytophthora cinnamomi
  • ryphonectria parasitica
  • Mycosphaerella maculiformis

The main disease caused by a fungus that affects European chestnut trees is the ink , caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi or  Phytophthora cambivora . It appears in conditions of heavy and flooded soils, especially after several days of high rainfall.

There are various active substances for its control, although it is a complicated disease to eliminate. In organic, it is common to use coppers both in application via irrigation and foliar, directed to the trunk.

Another common disease is chestnut canker ( ryphonectria parasitica ), which causes damage to the aerial part of the tree. It is identified by dark spots inside the bark and drying entire branches.

USE OF ITS FRUITS, CHESTNUTS

Although its seeds are well known and valued in many parts of the world (the Romans loved them) the main use of chestnut cultivation is not for its seeds but for its wood, highly valued for making furniture, platforms and musical instruments. .

Nowadays there has also been an attempt to take advantage of the chestnut in more fields, and you will surely be familiar with chestnut liqueur , or chestnut bread, chestnut cream, etc. However, it is still considered as a by-product whose consumption trend decreases over the years.

Welcome to The GardenPure! My name is Ryan Heagle, and I’m the founder of The GardenPure, I spent the first part of my adult life teaching and then living in Australia in various business ventures, the first of which was a business devoted to the sale of house plants.  I am now a full time blogger. I am a self taught gardener.

Ryan Heagle

Welcome to The GardenPure! My name is Ryan Heagle, and I’m the founder of The GardenPure, I spent the first part of my adult life teaching and then living in Australia in various business ventures, the first of which was a business devoted to the sale of house plants.  I am now a full time blogger. I am a self taught gardener.

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