A Hazelnut Update

The hazelnut trees that we planted in April are miraculously still alive at the end of their first summer in Portland. When I saw them this past week, it seemed to me like they had put on a lot of growth over the summer. Fortunately, thanks to this blog, I have photographic documentation of the trees from when I did an update back in June. Here’s what the trees look like between June and September:

Jefferson: June 2020
Jefferson: September 2020
Eta: June 2020
Eta: September 2020
Dorris: June 2020
Dorris: September 2020

Meh. Not so impressive after all, I suppose. That’s ok. They’re alive and that’s what matters. As they say, the first year they sleep, the second year they creep, and the third year they leap. Be sure to check back in 2022 for some exciting updates!

What’s more exciting, however, is the hazelnut seeds that were planted: they’re growing!

These are Jefferson Yamhill seeds. They were planted at the end of April, and there was no sign of growth at the update in June. We figured they were likely duds, but finally, a small handful sprouted. Of the 40 or so hazelnut seeds my dad planted, we have four small hazelnut trees.

Since we’ve never grown hazelnut trees from seed before, we’re not entirely sure what to do at this point. When should we transplant them? Should we stake them? Prune them? Any advice is welcome.

Growing Hazelnuts

On Friday, I picked up three hazelnut trees from Burnt Ridge Nursery for my dad’s backyard. Did you know that the hazelnut is the official state nut of Oregon? Now you know. Oregon is the #2 producer of hazelnuts in the world behind Turkey.

A hazelnut farm in Oregon
Image from portraitmagazine.com

Several decades ago, Eastern Filbert Blight killed most of the hazelnut trees in the Eastern U.S., so the Pacific Northwest became the center of hazelnut production in the U.S. Unfortunately, Eastern Filbert Blight eventually spread to Oregon and Washington. Fortunately, Oregon State University developed strains of hazelnuts that are resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight. We planted three such varieties on Saturday: Jefferson, Dorris (with two “r”s), and Eta. These are all varieties of Corylus avellana, or European hazelnut (as opposed to Corylus americana, which is American hazelnut and has smaller nuts).

(difficult to photograph a thin tree with so much in the background)

The trees came bare-root and are each about 5-to-6 feet tall. We planted them 15 feet apart, as per the instructions. I suppose this is to maximize cross-pollination while still allowing them to grow to full height (they should only be about 20 feet tall at maturity).

Hazelnut trees need to be cross-pollinated by another hazelnut tree in order to produce hazelnuts, so it is important to plant more than one hazelnut tree. Pollination of hazelnuts is a bit complicated. A hazelnut tree has both male and female parts, but it is self-infertile (meaning it can’t pollinate itself). So, not only do you need at least two hazelnut trees, you need to have two different varieties of hazelnut trees. A Jefferson hazelnut would not be able to pollinate another Jefferson hazelnut tree.

Another tricky part of hazelnut production is that the process of making the hazelnuts takes nearly two years. The male parts of the hazelnut tree start forming in May the year before you will be able to harvest hazelnuts. They don’t mature until December or January, at which point they can pollinate a female which will then produce nuts the following August.

Catkins (aka the male part)
Image from rogue.com
Flower – the red thing (aka the female part)
Image from rebeccaheisman.com
Nut clusters
image from garden.eco

So, (hypothetically speaking) the earliest we could expect to get hazelnuts from the trees we just planted is August 2021. In actuality, hazelnut trees reportedly take about 6 years before they’ll produce substantial amount of nuts, so check back in with me in 2026.

As a backup, my dad also bought 1 lb of Yamhill seed hazelnuts. In case you’re wondering, 1 pound of seed hazelnuts is about 204 hazelnut seeds. He planted about 40 of them before running out of space to for them. We’re skeptical as to whether these will germinate, but if they do, he’ll have a hazelnut farm on his hands.

The future hazelnut farm
(the mesh is to keep the squirrels and birds out)