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What species should I plant?

The four main species of chestnuts are the American (C. dentata), the Chinese (C. mollissima), the European (C. sativa), and the Japanese (C. crenata). "Korean" chestnuts belong to the Japanese or Chinese species. Three minor species of chestnut are the chinkapin (C. pumila), the Seguin (C. seguinii) and the Henry (C. henryi). Within all chestnut species there is tremendous genetic variation, especially the Chinese, European, and Japanese, which are somewhat domesticated. The variation within species is as important as the variation between species. In other words, choosing the right trees within a species is as important as choosing the right species. You need to consider two things when choosing chestnut trees:
1) trees that will survive and grow well in your area, and
2) trees that will serve your intended purposes (see below).

What about hybrids?

All species of chestnuts can pollinate each other, resulting in hybrids. "Hybrid" chestnuts are trees that have two or more species in their ancestry. Such hybrids are very common. It is difficult enough to distinguish pure chestnut species from each other, but the situation really gets confused by hybrids. Consequently, chestnut trees are often misidentified. A common misconception is that hybrids are superior to pure species. Actually, most hybrids perform poorly in terms of growth and nut production, but there are a few outstanding exceptions. Generally, you should plant trees that grow well and serve their intended purposes, and don't be too prejudiced about whether they are pure species or hybrids.

Should I plant seedlings or grafted trees?

A seedling is a tree that results from planting a chestnut. Every seedling is genetically different from every other seedling. Even seedlings from the same mother tree are genetically different from each other (like brothers and sisters). Grafting is a propagation method in which a bud or shoot from one tree (the scion) is attached to (and grows on) the stem of another tree (the rootstock). The rootstock's branches are pruned off leaving the scion branch to become the tree. The upper part of a grafted tree is thus genetically identical to the tree from which the scion was taken. In this way many copies of a superior tree can be made. All of the genetically identical individuals derived from one seedling are called a clone. When a clone is given a name and propagated, it is called a cultivar.

Compared with seedling trees, grafted trees (of the right cultivars) provide more uniform ripening, known quality, and more consistent yields. On the other hand, grafted trees are more likely to grow poorly or die, often several years after they initially grew well. The causes for graft failure are still a mystery, but we have found that rooted cuttings (unfortunately) do no better than grafted trees. We do know that grafted trees can be successful on good sites with good care. Nevertheless, the frustrating problem of graft failure has hindered the development of the chestnut industry, and it has delayed the establishment of good cultivar trials until recently. Consequently, no one knows yet which cultivars are best for any given location. The cultivars presently available have not been extensively tested or compared with other cultivars.

Compared to grafted trees, seedling trees are cheaper, faster growing, more stress tolerant, and often produce crops that are just as good and sometimes better. The main drawback is the variation in ripening date and nut size. If you plant seedlings for nut production, you should: 1) plant extra to allow culling of poor performers, and 2) plant only pure Chinese from known good sources. European, Japanese, and hybrid chestnuts tend to produce lots of poor quality nut producers while Chinese chestnuts tend to produce seedlings more or less like their parents.

Should I plant bare-root or container stock?

Successful plantings can be established from either bare-root or container stock. Bare-root trees are more economical and convenient to handle, transport, and plant. The main disadvantage of bare-root trees is that they must be planted in the late fall or early spring. We recommend fall planting only in the south; while spring planting is recommended anywhere. Generally for spring planting, the earlier the better. Our one-year seedlings ("plug-1" trees) are 1.5 to 3.5 ft tall; we grade them into two sizes. All seedlings have highly branched, mycorrhizal root systems, and are carefully dug for delivery from December through May.

Container trees can be planted almost any time of the year. Container trees suffer almost no transplant shock and chestnut roots rapidly grow out from the container root ball. We've had over 40 years' experience in field planting container chestnut trees and have not seen long-term negative effects such as girdling or twisted root systems. The main disadvantage of container trees is that they are cumbersome to transport. Container trees can be picked up at our nursery any time of the year. Alternatively, they can be shipped (FedEx Ground or common carrier) at a cost of several dollars per tree (actual cost depends on number of trees, size of trees, and distance). Trees cannot be shipped when they are actively growing, i.e., they can be shipped ONLY from September through March. We will quote a shipping cost and seek your approval before shipping container trees.

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Contact Greg Miller at for questions relating to chestnut trees, chestnut seed and dried or fresh chestnuts.
ADDRESS: Empire Chestnut Company, 3276 Empire Road SW, Carrollton, OH 44615-9515
Most recent update: 5/17/12
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