Each year when I was in grade school through middle school, our family would travel from Eastern Washington to the Oregon Coast. One of our stops enroute to our destination was at one of Willamette Valley’s hazelnut farms, where about 99% of all the hazelnuts grown in the United States are cultivated. There were several U-Pick places where you could do your own hazelnut picking. So how do you harvest hazelnuts? Read on to learn more.
When to Harvest Hazelnuts
Hazelnuts, also known as filberts, thrive in regions of mild, moist winters combined with cool summers. Hazelnuts produce nuts when they are around 4 years of age but don’t really become productive until they are closer to 7 years of age.
Clusters of blossoms appear in the late winter to early spring between February and March. Once the flowers are pollinated, nuts begin to form. Over the course of the summer months, the nuts continue to mature leading up to the harvesting of hazelnuts in October. Once the nuts have been harvested, the tree will become dormant until the next spring.
How Do I Harvest Hazelnuts?
The nuts will be ripening in September leading up to October harvest. At this time, it is a good idea to do a little prep work prior to hazelnut picking. Mow the area surrounding the hazelnut trees to remove grass and weeds, which will make harvesting easier as it allows you to rake fallen nuts into piles.
Hazelnuts need to be harvested prior to the autumn rains. As the nuts ripen, they drop from the tree over the course of approximately six weeks. When you see that the nuts are beginning to drop, you can facilitate the process by gently shaking the tree limbs to loosen the nuts from their perches. Gather nuts from the ground.
Some of the fallen nuts may be wormy or even empty. It is easy to distinguish between those nuts that are bad from good. Place the nuts in water. Floating nuts are the duds. Discard any floaters. Also, insect infested nuts will have holes in the shell and should be tossed out.
Once hazelnut picking has been accomplished, it’s time to dry the nuts out. Start drying them within 24 hours after picking. Lay them out in a single layer on a screen to allow for good aeration. Place them in a warm, dry place and stir them around every day. Hazelnuts dried in this manner should be completely dried in 2-4 weeks.
To speed up the process, you can use a food dryer. Set the temperature of the dryer to 90-105 degrees F. (32-40 C.). A food dryer will shorten the drying time to 2-4 days. You may also dry the nuts over a furnace or radiator, whatever will keep the temp around 90-105 F (32-40.5 C.). and no more than that. Also, if you shell the nuts prior to drying them, the dry time will decrease significantly.
Once the hazelnuts are dry, the meat will be cream colored and firm. As long as the nuts are not shelled, hazelnuts can be stored at room temp for several months. Shelled nuts should be used within a few weeks or stored in the refrigerator or frozen for up to a year.
Hazelnuts are so delicious. I have no doubt that keeping them in the refrigerator for a year will not be a problem. They are fabulous on their own or added to baked goods, tossed into salads or ground in nut butter; homemade Nutella anyone?
Hazel, hazelnuts for us chipmunks!
Hazel is a fruit shrub that is sought after for its delicious green or blond hazelnuts.
Top Hazel facts, a short list
Name – Corylus avellana
Family – Betulaceae
Type – shrub
Height – 13 to 20 feet (4 to 6 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – ordinary, rather light
Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – February to April
Harvest – Fall
Relatively loose, well-drained soil that is high in nutrient content and at least three feet deep is best for these large bushes. They can be located in any area of the yard that receives full sun, but remember that they spread outward as well as upward. Arranged as a hedge, they should be about eight to ten feet apart. Otherwise, any spacing beyond that is up to you if growing individually. They are self-pollinating, so one tree alone is sufficient however, you’ll have more success with your harvest if you have a few trees.
Hazelnuts can come from two sources: either propagated from the wild or another established plant and from the nursery. In the wild or from an established plant, either the nuts can be germinated or propagate by digging starts from runners off of an established tree. This second method is more likely to succeed. Most hazelnut owners are happy to give away starts, since they must dig them up to keep their trees from spreading.
Planting is as with any bush or small tree. Select the right area (above) and then dig a hole large enough to take the start or germinated tree and bury its roots completely. Tamp the soil down gently and water regularly. The trees will grow fairly quickly and begin bearing fruit after the third or fourth year and certainly by the fifth.
Hazelnut Tree Planting 101
First of all, hazelnut trees are easy to grow however, you should be in hardiness zones 4 – 9. This is where hazelnuts grow best. Certain hazelnut varieties do better in zones 4 – 6 while others do better in 7 – 9.
There are a lot of benefits when you grow your own hazelnut tree.
One is that it is easy to grow hazelnuts because they don’t have many special needs. Likewise, hazelnut trees are very hardy and can deal with cold and wet winters.
As such, you can put them in problem areas within your garden and still have trees that produce something.
Plus, you can protect and feed the local wildlife when you grow them as a hedgerow.
Things to Consider
Hazelnuts are naturally fertile, so they prefer well-drained soil that doesn’t have a lot of nutrients.
If you plant them on more fertile soils, you will have trees with lots of leaves, but fewer nuts and flowers.
It also helps if you plant them all in a group. That way, the pollen drifts from one hazelnut plant to the next.
Keep in mind, though, that other trees from the neighborhood can pollinate the hazelnuts, too.
That means they also prefer open sites so that other plants can pollinate them effectively.
If you have more room in your garden, hazelnut trees are ideal for creating a small orchard. You can place the trees about 15 feet apart so that they have plenty of room to grow.
You can also create a grove of various varieties to help with pollination. Just make sure that you check the compatibility of pollination for the trees that you grow so that it is a good match.
For more successful pollination, all varieties should be flowering at the same time.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that you should plant it in the spring after the first frost.
The first thing you need to do is wet the roots and then create a hole deep and wide enough to accommodate the root system.
Look for the “J” loop and plant the tree about 12 inches from that base.
Refill the hole with some enhanced soil. It would be best if you use soil specifically designed for hazelnuts. Your garden center or nursery will show you what to get.
Make sure the soil is tamped firmly around the roots while you’re adding each shovel-full.
Once the hole is about 3/4 full, add about two gallons of water. You can use liquid fertilizer with the last gallon of water.
If you choose to plant the tree in the fall, consider waiting until spring to fertilize. Then, completely fill the hole with soil.
Alternatively, you can grow a hazelnut tree from previously harvested hazelnuts. This process takes a long time because the nuts have to germinate.
People also often find it easier to purchase a small shrub or tree and replant it in the garden or yard.
While hazelnut trees are relatively low maintenance, there are a few things you will need to do so they will produce.
You will need to prune your bare root tree to force it to grow stronger and maintain its trunk. If you have a potted nut tree, you can skip pruning.
To prune them, make sure that you cut away one-third of the oldest growth. Do this by sawing or cutting the stems back to the ground level.
You can also thin out overcrowded areas to keep the center of the tree airy and light.
Cut crossing branches and leave the twig-like, young growth because this has the female flowers.
You may find suckers growing from the root of the plant, usually found near the main trunk or stem. It will also help if you pull or dig them out to prevent yourself from having a mass of stems.
Consider wrapping the trunk with a tree guard to protect it from sun scald and injury from rodents.
Make sure that you mulch around the tree a month after planting it to keep the weeds away from the tree. Refresh as needed.
It is also best not to allow the soil around your hazelnut shrub to completely dry out. During the dry season, you should water weekly. Allow as much water as you can to sink into the soil.
Your shrubs might not need fertilization regularly if you used good soil.
That said, nitrogen is essential for growth, while potassium is essential for better quality, increased yields, and the ability to resist disease.
Consider higher NPK amounts in your fertilizer when the hazelnut shrub’s leaves are yellow, or you experience slow growth. Choose organic fertilizer when possible.
Squirrels love nuts of all sorts and are highly determined and acrobatic to boot. You may find it a challenge to keep the hazelnuts safe from them.
Since they are tree-like, the bushes are easy prey, and although you could use a wire-mesh fruit cage, it may not deter squirrels and other rodents.
Instead, just watch to make sure the squirrels aren’t taking too many. If they do, it’s probably time to pick them all if you can.
Harvesting Filbert Hazelnut Trees
Are you ready to enjoy delicious homegrown nuts? Harvest is the time to enjoy the results of your hard work. Keep a few things in consideration as you reap the the benefits of your labor: the best time to pick nuts from your tree, and how to store the nuts.
NOTE: This is part 8 in a series of 8 articles. For a complete background on how to grow filbert hazelnut trees , we recommend starting from the beginning.
When to Harvest
Harvest hazelnuts from late August through October when they have fallen from the trees. Hazelnut bushes will usually produce their first nuts in their fourth year, though they will not come into full nut production until year nine or later. Nuts should be harvested just as soon as they become loose in their husks to avoid losses to animal predation. In some plants this may occur when the husks are still green and moist, whereas in others it may not be until they are brown and dry. In general, if the clusters can be pulled from the bushes easily they are ready to harvest.
If husks were still green and moist at harvest time, to avoid predation by squirrels, they need to post-ripen for a week or two in conditions of high humidity but with adequate light and air circulation. If the husks were starting to turn brown at harvest time they should be allowed to dry completely by spreading them out in a well-ventilated (but mouse-proof) location, hanging them in mesh onion bags, until completely dry.
Hazelnuts will keep for about a year in your refrigerator if stored in an airtight container or freeze some for later use.
American Hazelnut Landscape value
American Hazelnuts are great plants for natural hedgerows as well as spacing throughout the nature inspired garden. They provide a medium leaf texture with a crisp green color that changes to an attractive yellow to orange in Autumn.
While they are not specimen shrubs, they are great filler plants that add that all important green color to the landscape. They are long-lived plants that have been known to live well over forty years. You will not want to site them in wet soil unless you want them to sucker a lot and spread.
Soil and Water Conservation district sales in early Spring are a great way to find cheap although usually very small plants.
Even plants started from seed can often bear nuts very early, three to four years is not unusual compared to the often decades of nut bearing trees. Like most plants they won’t bear a heavy crop every year, but instead every 2 or 3 years with smaller yields on years between.
Of course there are some selections by the Nursery industry, including the Purple Leaf Bailey Select (Corylus americana ‘Purpleleaf Bailey Select’) if you just HAVE to have one that is a bit more ornamental. Although note research has begun to find that purple foliage plants may not feed our native insects as well as green leaf plants and if you are planting this plant for its high ecological value you may want to reconsider.
Yeah they make purple ones too! Although, I completely prefer the crisp green foliage on the straight species!
American hazelnuts are easy to propagate, maintain, and harvest. The hardest part about adding them to your landscape may be finding a nursery that sells them!
Jim work's as a Landscape Designer in the far northwest suburbs of Chicago. He's also been a horticulturist and aesthetic pruner at a top quality Japanese Garden, as well as a freelance garden consultant, Risk Management Consultant, Insurance Safety inspector and head banging Ice Cream Truck driver (yeah that was me cranking "And Justice for All") among other things.
you mention that the corylus is easily propagated. I have a few plants that I first planted 30+ years ago. If I want to make starts available to other Kentucky native plant growers, how would I go about that?
Hi! We recently built on family land in north east Texas, zone 8….Neil Sperry is our expert for Texas planting and I do not find them in his book…Will hazelnut trees survive Texas heat? Thank you. Anne
I’ve been reading around for forever on this, but I haven’t been able to find an adequate answer. In England they are coppiced and the poles are used for fencing, bean poles, etc. Are the American varieties as good for this as the European, or are the poles not tall enough/thick enough ? I’d love to be able to have a reliable source of support poles for the garden.
make great poles…if you let them go for a couple of years you can have a straight 8′ x 1/3″ pole.
The New Hampshire State Nursery sells these as seedlings. I bought 5 years ago and they are now very productive.
Prairie Moon sells them as bare roots.
The State of Wisconsin is trying to develop Hazelnuts as a crop. I believe there are also few other States doing the same. I will add one of hybrids to my cottage garden. Thanks
Thanks for the info. I didn’t know about this but am definitely going to be reading up on it.
Oregon produces 95%+ of US filberts (commercialized hazlenuts). Thousands of acres have been added in the Willamette Valley the last couple of years..they are replacing berries and grass seeds as a crop for Oregon farmers. (hemp is starting to take hold as well)
Thanks for this info. Just collected some seeds and plan to plant them along the edge of the road. We shall see if I am successful.
I wanted to add the Arbor Day Foundation has little ones for sale on their website. I haven’t found one around me.
Wherected can I buy hazelnut Plants? Can I start plants from seed?
Retail nuseries sometimes carry these. If you are patient enough you can grow from seed.
This was good timing as I’ve been researching native shrubs to form a hedge. I had considered forsythia because of its size, hardiness and ease of propogation but found out they are not a good source of forage for honeybees. We have a corner lot with about 1 acre that is maintained as lawn. We feel pretty exposed so would really like a hedge that offers some privacy most of the year. Does the American hazelnut offer pollen or nectar for honeybees and other pollinators? I’ve really been considering the Redosier dogwood – do you have any thoughts on using them in this way? I really enjoy reading your blog. Blessings, Jeremiah.
No pollen benefit for wildlife as they are wind pollinated. They can form nice dense twiggy growth that sounds like a terrific choice for your site as a screen. They will be a bit more effective in the winter as a screen then the dogwood.
You could certainly combine them with other shrubs that offer pollen or you could just underplant them with Virginia bluebells, etc. for pollinators like bumblebees.
I think they would be a great choice.
also notable that the forsythia is not native. I just dug up my whole hedge.
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Hazelnuts grow long, reed-like stems from branches that are easily seen once leaves shed in the fall. These are the male blooms and they will remain dormant for the winter. Female blooms are hard to spot, but are little bud-like blooms on the branches, usually one or two branches away from the male stems. In the early spring, before leaves appear, the tree will bloom and wind action will pollinate it.
The nuts are in little clusters called burrs. These are the female bulbs that grow and look a lot like leaf buds until they begin to cluster as nuts. Each cluster can have one to a dozen or more nuts in it. They’ll grow throughout the year and finally turn brown as the leaves turn.
When they’re fully brown, they’re ready for harvest. The burrs are picked whole and should be nearly falling off the tree when ready. The burrs are removed later to reveal the nuts inside. A mature tree can produce three gallons of nuts.