How to Grow a Butternut Tree

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The butternut (Juglans cinerea), which is also known as white walnut, is a native hardwood tree which grows in the eastern U.S. and southern Canada. It is a medium-size tree which will eventually grow to about 60 feet in height. But unlike its cousin the black walnut, the butternut has a relatively short lifespan of around 90 years. Butternut trees reach maturity and begin producing fruit about 20 years after sprouting. The ripe husk-encased nuts fall to the ground in early autumn, which is the time to collect them and also the preferred time to plant them.

Things You'll Need

  • Garden gloves
  • Large kitchen pot
  • Boiling water
  • Pressure washer
  • Garden trowel or gardening knife
  • Peat moss (optional)

Gather a quantity of ripe butternuts with the husks still intact. Because the husks have a sticky coating, the garden gloves will help keep your hands clean.

Select a planting location receiving full sun. The soil should be moist, well-drained and rich with organic nutrients. If you intend to plant more than one butternut, space the plantings at least 35 feet apart. This will allow each tree to receive full sun and provide adequate room for each tree's crown as it begins to spread out.

Place the butternuts in the pot and pour boiling water onto them. Let them soak overnight. The heat and immersion will soften the husks and prevent the nuts from drying out.

Take the butternuts outside and use the pressure washer to blast away the outer husks.

Dig one or more shallow holes no deeper than twice the width of each butternut (about 2 inches deep).

Set each butternut in a hole and cover the nut with a mat of dead leaves or dampened peat moss. The cover will insulate the nuts from warm air and help prevent wildlife from finding them. In the spring, your newly planted butternuts should begin to sprout.

Tips & Warnings

  • Like other native species of walnut, a butternut requires a period of cold stratification to initiate germination of the dormant embryo inside the nut.
  • Many native butternuts have been infected by butternut canker, a fatal disease which kills the trees. Plant new butternuts several hundred feet from any existing butternut trees in case existing trees have already been infected.

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