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Shagbark Hickory Nut Trees

Growing Shagbark Hickories, Harvesting Hickory Nuts


Picture of exfoliating bark of shagbark hickory trees.

Picture of exfoliating bark of shagbark hickory trees.

David Beaulieu

The scientific name of shagbark hickory nut trees is Carya ovata, which translates literally as, "the oval nut." Meanwhile, the word, "hickory" comes from the Algonquin, "pawcohiccora". Shagbark hickory nut trees were an important food source for the Algonquins.

Growing Shagbark Hickory Nut Trees

As with plant selection on Page 1, Grimo Nut Nursery provides detailed advice on planting and growing shagbark hickory nut trees. I'll summarize their advice as follows:

  • Plant in spring
  • Grow them in a well-drained soil
  • Plant so that the root collar rests just below ground level (ensure that the graft is above the surface)
  • Fill the hole back in with a topsoil, tamping it down as you proceed
  • Work right along: you don't want the roots to be lying around too long exposed to winds and the sun, which would cause desiccation
  • Irrigate after installation
  • "Prune the top about one fifth to promote vigor"
  • Suppress all weed growth with a yard or so of your hickory nut tree by mulching
  • "Generally two or more different cultivars are needed for cross pollination"

Shagbark hickory nut trees are susceptible to some insect pests and diseases. The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station helps with the identification and solution of these problems (see "Pests and Diseases for Shagbark Hickory Nut Trees" in sidebar).

Shagbark Hickory Nut Trees: The Harvest

When we speak of the fruit (nut) from shagbark hickory nut trees, we are really dealing with three parts:

  1. The husk
  2. The hard outer shell under the husk
  3. The meat of the nut within the hard outer shell

Refrigerate or freeze shagbark hickory nut meat after you've removed it from the shells.

Don't try cracking the husk prematurely, unless you're a glutton for hard work. Rather, wait for the fruit of shagbark hickory nut trees to ripen. Ripening begins in September and October. The green, leathery husk eventually turns brown and becomes more brittle. In fact, sometimes, when the nuts fall to the ground, the husks split open into four segments, allowing access to the nut within (of course, even then, you've still got the hard outer nutshell to crack!). For this reason, some harvesters just wait until late autumn for all the nuts to fall.

Rodents and Shagbark Hickory Nut Trees: Pest Control

However, this strategy presents a problem: rodents and other pests are fond of shagbark hickory nuts and may get to them before you do (after all, they have a lot of time on their paws!). The following are some of the pests with which you may have to compete for the harvest of shagbark hickory nuts:

  • Red squirrels
  • Gray squirrels
  • Raccoons
  • Chipmunks
  • Mice

One solution: all of these critters can be trapped humanely with Havahart traps.

Other Uses for Shagbark Hickory Nut Trees

The wood of shagbark hickory nut trees is very hard, and it's used to make ax handles, baseball bats and other products that demand a tough wood. Shagbark hickory nut trees also make for excellent firewood. When burnt, the wood gives off a fragrant smoke -- thus the popularity of hickory in the meat-curing process. More importantly for homeowners, shagbark hickory nut trees attract wildlife -- and not just the pests mentioned above. According to the Texas A&M extension, the wild birds that eat shagbark hickory nuts include:

  • Mallards
  • Wood ducks
  • Turkeys
  • Bobwhites

More on Fall Foliage Trees:

Ash Trees
Quaking Aspens
Autumn Blaze Maples
Beech Trees
Japanese Maples
Ginkgo Biloba
Oak Trees
Tulip Trees
American Sweetgums

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