8 Nut Trees to Grow in Indiana for Reliable Harvests

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Fruit trees are often the first consideration when someone wants to establish a home orchard or edible garden, but the value of nut trees should not be overlooked!

There are a number of edible nut trees that will grow in minimum average temperatures of -15F, the coldest winter temperature that occurs in Indiana. Nut trees in Indiana are a common sight, growing both wild and cultivated.

Considering a tasty new addition to your property? Here are some of the best options for nut trees to grow on your IN property.

8 Nut Tree Species For The IN Climate

1. Hardy Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

Hardy Pecan
Image by liesvanrompaey via Flickr

Pecan-pie lovers in Indiana will be pleased to know that the hardy pecan tree is cold hardy to zone 5! This means that the classic native nut tree can be planted throughout the state, assuming you can provide the right conditions for it.

These trees not only produce sweet edible nuts that are prized throughout the US, but they are very ornamental and useful in landscape gardening. The spreading crown of the hardy pecan lends it to use as a shade tree, and its glossy leaves, hanging catkins, and golden fall color add plenty of visual interest to the landscape.

Remember that the hardy pecan needs to be cross-pollinated to produce nuts – this means you will need space to plant at least two of these large trees. According to the NC State Extension pecan cultivars are separated into type I and II pollinators, and gardeners should plant at least one of each type to ensure pollination. It will take 8-10 years to produce nuts.

Other Common Names: Pecan, Native Pecan

Growing Zones: 5-9

Average Size at Maturity: 70-90 feet tall, with a 40-75 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Summer

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

2. Bitternut Hickory (Carya cordiformis)

Bitternut Hickory
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

Another large US nut tree is the bitternut hickory, a native of Indiana with highly ornamental qualities. This tall, attractive tree has an open, vase-shaped canopy with bright green summer foliage that turns a lovely yellow color in fall. It is often grown as a shade tree or lawn tree in landscape gardening.

Unfortunately, while the nuts of this hickory are technically edible and a great source of food for wildlife, they have a bitter, almost rancid taste that makes them very unpalatable to humans, hence the name ‘bitternut’. Its wood is also relatively low quality compared to other US hickory species.

Bitternut hickories should be planted in moist, rich, well-draining soil deep enough to accommodate its long taproot, in a location with full sun exposure. This tree is intolerant of drought, shade, and poor-draining soil.

Other Common Names: Bitter Hickory, White Hickory, Bitter Pecan, Red Pecan, Swamp Hickory, Pig Hickory

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-80 feet tall, with a 30-50 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Fall

Available at: Nature Hills

3. Chinese Chestnut (Castanea mollissima)

Chinese Chestnut
Image by David Ohmer via Flickr

Today, the Chinese chestnut has become the most popular chestnut species grown in North America, handily overtaking the native American chestnut tree due to its resistance to the devastating chestnut blight.

Not only does the Chinese chestnut produce an abundant crop of delicious nuts each year, but its height and dense, spreading crown make it a useful shade tree and lawn tree. It offers plenty of ornamental appeal with its white spring flowers and bright green foliage which turns brilliant shades of yellow and gold in fall.

Chinese chestnut trees also begin fruiting much earlier than the average nut tree, taking just 4 years to begin producing. Plant at least two trees to ensure pollination. These trees are fairly adaptable to different soil types, but for optimal nut production, they should be planted in light, well-draining soil with an acidic pH and full sun exposure.

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 feet tall, with a similar spread

Fruiting Season: Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

4. American Hazelnut (Corylus americana)

American Hazelnut Filbert Tree
Image by Fritz Flohr Reynolds via Flickr

Another fast-fruiting nut tree is the American hazelnut, which begins producing tasty hazelnuts after only 2 or 3 years of growth! This classic US nut tree is a native of Indiana and can be found growing wild in rocky soil in woodlands, forests, hillsides, and other rural areas.

The American hazelnut has a naturally shrubby, thicket-like growth habit, and it is often used in landscape gardening as a screen, property line, and woodland border.

But of course, it is most popularly grown for its hazelnuts which make a tasty treat for both humans and animals. Because of its fast-fruiting, low-maintenance nature, and abundant yearly nut production, it can make a valuable commercial crop.

Like most nut trees, IN gardeners should plant more than one hazelnut tree to ensure pollination and bountiful production. They should be grown in moist, loamy, well-draining soil of any pH level, in either full sun or partial shade.

Other Common Names: Hazelnut, American Filbert

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 8-15 feet tall, with a similar spread

Fruiting Season: Late Summer to Early Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

5. Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

Shagbark Hickory
Image via Nature Hills

One of the most recognizable nut trees in Indiana has to be the shagbark hickory, an impressive native with unique silver-white bark that peels away from the trunk from both ends, giving the tree a ‘shaggy’ look (hence its name!).

This large tree can live for over 300 years and is hardy, adaptable, and low maintenance. Along with its textured bark and rounded, even growth habit, it adds a striking element to the landscape and makes an excellent shade tree.

But of course, it is most often grown for its flavorful hickory nuts which appear on the tree in mast years, meaning that nuts are produced once every 2 or 3 years instead of seasonally.

It is important to note that the shagbark takes 40 years to begin producing nuts on its own. Since this is a long time to wait for most gardeners, there are grafting techniques that allow this species to fruit in as little as 2 or 3 years.

Other Common Names: Shagbark, Upland Hickory, Shellbark Hickory, Scalybark Hickory

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 70-80 feet tall, with a 40-50 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Late Summer

Available at: Nature Hills

6. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Black Walnut
Image by James St. John via Flickr

The iconic black walnut is a much-loved (and sometimes feared!) native tree that can be found throughout the forests of Indiana. It is an attractive tree with a wide-spreading canopy and bright compound leaves that add texture and elegance to its overall appearance. It can be planted as a shade tree or a focal point in the landscape.

Unsurprisingly the black walnut is most valued for its nuts – the black walnut is a valuable foodstuff, known for its rich flavor and health benefits. Its wood is also of high quality and is often used in furniture-making and cabinetry. The black walnut tree is a veritable cash crop!

But this nut tree also has its downsides. Most notable of all is its production of juglone, a toxic chemical that stunts the growth of plants that are in the vicinity of its root system, which can spread as far as 60 feet from the trunk.

Other Common Names: American Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, American Eastern Black Walnut

Growing Zones: 4-9

Average Size at Maturity: 50-70 feet tall, with a similar spread

Fruiting Season: Early to Mid Fall

Available at: Fast-Growing-Trees & Nature Hills

7. Butternut (Juglans cinerea)

Image by Wendy Cutler via Flickr

IN gardeners who want a more unique touch should consider the lesser-planted butternut! These hardy, medium-sized trees are native to Indiana, though they are not easy to find in the wild due to the devastating butternut canker disease. Interested gardeners often plant a butternut and Japanese walnut hybrid that is more canker resistant.

While the butternut tree possesses lush, exotic-looking foliage and can be used as a shade tree, it is primarily grown for its nuts. The butternut is sweet and oily, and has a long history as an important foodstuff for Native Americans and later as a popular ingredient in baking and candy-making, according to the University of New Hampshire Extension. Butternut production is prolific, and it takes between 6 to 8 years before the trees will begin fruiting.

These trees require full sun and grow best in moist, slightly acidic, well-draining soil. Unfortunately, they are quite short-lived, reaching only 75 years even in optimal conditions.

Other Common Names: White Walnut, Oilnut

Growing Zones: 3-7

Average Size at Maturity: 40-60 feet tall, with a 35-50 foot spread

Fruiting Season: Mid Fall

Available at: Nature Hills

8. American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

American Chestnut
Image by Under the same moon via Flickr

Up until the beginning of the 20th century, the American chestnut was one of the most common types of nut tree in the US, growing both wild and cultivated throughout the country. All that changed when chestnut blight was introduced to the country and decimated this tree population, almost driving it to extinction.

Today, gardeners planting American chestnuts face their fair share of difficulties, but it is still possible to grow these iconic native trees successfully. Just keep in mind that they require significant investment – time, money, and care are all needed to ward off chestnut blight, and gardeners are encouraged to plant at least 5 trees for a better chance of pollination and survival.

American chestnuts are delicious and high in protein, and the wood of the tree is strong and lightweight. They should be planted in rich, well-draining soil with plenty of sun exposure.

Other Common Names: Chestnut Tree

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-65 feet tall

Fruiting Season: Early to Mid Fall

Available at: Nature Hills

Delicious Nut Varieties For Your Edible Garden

These nut trees are known to grow well in the Indiana climate, with its humid subtropical weather, and will provide you with a large crop of nuts once they reach maturity. Though some varieties are easier to grow than others, with time, care, and the right growing conditions, you should see success with any of these options.

If you are unsure of which nut trees can grow successfully on your property, get familiar with your USDA hardiness zone. These zones help US gardeners to understand the range of plants and trees that can survive the winter frosts in their region of the country.

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Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

Shannon has always loved looking after trees and plants since as long as she can remember. She grew up gardening with her family in their off-grid home and looking after her neighbor's plant nursery. As a child she also participated in native tree replanting, and as an adult has volunteered in reforestation programs in northern Vietnam. Today, she puts her horticultural efforts into tending her vegetable and herb gardens, and learning about homesteading and permaculture. When she’s not reading, writing, and gardening, she’ll be out fishing and foraging for edible flora and fungi in the countryside around her home.

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