6 Edible & Native Nut Trees That Grow in Virginia

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Written By Shannon Campbell

Off-Grid Gardener & Food Forager

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Home » Virginia » 6 Edible & Native Nut Trees That Grow in Virginia

While many Virginia gardeners add fruit trees to their gardens or home orchards, nut trees add just as much value in terms of visual appeal and tasty seasonal produce.

What’s more, many nut trees in Virginia are US natives, making them adaptable, resilient, and low-maintenance in this southeastern state.

Let’s take a look at six native US trees that produce tasty edible nuts and grow well in VA.

6 Native Nut Varieties For Virginia Gardeners

1. Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata)

Shagbark Hickory
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

Native to the Midwest but recognizable throughout the country, particularly in the East, the shagbark hickory is a type of hickory that is symbolic of the pioneering days of early America. It is most recognizable for its unusually jagged, peeling, silvery-white bark that curls away from the trunk. The loose, hanging strips give the tree its name – shagbark.

These tall trees with their textured bark, impressive canopies, and drooping branches make a striking impression on the landscape as a focal point. But of course, the other quality they are known for is their hickory nuts! Shagbark hickory nuts are large and sweet and a good food source for both humans and animals.

However, VA gardeners who want to plant these trees for their edible nuts should be wary – it takes 40 years for the shagbark to begin producing nuts, and even then will only fruit in mast years, meaning they only produce nuts every few 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

2. Hardy Pecan (Carya illinoinensis)

Hardy Pecan
Image by liesvanrompaey via Flickr

The pecan may just be the United State’s most iconic nut, and Virginia gardeners will be pleased to know that the native hardy pecan tree (and a number of its cultivars) can grow and thrive in this southeastern state.

The hardy pecan tree is part of the walnut family and is best known for the buttery, delicious nuts it produces. It can take between 7 to 15 years before these trees will produce, but when they do, expect bucketloads!

This large, long-lived tree can also provide aesthetic appeal and landscaping utility to your property. Its wide canopy and dense branches and foliage help it to work well as a shade tree and as a commercial planting. Its glossy leaves with pointed leaflets add elegance to their overall look and turn a lovely yellow-gold color in fall.

You should plant at least two varieties of hardy pecan in Virginia for the best chances of an abundant pecan harvest.

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

3. American Hazelnut (Corylus americana)

American Hazelnut
Image by Fritz Flohr Reynolds via Flickr

Another delicious option for native nut-growing in Virginia is the American hazelnut, which grows more as a multi-stemmed shrub than a tree, topping out at around 15 feet tall. If you enjoy the taste of hazelnuts, this shrub will be a fantastic addition to a food garden or home orchard.

In terms of growing zones, the American hazelnut can be planted anywhere in Virginia which falls in growing zones 5a and 8a. The shrub can be used as a privacy screen or woodland border. Not to mention their fall foliage, which ranges from yellow and gold to orange, to a deep red which adds further beauty to your property.

The native American hazelnut is also an excellent option of hazelnut variety because it bears fruits relatively quickly compared to other native nut trees, with nut production beginning after just 2 or 3 years. What’s more, the American hazelnut is resistant to eastern filbert blight, which has a tendency to destroy European varieties.

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

4. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra)

Black Walnut
Image by Plant Image Library via Flickr

When it comes to iconic native nut trees, you can’t miss the black walnut, which has a long history of usage as both lumber and food. Black walnuts are prized for their rich flavor and health properties, but their trees also make excellent specimens in wider spaces, where their enormous canopies become the focal point of the landscape.

Of course, VA gardeners wanting to plant a black walnut or two need to be aware of a number of things. Most important is their production of juglone – a toxin that will kill certain sensitive species growing near the tree’s root system.

According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, the only pests and diseases that pose a problem for the black walnut are the European canker and walnut caterpillar, so be sure to protect your trees from these threats.

Make sure your black walnut also has plenty of space to accommodate its deep and spreading root system. While this tree is partially self-fertile, consider planting two or more to ensure your chances of cross-pollination.

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

5. Butternut (Juglans cinerea)

Butternut Tree
Image by RockerBOO via Flickr

An eastern native once highly valued in the American landscape is the butternut, historically used for some woodworking, but more often prized for its high-quality nuts. The butternut is sweet and rich with a buttery flavor that is eaten fresh and used to make sweets, such as maple-butternut candy, baking, desserts, and more.

These trees are slow-growing and shade-giving with broad crowns, and light golden wood that adds an attractive element to the landscape. However, interested gardeners should note that butternut trees are becoming rarer both as wild and cultivated trees due to butternut canker, a disease that has decimated butternut populations.

Expect an extra degree of maintenance when planting, or consider a hybridized butternut x Japanese walnut variety that is more disease-resistant.

Another point to remember is that the butternut is somewhat short-lived – it is uncommon for these trees to live beyond 75 years. Butternut trees are self-fertile, but it is recommended to plant two to raise your chances of pollination.

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

6. American Chestnut (Castanea dentata)

American Chestnut
Image by Under the same moon… via Flickr

Here we have another native nut tree that has fallen from grace in recent years. The American chestnut was once a mainstay throughout the eastern United States and the most common form of commercially grown chestnut in the country. But in the last 120 years, these trees have been nearly wiped out by a chestnut blight that is notoriously hard to manage.

Today, this native chestnut has been usurped by the more disease-resistant Chinese chestnut. Gardeners who are committed to growing native chestnuts still have options – after all, these solid, statuesque trees add elegance and visual interest to most properties. While you can take a chance on growing a pure American chestnut species, you can also find plants that are hybridized with Japanese or Chinese varieties to give them a better chance at survival.

Plant American chestnuts early in spring, in rich, well-draining soil with full sun exposure. Make sure to plant more than one tree as this species is not self-pollinating.

Growing Zones: 4-8

Average Size at Maturity: 40-65 feet tall

Fruiting Season: Early to Mid Fall

Available at: Nature Hills

Tasty Nut Trees Native To The Eastern US

Native nut trees add a lovely touch to your food forests, home orchards, or simply in your backyard, and there are a number of options that Virginia gardeners can choose from.

It’s important to note that some varieties – the American chestnut and butternut in particular – face serious obstacles as a species that may deter less experienced gardeners. Thankfully, species such as the American hazelnut and hardy pecan are relatively easy to grow, produce delicious fruit, and will add considerable appeal to your property.

Gardeners looking to add new food-bearing trees to their gardens should also consider these delicious fruit tree varieties that grow well in Virginia.

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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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