The Greener View: Walnuts and Buckeyes
Q: I have several walnut trees on my property. I noticed that one mature tree did not produce any walnuts this year. My question is why did that one walnut tree not produce nuts? Is there a way to prevent the trees from producing walnuts? I have a couple of trees that I would rather not cut down, but the walnuts are hard to walk on and stain the sidewalk.
A: All trees produce seeds in one shape or another. Sometimes, the seeds are encased in shells and are usually called nuts, and other times, they are encased in soft tissue that we would tend to call a fruit. The shells and fruity pulp are there to protect the seeds and aid in their dispersal. It takes a great deal of energy, carbohydrates, proteins, plant hormones and other chemicals to develop the seed and the protective coatings. The husk on a walnut is full of chemicals that will stain anything they touch, so I can see why you want to prevent them.
Walnut husks can be used to create a brown dye, and they can be crushed in water to temporarily stun fish so they can be caught. This last tidbit could come in real handy in case you are ever hungry for fish, stranded without your fishing pole and lost in a walnut forest, all at the same time. It might be easier to just eat the walnuts.
Sometimes, the tree uses so much of these chemicals that the next year it can hardly bloom, let alone produce seeds. During that second year, the tree will store up more than enough energy to be able to have lots of flowers and seeds the third year.
Generally, if a single existing tree does not bloom or produce seeds well, it means that some other health factor is involved. That tree is probably not as healthy as the others in your yard. The tree should be inspected for insect, disease and root problems. I do not know of any way to prevent the walnuts from producing nuts. A product called Florel can be used on many trees to reduce fruit and nut production, but walnuts are not listed on the label.
Q: I have a bottlebrush buckeye in my backyard that is about 7 years old. This year is the first time that it bore nuts. The questions are: Will they grow if planted? If so, how should they be planted? Can they be started indoors and moved outside in the spring? What kind of planting material should be used?
A: It often takes many years for nut trees to mature enough to produce nuts. The buckeye fruit is similar to the walnut. They both have several-inch diameter husks that split open to reveal the nut inside. The buckeye husk is covered with spiny bumps.
The main consideration when trying to grow a wild plant from seeds is what weather conditions the seeds go through from the time they are produced until the time they should sprout. Then, all you have to do is give the seeds similar conditions.
If the seed is produced in the fall, it will most likely have a dormancy period so it can wait until spring to sprout. If the local conditions are cold, give it cold conditions, and if they are hot and dry, then that is what the seed needs.
Try planting the nuts an inch or two deep in a protected location to see if they sprout in the spring. Or, plant the seeds in potting soil in a pot, cover them with some leaves and leave them outside where they will be cold but not eaten by the animals. A refrigerator can be used to mimic the winter weather, but do not let the seeds dry out in the moisture-robbing atmosphere of the fridge. They can be put in a warm, sunny location after at least 90 days of cold. Don't worry about doing anything else with the seeds to make them grow.
Email questions to Jeff Rugg at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Jeff Rugg and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.