YEARS ago I planted a selection of hazelnut trees and, although virtually completely neglected and never watered, they’ve now grown marvellously.
I’m glad I bought named varieties, including American White, Wanliss Pride and Lambert because they are infinitely more reliable and productive than seedlings.
In fact, about 30 years ago there was a brief, rather trendy upsurge in hazelnut planting in Tasmania, but far too many trees were just unnamed seedlings. Most either cropped poorly or produced insignificant nuts.
At the moment our trees are almost bending to the ground with the weight of nuts. This is because of excellent cross- pollination.
A solitary hazelnut tree will not bear nuts because these plants are not self- fertile and need the pollen from another hazel to set fruit.
This pollination takes place in late winter when the trees are covered with attractive male catkins. The female flower is just a tiny, inconspicuous reddish tuft that appears later.
Air movement causes male pollen to drift between adjoining hazelnut trees.
The reason why hazelnut crops are so heavy at this stage is because they are still full of moisture. Within a few weeks this moisture will be gradually replaced with oil, lightening the load and allowing the branches to lift to a more upright position. That’s when the ripe nuts start falling and littering the ground.
I’ve already made preparations for this harvest by hard- mowing the grass beneath and around the trees, virtually scalping the soil. This creates perfectly bare areas so all fallen nuts can be easily raked into piles.
Two years ago I tried an experiment with my favourite hazel, the American White tree. I love these nuts because they are unusually large, hang in thick clusters and taste delicious.
My experiment was in the form of a kind of ‘‘ manure and newsprint sandwich’’. I chose this particular tree because it had stopped growing at head height and over the years had produced great nuts but poor yields.
In late winter I mowed the grass beneath the canopy down hard, and then sprinkled a generous layer of sheep manure with blood and bone over the almost bare soil. This was completely covered with dozens of thick, overlapping newspapers and watered heavily.
Then another layer of manure and fertiliser was spread and the lot buried under a thick, wet, 200mm deep mulch of spoilt hay.
That first spring the tree took off and grew with astonishing speed. The crop was minimal but the quality of the few nuts harvested was outstanding.
This year the American White tree, now covered with a dense mass of huge, deep-green leaves, has shot up to 3m and an even greater spread. And the branches are loaded with big nut clusters which should be ready for harvesting in about a month.
Hazelnut trees are not grafted but are grown on their own roots. They rarely need pruning, apart from the removal of dead branches, a job that can be carried out at any time.
The trees – big, leafy shrubs, really – need to be planted close enough together to ensure good cross- pollination. That means spacing no greater than 15m apart.
In low rainfall districts, especially parts of the East Coast and around Hobart, these trees will need an occasional deep soaking during summer, especially as nut clusters are forming.
Hazelnut trees grow in a wide range of slightly acidic soils, including light clay.
They have few pest and disease problems in Australia, thanks to our very strict quarantine regulations. And they make excellent ornamental trees that rarely get out of hand.
MULCH ADO: Peter Cundall with his favourite hazelnut tree two years after mulching and, inset, the American white hazelnut harvest.