Consider These Nut Trees for Cooler Climate Zone Gardens

While many of the nuts we may be most familiar with require warm climates to grow, there are plenty that can be grown in cooler climate zones.

Ripe walnut ready to fall

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Nuts are an important protein source and valuable addition to a home-grown diet. But many of the nuts that we may be most familiar with eating require warm climates to grow. Fortunately, there are plenty of nut trees that can be grown in cooler climate zones—the key is knowing which ones will thrive in a cooler climate. As a permaculture designer, I have recommendations on several nut trees that you should consider if you live in a cooler climate zone. Below are a handful of options I would suggest based on varying USDA zones and what you can expect from these trees in terms of size and yield.

Butternuts (Juglans cinerea)

The butternut or white walnut is one of the most cold-hardy nuts to grow. The butternut is a fairly large tree that can grow up to around 65 feet in high and 65 feet wide so I would make sure you consider space as a variable. It is cold hardy when fully dormant down to around -31 degrees Fahrenheit, and is grown in USDA zones 3-7. However, I would make note that it does need around 105 frost-free days in order to ripen a crop. 

Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra)

Another very important nut species in cooler climes is of course the black walnut. It is hardy down to zone 4 and will thrive if provided with plenty of sun, shelter from strong wind, and a deep, well-drained loam. For best nut production, I suggest planting two or more trees. 

Heartseed Walnuts (Juglans ailantifolia)

Native to East Asia, the Heartseed walnut is another walnut with high yields which can be grown in USDA zones 4-8. One thing to note is that Juglans ailantifolia condiformis tastes better and its shell is thinner than other members of this genus. 

Buartnuts (Juglans cinerea x Juglans ailantifolia)

This hybrid is another option to consider for USDA zones 4 (perhaps 3) -8. It offers excellent nuts highly prized for their flavor. This tree has the higher yields of J. ailantifolia, combined with the great taste and climate adaptability of J. cinerea. 

Manchurian Walnuts (Juglans Mandshurica)

This is one final walnut to consider. It is native to East Asia and can also be considered for USDA zones 4-8 in North America. The one issue with this species is that the edible kernels can sometimes be challenging to extricate from their thick shells. But I believe this is a good choice for colder climates and this is sometimes used as a rootstock for other walnuts to give them greater resistance to severe cold. 

Hazelnuts (Corylus avellana/ Corylus americana)

Both the European hazelnut (for gardeners in much of Europe) and the American hazelnut are hugely useful trees to grow on your property. Both grow in USDA zones 4-8. There are also a handful of other similar Corylus subspecies which are native to regions of North America. 

American Chestnuts (Castanea dentata)

Once considered to be one of the most important forest (and nut-producing) trees in its range, the American chestnut has a sad story. Between 3 billion and 4 billion of these trees were destroyed by chestnut blight in the first half of the 20th Century. Very few mature specimens can be found within the original range. But there have been efforts in recent years to breed blight-resistant varieties and backcross. Blight-resistant hybrids are sometimes bred with Chinese chestnuts. These hybrids can be grown on marginal land and yield well. As such, I believe these could be another good nut tree option to consider. 

Chinquapin (Castanea pumila)

The chinquapin is a member of the chestnut family and is a shrub or small tree which grows to around 13 feet tall at a slow rate. It can be grown in USDA Zones 4-8, and though the seeds are small, they are said to be comparable in flavor, or even superior, to sweet chestnuts. (European chestnut, which can usually only be grown in USDA zones 5-7.) 

American Bladder Nut (Staphylea trifolia)

Another small tree or shrub to consider is the American bladder nut, which can also be grown in USDA Zones 4-8. In Europe, the related Staphylea pinnata yields similar results, with slightly larger nuts, though this is only hardy down to around USDA zone 5. 

Hickory (Carya Ovata)

Hickory is, of course, a well-known nut tree across much of Eastern North America. For zones 4-8, this can be another excellent choice. The seeds are sweet and taste great, and the trees also have a range of other uses.

Cool Climate Pecans (Carya illinnoinensis)

Pecans are typically grown in zones 5-9, especially in the much warmer climate zones in southern North America. However, a number of cultivars have been bred to withstand much colder conditions. For example, "Carlson 3" is being trialed in Canada. And there are a number of other colder climate pecans to consider, such as "Devore," "Gibson," "Green Island," "Mullahy," and "Voiles 2."

Russian Almonds (Prunus tenella)

Most sweet almonds are grown in USDA zones 6-9. But if you are in a colder climate zone, I would suggest growing Russian almonds. Most of these have very bitter almonds which should not be eaten. But certain cultivars have been developed which do have sweet almonds, and these could be a nut tree (or shrub) for cooler climate gardeners to consider. 

Korean Pine (Pinus koraiensis)

Numerous pine species can be cultivated for their edible seed, and pine nuts could be a great addition to your homegrown diet. However, in colder areas, pines such as Pinus edulis, Pinus silberica and Pinus cembra do not always produce seeds of a size that makes them worth harvesting. In colder climate zones, Pinus koraiensis can be the best bet. 

Yellowhorn (Xanthoceras sorbifolium)

Finally, if you are looking for something more unusual, I suggest considering this East Asian shrub or small tree. It has edible seeds around pea-sized, which are usually boiled and taste like sweet chestnuts. The flowers and the leaves are also edible. This could be an interesting option for USDA zones 4-7.