Whenever a beginner (or a veteran) nut grower decides to make a planting of nut trees, it is very proper to ask the question "Will I plant seedlings or grafted trees?" Certainly not an easy question to answer. In order to shed some light on the question a person should analyze what are his objectives for planting the trees: "What level of production do I want? Do filberts suit my taste better than heartnuts? Do all Persian walnuts taste the same? Will species "x" fill (mature) nuts properly in this area? Is the tree fast growing, slow growing? Will the selection be self pollinating? What is the size of the nut? Is the nut meat easy to extract from the shells? What is the percentage crackout of nut meat? Will the tree be hardy in my backyard, the back of my farm? Will my selection make a good shade tree? Is the tree unusually susceptible to late spring frosts? What are the storage (keeping) qualities of the nuts? Are the nuts easy to remove from the outer husks? What are the cultural requirements of the tree? Is the tree subject to diseases and insects? How much space does the tree require? Is the tree easy to transplant? How soon does the tree come into bearing?"

When a person determines his objectives first, then the question of seedlings versus grafted trees, becomes somewhat easier to answer. Certainly it is not my intention to bewilder the beginning nut grower with endless questions. Probably very few nut growers answer all of the foregoing questions before initiating a planting of trees. Most often it is a case that not all of the required information is readily available. However I have tried to cover a good sampling of the proper objectives so that the individual nut grower can pursue the answers to the questions to whatever extent his interests dictate.

I will now attempt to provide a general guide to answering the questions listed above although admittedly I enter the avenues, "where angels fear to tread".

In what ways may a grafted tree meet the objectives better than a seedling tree? It is the assumption with grafted trees that under specified conditions ...ABC ... that the results will be ... XYZ ... In other words if neighbour ... M... has the same soil type and the same general cultural and climate conditions as neighbour ... N ... then the two growers should get the same results. Ah - therein lies the rub! Although there are a large number of grafted selections of all nut species available from various points in the United States, few of the named varieties have been adequately tested in Ontario or other parts of Canada. Some varietal selection of nut trees have been made in Canada - such as those made by the Gellatlys - although in this case the selections were made for the interior valley conditions of British Columbia.

Therefore it has to be concluded that the selection of either grafted trees or seedlings currently available for planting represent a speculative venture for Ontario conditions.

How does one remove the element of speculation from the selection of nut trees for planting? First if you choose grafted specimens, try to get trees that have originated from seedlings as close to your area as possible. (Yes at some point even grafted trees have originated from scion wood of superior seedlings.) If there are no grafted specimens available from points reasonably close to home, then try to get your grafted trees from points of origin which have similar cultural and climatic conditions as your own. Also study the growing requirements of the trees such as - length of frost free season required - necessary heat units - moisture - intensity of light - soil - probability of early frost damage - to determine whether your backyard can supply the conditions required by the trees. The study of comparative climatology is in itself a most fascinating and rewarding subject.

What is the case for the planting of seedling trees? First it must be recorded that seedlings grown from any one source tree are capable of remarkable variation in terms of tree and nut size, quality, length of season required, frost resistance, disease resistance. That is ... the trees grown from seed do not come "true" to the form of the parent tree. The degree of variation depends on the previous history of the parent tree. (The "family-tree" of a tree is also a very fascinating subject!)

There are two basically sound approaches for selecting sources of seed for the production of seedlings:

  1. Select seed from an outstanding tree - probably a named variety - from any area which has conditions which are generally similar to your own. Note that the variation in cultural and climatic conditions of a legitimate seed source can vary much more from your own than is proper for the selection of sources of scion wood for grafted trees. Seedlings from these superior sources would have an inherent disposition for good fruiting characteristics and the grower would probably rate the success of the seedlings in terms of cultural and climatic adaptation.

  2. Select seed from two or three of the best naturally occurring specimens within your district ?- arbitrarily suppose a 50 mile radius. Such seedlings should have a general adaptation to your cultural and climatic conditions and the grower's objectives would be directed mostly towards achieving better nut size, crackability, flavour, productivity etc.

Expressing one man's opinion I would have to suggest that Ontario growers should spend a considerable part of their efforts developing seedling nut trees. However that is not to say that certain judiciously chosen named varieties should not be imported from other areas. In fact if some of the improved specimens from remote areas should prove even marginally adaptable to Ontario climates, such trees would provide a valuable seed source for species improvement. In other words I am strongly suggesting that growers should advance through the stages of secondary seedling selection before a general attempt is made to mass produce specific grafted varieties for Ontario.

A similar argument can be made if an unusually promising "wild" tree should be found within a distance which could be considered as "close to home". Since any wild tree is so amenable to improvement via seedling reproduction, it is quite doubtful whether mass grafting of scion wood from such trees can be justified.

In conclusion it may be stated that grafted trees are excellent selections if the trees have the characteristics you require and if same are adaptable to your cultural and climatic conditions. Seedlings are always a matter of speculation; plant a number of seedlings from carefully selected seed sources and be prepared to use the axe on some of them - who knows - you may create the perfect tree!

Taken from SONGNEWS # 2, Spring 1973.

Written by Doug Campbell.

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