Growing Chestnuts at the Allotment

Growing Chestnuts at the Allotment

How to Grow Chestnuts: A Detailed Guide

Roasted chestnuts are a particular traditional favourite at Christmas and are not to be confused with 'conkers' which are Horse Chestnuts and are inedible. 

A sweet chestnut tree is deciduous and can grow very large over many years. You can wait for as long as 20 years for fruits to form, however, you can use coppicing techniques to limit the size and grafted bare roots to plant, which may provide fruit sooner. There are modern varieties that will bear fruit after just a few years.

If you are wondering how to grow chestnuts, let us help you with our expert insights. 

When and Where to Grow Chestnuts

Sweet chestnut trees should be planted in full sun during the dormant months of late autumn and early spring.

These trees thrive in well-drained soil and prefer locations with good air circulation. Therefore, it's important to avoid planting them in areas prone to waterlogging or where they may be overshadowed by larger trees.

How and When to Plant Chestnuts

Growing chestnuts in the UK is easier than you may initially think. Dig a hole large enough for the barefoot and water well upon planting. 

The base should be vegetation-free and you can use mulch to retain moisture and suppress the weeds. The tree will not form fruit if it is planted in the shade.

Chestnut trees typically require cross-pollination from another compatible variety to produce nuts, so planting multiple trees can increase the chances of successful fruiting.


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How to Take Care of a Chestnut Plant

Young chesnut trees will require watering during dry spells until they become established. Chestnut trees require very little or no pruning. However, occasional maintenance pruning may be necessary to remove dead, damaged, or overcrowded branches. 

Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture in the soil and suppress weed growth. 

When and How to Harvest Chestnuts

If you are wondering when to pick chestnuts, keep reading!

Sweet chestnuts produce long male and female catkins during the summer months, which the bees and pollinators enjoy. The female catkins then form the green, prickly casing that houses 1-3 chestnuts inside.

The formed and ripened fruits will fall and split so that you can harvest the chestnuts during early to mid-autumn. It is advisable to wear gloves for handling the prickly Burrs, especially if you need to cut them open.

Common Problems with Growing Chestnuts in the UK

  • Chestnut Blight is a fungal disease that can cause cankers on the bark and eventually kill the tree. It is one of the most serious threats to chestnut trees.
  • Chestnut Gall Wasp is an invasive pest that can cause galls to form on the stems and leaves of chestnut trees, reducing their growth and yields.
  • Poorly drained soil can lead to root rot in chestnut trees and can cause wilting, yellowing leaves, and eventual death of the tree.
  • Late spring frosts can damage the emerging shoots and flowers of chestnut trees, affecting fruit set and overall yield.

Popular Chestnuts Varieties

Selecting the right chestnut varieties for planting in the UK requires careful consideration of site-specific factors like soil type, drainage, and exposure to the sun. When growing chestnuts, exploring different varieties is all part of the process. 

  • ‘Marigoule’ chestnuts are known for their large size, excellent flavour, and resistance to chestnut blight.
  • ‘Marron de Lyon’ is a French variety that produces large, sweet, and flavourful nuts. It is known for its high yield and resistance to chestnut blight.
  • ‘Alba’ is a well-liked Italian variety in the UK because of its big, tasty nuts. It's very good when consumed fresh. 
  • 'Bouche de Betizac' is a strong hybrid variety, resistant to both ink disease and chestnut blight. It produces huge nuts that are good for processing as well as eating raw.

The Different Ways to Use Chestnuts

Learning how to grow chestnuts opens up a variety of culinary opportunities.

  • Sweet Chestnuts can be eaten raw but are normally roasted.
  • Roasted chestnuts are a classic winter treat that seem to taste especially delicious during the holidays. Roast them in the oven, on a grill, or over an open flame to make them tender and fragrant.
  • They make a tasty stuffing for roast chicken or vegetables when diced and combined with herbs, breadcrumbs, veggies and sausage meat.
  • Chestnuts can be ground into flour and used as a gluten-free alternative in baking.
  • Cooked chestnuts can be mashed or pureed and used as a base for creamy sauces, dips, and spreads.

Growing Chestnuts in the UK: A Summary

Want to know how to grow chestnuts in a few easy steps? Read this!

Planting Chestnuts

  • Bareroot trees to be planted during late autumn to early spring
  • Plant out in full sun
  • Water in well

Growing Chestnuts

  • Water during dry spells until established
  • Be aware of squirrels and fungal disease
  • Mulch around the base

Harvesting Chestnuts

  • Early to mid autumn when the burrs have split and dropped
  • Remove chestnuts from their burrs
  • Best roasted 

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