Agri Leader

Good tidings about holly, hickory, chestnut and black walnut trees

When you think of Christmas trees, you're likely thinking about the ones you decorate, such as firs, spruce and pines. However, other kinds of holiday trees can bring back the memories and, if you plant them in your landscape, you can enjoy those memories all year long.

Holly, hickory, chestnut and black walnut are a few of the old-fashioned favorites that will bring joy for many years to come. Now is the perfect time to plant trees as long as they are not cold sensitive types. "In Central and South Florida, hardwood trees are easily established in the winter since it is still warm enough for root growth. Plus, they do not need as much water as when they are actively growing," said David Austin, environmental horticulture agent, Highlands County, UF. Austin explained that potted trees often transplant the best.

Hollies are considered low maintenance and reliable trees. They can be range from large trees to dwarf shrubs, and are typically evergreens. The female hollies produce seasonal bright red berries. Their leaves are often shiny, leathery and have prickly edges. Although hollies prefer partial shade, most can be grown in full sun.

Some hollies are native to Florida, such as East Palatka holly, Yaupon holly and Bordeaux dwarf yaupon holly, a small shrub. The East Palatka holly, a cross between the Dahoon holly and American holly, is a favorite.

"The East Palatka holly has a tight pyramidal shape and grows to about 40 feet, "said Austin, who explained that in order to keep the shape, give the tree plenty of room to grow and keep the limbs close to the ground.

We often see hollies used in Christmas decorations like wreaths, while the smaller trees are often trimmed in pyramidal shape and decorated with Christmas lights.

Hickory trees are tall, deciduous trees that typically grow from a single trunk. Due to their height, they offer excellent shade during the summer. Their leaves are long, starting at 8 inches in length, which adds to the shading effect.

There are several types that grow in various parts of Florida including: mockernut hickory (50-70 feet) pignut hickory (60-80 feet) water hickory, bitter pecan (80-100 feet) and pecan hickory (100-140 feet). "Hickory that is found in the scrub in Highlands County is actually 'Scrub' hickory," said Austin, who explained that these multiple trunk natives grow 10-20 feet, while the leaves are 5-8 inches long.

Hickory nuts range from sweet to bitter, depending on the type of tree. During the holiday season, we often see old-fashioned hickory favorites such as hickory-roasted hams, and hickory smoked nuts.

Although blight struck the American chestnut trees in the early 20th century, blight-resistant Chinese chestnut trees can be planted in Florida. Chinese chestnut trees are hardwood trees that can reach up to 40 feet in a sunny, open exposure location with a well-drained soil. Their leaves are dark green and are 3-6 inches long.

Four types, known for their nut production, are: Abundance, Meiling, Nanking, and Kuling. In Alachua, Chestnut Hill Tree Farm grows a variety called, Dunstan. The nuts of the Chinese chestnut trees are edible but they are not as sweet as the American chestnut. The Christmas Song, a.k.a., "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire," makes reference to this seasonal snack that has been described as a cross between sweet potatoes and walnuts.

Walnuts are another holiday favorite and many set out a bowl for guests to crack open. The Black walnut is a strong, durable tree found in northern Florida, as well as in other parts of the United States. The tree is a hardwood medium-sized tree (70-130 feet) with leaves ranging from 12-24 inches in length. The tree grows best in sunny open locations with a moist rich soil.

Before planting any tree, it's important to research the height, the canopy size, the optimal growing conditions and the care requirements. A tree is a major part of any landscape, especially the larger ones, so you want to be sure you are choosing a tree that will best fit.

"When planting, make sure the soil is packed firmly around the roots without air pockets," said Austin, who explained that it is important not to plant deeper than the top of the root ball. " It's also important to water often, especially at first," said Austin, who added that one should water every day for the first month and every other day for the next month. Trees should also be watered deeply once a week for the first three months, especially if sprinklers are not used. "After the first 3-6 months, once the trees acclimatize, you can fertilize," added Austin.

Once your trees are established, remember that you won't be the only one enjoying them as birds and other small animals eat the nuts, seeds and berries. Plus, the trees provide the little critters with cozy homes.