How To Choose The Best Chestnut Trees For Sale | Great Days Outdoors

How To Choose The Best Chestnut Trees For Sale

Anyone serious about deer management knows that it’s hard to beat chestnut trees when it comes to attracting and holding deer and other wildlife on a piece of property. But how do you go about choosing the best chestnut trees for sale?

Chestnut trees not only produce delicious nuts that native wildlife crave and enjoy, but those nuts also provide essential nutrients that play an important part of the diet for many wildlife species as they prepare for winter. Chestnut trees are fast-growing and have a vast growing range that stretches from Florida to Wisconsin. They bear nuts in 3 to 5 years, compared to 10 to 20 years for oaks, and can produce up to 2,000 pounds per acre at maturity. Chestnut trees also produce nuts annually, whereas oaks only produce nuts every other year.

History Of The American Chestnut

The chestnut was the primary food source and one of the largest mast-producing trees in the Eastern U.S. for millennia until it was wiped out in early 1900s by the chestnut blight that was introduced into New York, likely from China. Within 40 years, over 30 million acres of chestnut trees were killed from Maine to Georgia and west to the Mississippi. 

“It killed off all of the chestnut trees. Imagine for a moment if all of our oak trees died off because of disease. It would be an astronomical disaster. That’s what it was like. The chestnut blight caused a nutritional gap that was extremely detrimental to wildlife and to humans. Not only did the wildlife depend heavily on chestnuts, but the nuts also played a large role in Native Americans’ diet. It was an important crop that was widely planted and foraged. They ate the chestnut, used chestnut flour, and fed them to their domesticated animals,” Iain Wallace, the CEO of Chestnut Hill Outdoors, a nursery and tree farm famous for supplying the Dunstan chestnut tree, says.

Blight-Resistant American Chestnut

Fortunately, in the 1950s, James Carpenter found a surviving American chestnut in a grove of dead and dying trees in Ohio. He sent budwood to Dr. Robert T. Dunstan, a well-known plant breeder who took stock cuttings from the blight- resistant tree and crossed them with a Chinese chestnut which was naturally resistant to the blight. He then crossed the seedlings from the first cross back to both parent trees. These future varieties would eventually become known as Dunstan Chestnuts, which are now considered by many to be the No. 1 food plot tree in America. The Dunstan chestnut was specifically bred to be a heavy producer, and produces large-size quality nuts with a sweet taste that are easy to peel. Most importantly, it is resistant to the blight.

dunstan chestnut
Chestnuts provide deer with more nutritional value than acorns.

“There have been many other programs over the years that have tried to produce the American chestnut, but time and again, they’ve become susceptible to the chestnut blight. The Dunstan has American genetics, but has the blight-resistant quality of the Chinese chestnut,” Wallace says.

Wallace explains that Chestnut Hill Nursery in Alachua, Florida, has the original trees from the original breeding program. Dunstan moved to Florida after the initial planting site and brought the genetics with him.

“All the trees we have on the farm are produced from original trees. We are the only place that produces the Dunstan chestnut. Other places that claim to sell Dunstan chestnut trees either aren’t actually producing Dunstan chestnuts or they are many generations removed,” Wallace says.

Dunstan Chestnut Trees For Sale: The No.1 Food Plot Tree

Wallace says deer are hardwired to seek out and find chestnuts because they are a natural food source.

“I think that the chestnut’s scent and taste, and the knowledge of how to eat it is naturally ingrained in deer. Deer and other wildlife prefer chestnuts over other hard mast sources because of their taste and nutritional qualities. Acorns have a lot of tannic acid and bitter tannins. Tannins act as a natural deterrent for animals to help prevent them from consuming all of a tree’s seeds. In fact, there are some farmers who spray tannic acid around crops to deter deer. The chestnut has little to no tannin. Not only does it taste sweet and fresh to us, but deer have more sensitive taste buds, so it is highly attractive to them,” Wallace says.

chestnut trees for sale
The Dunstan chestnut is considered the No. 1 food plot tree in America.

In addition to tasting better than other mast crops like acorns, the chestnut has more nutritional value as well. The acorn is high in fat, while the chestnut is higher in carbs. Chestnuts are made of approximately 40 percent carbohydrates, 5 to 8 percent protein and 2 percent fat. The protein has been compared to an amino acid complex similar to eggs because it is high-quality protein that is easily digestible. It’s a wonderful nutrition source for wildlife in a key time before winter when the deer need it most.


Chestnut Tree Varieties

In addition to the American/Chinese chestnut hybrid, there are Chinese, Japanese and European chestnut varieties as well. They all have varying nut and flavor qualities and different leaf structure. 

Comparing chestnut varieties is like comparing apple varieties. It’s all a matter of preference. Do you like honey crips or granny smith apples? The lure for the Dunstan chestnut is, of course, its high quality and delicious taste, but it also has the original American genetics and the blight-resistance of the Chinese variety. Japanese, European and American varieties don’t have that natural resistance and because of that, the blight has ravaged the chestnut population across the world,” Wallace says.

How To Inspect Chestnut Trees For Sale

Wallace advises buyers to make sure that their chosen nursery is reputable and actually selling what they are advertising.

“A common practice in the nursery industry is to offer varieties that aren’t what they say they are. When taking in hundreds of thousands of different plants, it’s easy to get them switched up. We make sure that doesn’t happen at our nursery because we are meticulous in the way we pot and tag trees. We do a lot of growing in-house. We graft and clone and we know what the mother plant is. We know the correct variety. We sell them and will take budwood sources from them. On occasion, we will buy from other nurseries. When we do, we are very careful to not mix those plants up with our stock plants because we don’t trust that they have the correct varieties. Of course, after the plant starts to produce fruit, you’ll often be able to tell if they sold you the wrong variety. So, make sure you buy from a reputable nursery,” Wallace says.

chestnut trees for sale
Make sure you purchase your chestnut trees from a reputable nursery.

When selecting your specific tree, make sure you choose one with a big, healthy root system. Make sure the leaves have no spotting. If they are yellow, it means that the plant is low on fertilizer. If the leaves are veiny, not fully green, or a bit off color, then the plant is lacking nutrients. Look for full and healthy new growth. It’s a good sign when the plant is continually growing. The wood needs to look fresh and green.

Chestnut Tree Nursery Best Practices

“A good nursery will be pushing the plant to grow. It will provide the right water and the right soil. The plant should look as if it’s trying to expand out of its pot. Inspect the bark for any damage. Look for pests. A quality nursery should be have stellar chestnut trees for sale. We at Chestnut Hill pride ourselves on our quality trees and we ensure that our trees meet all of the above standards. We also take calls from customers and help them troubleshoot if they’re having an issue with a tree,” Wallace says.

Chestnut Hill takes orders from clients all over the country, and it always ensures that the tree’s root system is healthy before it ships it to a customer. Each tree is grown in a root-pruning 5×5 pot that encourages the root system to vigorously grow. This ensures maximum survivability. The root system is how the plant soaks up the energy from the new site. If it has a puny root system, it’s likely to die. It’s more prone to getting too wet or too dry. Other issues that will shock it include pests, too many weeds, and a damaged trunk.

“When shipping, we make sure that the tree stays moist. We wrap it in root gel and then put hay around the root gel. It stays nice and moist, and it is fertilized just right. We take huge pride in our nurseries. Many nurseries will sell you a tree throughout the year if you buy from them online. You order it and the tree is shipped out to you in three to five days, no matter the time of the year. If it ships during the summer or during winter, you’ll be planting the tree during a time that is less beneficial for the tree. We only ship during two key seasons — spring and fall. We will actually cater our shipments to your zip code. We wait to ship your tree until it’s the best time for your zip code to plant it,” Wallace says.

Chestnut trees for sale, specifically the Dunstan chestnut, can provide years of essential nutrients to your deer herd. But choosing high-quality trees is imperative and that begins with selecting the best nursery. Do a bit of research. Ask around. And once you’ve chosen a nursery, make sure to examine the trees for disease, poor nutrition and pests before you purchase them. Once your chestnut trees start producing, you’ll understand why they are such a popular choice for those serious about attracting and holding deer on their property.

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