After a few years of planting “safe” trees, this year it time to go out on a limb in a manner of speaking and try some more unusual varieties. It was prudent to start with native trees for the bulk of the planting, but now it’s time to experiment a bit a push the growing zones a bit. All the following photos and descriptions are from Oikos Tree Crops in Michigan (I like to get trees from north of me, to help with hardiness, although I know that most of Michigan is a zone warmer than here due in part to the Great Lakes). I ordered four of each to start.
New northern pecan selection created by using wild tree germplasm from across the U.S. Selections were based on the early ripening characteristics, so all seedlings would fill nuts every year in southern Michigan. Special thanks to the Northern Nut Growers Association, and some of our more nutty customers, we were able to obtain seed from Minnesota to northern Illinois. Some of this strain has its origin near the ancient portages on numerous Midwestern rivers and streams. It took about 25 years to evaluate this strain completely. In the last 10 years of nut production, there was only one year that the nuts didn’t fill. That was the same year the Concord grapes didn’t reach their normal sugar count and we had a frost at the farm on the eve of July 1. Besides that one extreme, we always have trees producing in our hedgerow. Starting in early October, the nuts will begin filling and be completely out of the shuck throughout the month of October and early November. Although many of the original seed trees have perished on the Mississippi flood plain, we are fortunate to grow and offer these as progenitors of a new generation of the most northern hardy pecan. Height to 60 ft. with equal width. Hardiness -35 °F.
Next to the English walnut, heartnut is the easiest of the walnuts to use for nut production and edibility. The flavor is very mild, similar to cashews. Clusters of nuts are produced in profusion near the ends of the branches. The nuts are fairly easy to crack and come out in halves and wholes. The trees are easy to grow as a yard tree and will develop a wide spreading crown with horizontal branching. Young trees can bear nuts when only 4-6 ft. tall. A few insects attack the tree, but resistant to all fungal diseases that attack butternut or black walnut. Hardiness -25
The American persimmon is one of the most luscious and sweet fruits containing up to 30% sugar. ‘If not ripe,’ said Captain John Smith of Jamestown, ‘it will draw a man’s mouth awrie with much torment.’ ( Hmm – Similar to eating my grandmother’s corn relish.) And that’s the real challenge of growing persimmons north of their native range. Unripe fruit will make it difficult to use them for anything except frozen golf fruit balls and possibly feeding a few birds and deer. As the fruit ripens the astringency decreases and the sweetness increases. Trees can grow throughout the north even in Minnesota or Maine but in short season areas the fruits will not be edible to humans. Contrary to folklore, frost has little to do with ripening. Having a long warm fall something like an Indian summer really does wonders for edibility. About 25 years ago, we began surrounding our property line with American persimmons from different northern seed sources. Today we have many trees producing a wide variety of shapes and sizes of fruit. Ripening occurs from mid-September through late November. After the leaves fall, the fruit hangs on throughout the fall and winter. All types of wildlife consume this high-energy fruit either in the tree or on the ground. A favorite of deer, persimmons are a strong attractant and will bring them in quantity to your property. Deer rarely browse seedling trees since the foliage is poisonous to them. Persimmon is in the ebony family and the wood is very valuable for special uses like golf club heads. Dark heartwood. Persimmons will grow in a variety of soils, including clay, sand or wet muck. Tolerant to shade and competition from grass or other trees. Trees begin producing at 6-8 years of age. Dioecious-male and female flowers on separate plants. A seedling population will contain a 50-50 mix. There is no way to know ahead of time what sex the tree is until it flowers. Space 10-30 ft. Height to 50 ft.-30 F hardiness for our strains.
The largest native fruit – up to one pound – with a rich, custard-strawberry, banana flavor. Purple orchid flowers in early May. Best growth in a rich, moist high-organic soil, although tolerant to sand and clay. Grows extremely well throughout North America from Florida to Maine to Nebraska. Some commercial growers are found in California too. Two are required for fruit set. They need each other’s pollen to produce. It takes 4-8 years before fruiting begins. Slow-growing at first, established plants average 1-2 feet growth. The Louisiana Indians wove the inner bark into fiber cloth. The fruits can be made into jam or custard and mixed to make cookies and cakes. The fruits can be eaten fresh after they become soft and fully ripened in September and October. The seeds are lima bean shape and contain alkaloids that are not ingested by birds or mammals. Raccoons and possums are frequent visitors to the groves we visit in the wild. Deer never eat the foliage of the plant. A pyramidal tree to 20 feet. Plant 10-15 feet apart for a dense grove or 20 by 20 for an orchard. Great understory tree with oak, hickory and maple.