Growing your own almond tree (Prunus dulcis) isn't just a great way to get piles of fresh almonds for years to come but is also a wonderful way to add some color to your yard thanks to their stunning, white-to-pink springtime blooms that may last from February through late March. An almond tree is certainly a good investment for nut lovers, as a healthy tree can produce up to 60 pounds of nuts and can keep producing for anywhere from 25 to 50 years.
Depending on the variety, these trees can grow anywhere from 12 to 33 feet tall, with most home gardeners choosing varieties around 15 feet tall, an ideal size for a typical backyard. While the trees can be a little finicky, especially when young, once they are established, they are fairly drought tolerant, but they never do particularly well with spring frosts, and these deciduous trees do best in areas with mild winters and warm summers.
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Best Uses for Almonds
Almond trees are actually stone fruits, but unlike cherries and peaches, the tasty treat isn't the fruit but the seed inside. In fact, immature almond hulls, also called drupes, actually look quite similar to unripe peaches since they are green and fuzzy, and the shell inside looks similar to a peach pit only with small holes rather than long divots. Interestingly, almonds are the earliest stone fruit to bloom.
Most almond cultivars are not self-pollinating, so it's important to either choose one of the varieties that can pollinate alone or be prepared to grow two trees of two different varieties if you want to produce nuts. It is important to do research before purchasing your almond trees, as not all varieties are compatible when it comes to cross-pollinating one another. For example, the pollen from Nonpareil varieties is not compatible with Monterey varieties, and even if the pollen types are compatible, it's important to ensure both trees will bloom around the same time in order for cross-pollination to occur.
One of the most popular varieties for home growers is Prunus dulcis 'All-in-One,' which is self-pollinating and grows 15 feet tall. It also works as a pollinator for other cultivars that cannot self-pollinate. Prunus dulcis 'Hall's Hardy' is another popular variety with small nuts that grows up to 30 feet and has widely praised bright pink flowers in spring. It is more frost tolerant than other cultivars and actually requires quite a bit of chilly weather in order to produce fruit. Like most varieties, it does not self-pollinate, so it will need to be planted beside another cultivar.
Aside from growing almond trees next to one another in order to ensure pollination, it can also be beneficial to grow clover as ground cover around your trees, as this can help aerate the soil, attract pollinators and add nitrogen to the soil.
How to Grow Almonds
- Common Name: Almond
- Botanical Name: Prunus dulcis
- When to Plant: Any time of year
- USDA Zones: 7 to 9, with some cultivars hardy to zone 5
- Sun Exposure: Full sun
- Soil Type: Rich, well-draining loam soil
- When it's in Trouble: Stunted growth, dying branches, powdery nuts inside of shells, yellowing or browned leaves, wilting leaves
- When it's Thriving: Long, thin green leaves; pink or white flowers in spring; green fuzzy fruits in early or midsummer that turn brown and crack at harvest time
Starting Almond Trees From a Sapling
While almonds can be grown from seed or sapling, it's generally preferable to start from a sapling since it is not only more likely to successfully grow into a mature tree but will also be able to produce nuts much faster. Saplings sold from nurseries are usually grafted to the roots of a peach or bitter almond tree, which also means these trees are more resistant to certain diseases, such as verticillium rot.
Start by wetting the roots of the sapling before planting to give it a head start. Dig a hole deep enough and wide enough to accommodate all the roots, particularly the main taproot. This means the hole will probably need to be between 18 and 24 inches deep. Space multiple trees between 15 and 22 feet apart. Enhance your existing soil from the hole with cow manure, compost or peat moss before refilling the hole.
When planting almond saplings, ensure the taproot is never bent or damaged, as almond trees can be easily killed by even minor damage to the taproot. When planting a bare-root sapling, spread out the other roots around the hole to prevent them from getting tangled as they grow. Plant young trees at the same depth as they were previously planted.
After filling the hole three-quarters of the way with dirt, pour in one bucket of water and then mix fertilizer with water and pour it in as well. Finish filling the hole with soil, gently tapping the soil with a shovel after every scoop of dirt. Once the hole is completely filled, water well and apply mulch around the roots, leaving a 3-inch gap from the base of the tree.
Paint the tree trunk with white latex paint or apply tree guards to help prevent rodent infestations and sun scald. Prune off between a third and a half of the twigs and branches. While it may seem scary to start trimming a new tree right away, it's important to help force the tree to focus its growth on its root system and trunk.
In What Zone Do Almonds Grow Best?
Almond trees are native to the Middle East, but they have been cultivated and domesticated to grow in a wide variety of areas, including USDA hardiness zones 7 to 9, with some cultivars hardy to zone 5. That being said, they do best in warm climates with mild winters without excessive rainfall, which is why the most successful commercial almond growers in the U.S. are in California, Texas, Arizona and Georgia. At the same time, almond trees need at least 200 to 400 hours of chilly weather below 45 degrees Fahrenheit in order to produce nuts, which is why they don't do well in tropical areas.
While all almond cultivars do well in zones 7 through 9, not all varieties can survive in zones 5 and 6. If you live in these regions, look for more cold-friendly varieties, like Hall's Hardy, that actually require 600 to 800 hours of chill in order to produce nuts.
When Should You Plant Almonds?
Almond seedlings or saplings can be planted successfully at any time of year as long as the soil is workable. That being said, when planting in late fall or winter, it's best to avoid adding liquid fertilizer in the bucket of water while planting. Additionally, when growing bare-rooted saplings, it's best to plant in late autumn or early spring to protect them from more extreme temperatures.
Soil, Sunlight and Water Recommendations for Almonds
Almonds can grow in most soil types as long as the soil does not stay excessively moist. If the roots are constantly surrounded by water, it will cause root rot. This is why the ideal soil type is rich and light with ample organic matter. In the winter and spring, the soil should be top-dressed with fertilizer along the drip line of the tree. Apply a thick layer of mulch around the root area in spring and early summer in order to help maintain moisture in the soil and prevent weed growth.
Sunlight is critical to a productive almond tree, and while it may grow in partial sun, it will not thrive. Instead, plant your tree where it will get at least six hours of sunlight per day, ideally where it will also be protected from heavy winds that will blow nuts off the tree before they're ripe.
For the first year or two, the trees should be watered once a week whenever there is less than an inch of rain. The best way to do this is to put your hose near the base of the tree and then leave the water to trickle slowly for about 20 minutes, which will give the soil plenty of time to absorb the water. After these first few years, trees can survive without supplemental watering, but a once-a-week watering will help boost production. Do not water the tree too much or too often, as this can harm the roots and reduce nut production.
How to Winterize Almonds
Pruning is important for the maintenance of a healthy almond tree. Failing to prune your tree could result in poor growth or even prevent the tree from growing at all.
When the tree enters its first dormant period between November and January, pruning will guide the future shape of the tree, so it is important to encourage upward growth. Ideally, you'll want to have three or four main branches, which will also make harvesting easier. Trim off any branches growing toward the middle of the tree as well as any broken or dead branches. When multiple branches cross, remove all but one of them. Favor branches growing with wide angles rather than narrow ones.
From the second season on, prune trees in December or January, removing growth through the center of the tree to ensure better light penetration and airflow. Eliminate any dead, diseased or drooping branches. Trim out around 20 percent of the tree's canopy every year.
Aside from pruning, it's also important to remove any fallen leaves, old mulch and fallen nuts to prevent pests and disease from overwintering in and around your tree. Spray trees with dormant oil to prevent problems with borers, scale and mites.
How to Harvest Almonds
Trees will start producing almonds when they're between 2 and 4 years old depending on the variety and local weather conditions. The drupes begin growing sometime between March and June, and they will take between 180 and 240 days to mature. Hulls split open and are ready to harvest sometime between August and September. You should harvest when the drupes have all turned brown and at least three-quarters of the hulls have split open.
Before harvesting, pick up any drupes that have already fallen on the ground and then place two blankets or sheets on the ground below the tree, one on each side of the trunk. A healthy, mature almond tree can produce between 30 and 65 pounds of nuts per year, so using blankets to catch the harvest can save you a lot of effort when it comes to picking up and carrying all of the fallen nuts.
You can harvest nuts by hand or use a pole to gently knock the nuts from the branches onto the ground. Leave the nuts to dry in the sun for two to three days. The nuts are ready when they rattle in the shells when shaken and the shells crack rather than bend when heavy pressure is applied. When your nuts are dry, pick up the blankets at the corners, moving the nuts to the center so they can be more easily carried inside.
Before storing your nuts, remove the remaining hull from the shell. The nuts can be kept in the shell or out, but if you don't shell them, be sure to freeze your harvest for a week or two in order to kill any worms that could travel from shell to shell. Store nuts in airtight containers in a cool, dry place or in the freezer. Almonds will stay good for up to one year when properly stored.
Common Pests and Other Problems for Almonds
Like all stone fruits, almonds are subject to a number of pests, including the peach tree borer, naval orangeworms and mites. Peach tree borers are moths with clear wings and metallic blue or black bodies with orange or yellow stripes. Infestations can be identified by holes in young shoots, which could kill off branches. Borers can be prevented by spraying trees with dormant oil after the growth season.
Another common pest is the naval orangeworm, which burrows into nut meat, eating nuts from the inside out. These can be identified by distinctive webbing and a powdery residue. The best way to prevent these pests is to remove fallen nuts during the dormant season to prevent the orangeworms from overwintering and getting a foothold in your tree. If you notice any orangeworms in your almond trees during the growth season, harvest early to prevent the insects from further infesting your plants.
Mites appear on the underside of leaves, where they feed on sap, causing leaves to turn brown. Using a dormant oil can help prevent infestations, but if you already have an infestation, you may want to introduce a predatory insect, such as the western predatory mite.
Common Diseases for Almonds
Almond trees are vulnerable to many diseases, with two of the most common being crown gall and verticillium wilt. Crown gall results in trees growing slowly and failing to produce nuts. Trees get infected through cuts, so the best way to avoid this disease is by protecting your tree from damage and using properly disinfected equipment when pruning.
Verticillium wilt results in the yellowing and wilting of leaves on some branches, often on only one side of the tree. The best way to prevent this disease is to only grow almond trees that are grafted on a hearty peach or bitter almond stock. In addition, it's important not to overwater the plants and only use properly draining soil because wilt thrives in moist conditions.
- University of California Integrated Pest Management: Verticillium Wilt
- Gardener's Path: How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Almond Trees
- Shelterwood Forest Farm: Cold Hardy Almonds for the Northeast
- GrowVeg: Almond Growing Guide
- University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources: Almond
- Stark Bro's: How to Grow Almond Trees
- Balcony Garden Web: Do Almonds Grow on Trees + How Do Almonds Grow
- Gardening Channel: The Best Way to Grow an Almond Tree
- Sacramento Valley Orchard Source: Almond Varieties (Cultivars)