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Growing Chestnut Trees in California

Are You In The Right Area ?

The American Chestnut tree is ideally adapted to the warm, damp summers and loose acid soils of the Southern Appalachians.

A glance at the map will convince you that over 80% of the Far West in general and of California in particular is too dry to support an American Chestnut forest. And 80% has too alkaline soils for American Chestnuts. And 80% has hot, dry summer winds that would suck all the moisture from the leaves of a growing American Chestnut. The good news is that those three areas overlap almost completely, leaving several broad bands of habitat where American Chestnut forests could flourish. If you are lucky enough to live in one of those suitable locations, then it is possible, but certainly not easy, to establish a small grove of American Chestnut trees in your neighborhood.

The three main conditions to consider are soil, water and air. Hardwood forest trees need about 30 inches of rain per year to thrive. While it is possible to artificially water a grove of trees for a year ot two, it would be a poor forest plan that relied on artificial watering for decades or centuries.

American Chestnuts require soil that is neutral to slightly acidic, not just at the surface but down deep in the soil where their taproot will eventually go. Usually areas which have excessive evaporation over rainfall ( we call them deserts ) will also have alkaline soils, as disolved salts accumulate near the surface. Conversely, many areas of the Far West where Douglas Fir or Coastal Redwood were once the dominant forest tree have the right combination of rainfall and soil acidity for growing American Chestnuts.

The third requirement, the absence of hot dry summer winds, is usually not a problem where the other two requirements are met.

  Pests

While it is true that the Far West is largely free of the Chestnut Blight, the Gall Wasp, the Chestnut Weevil, the Japanese Beetle, the Gypsy Moth, and Kudzu, we have plenty of wild pigs, deer, rabbits, pocket gophers, moles, voles, snails, slugs, chipmunks, ground squirrels, acorn jays, cows, horses, sheep and goats to keep life interesting.

The adaptations of the American Chestnut which work so well in Tennessee are a little out of sync in California. Just when our native California hardwoods have finished their early spring growth spurt and are preparing for the long dry summer months, the American Chestnut sends forth fresh new shoots loaded with big soft leaves just begging to be eaten by any passing deer or rabbit that has become jaded with the local plantlife. And in late summer when our native brush is dry and brittle, the inner bark of the chestnut seedling is still moist and green. Any passing deer or rabbit will be tempted to try it, and the first few bites will confirm the original prognosis. In a few minutes, the healthy seedling will be nothing but a tooth-marked stump !
Some sites will require that the seedlings be planted in gopher-proof wire baskets. Some sites will require a plastic deer-guard for each seedling. Some will need wire rabbit-guards. And some will benefit from protection from the drying winds or scalding sun. Some will need fencing against straying horses or goats. Not all sites will have all possible problems, but none will be totally problem-free.


Dormant American
Chestnut Scion
  Getting Started

The three primary requirements are land, labor and capital. Many of us are not fortunate enough to own extensive acreage of suitable forest land. Therefore, we work out cooperative deals which permit us to run our experiments on land belonging to a neighbor, a friend, or an aquaintance. A typical grove of two dozen trees will occupy a fraction of an acre, usually in some out-of-the-way corner, safe from bulldozers, backhoes, mowers and grazing livestock.


American
Chestnut
  Record Keeping


If your work is to be useful to anyone besides yourself, you must take the time to start and maintain accurate records of your projects. Memories fade much faster than chestnut trees.



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