Chestnuts are large, vigorous, long-lived trees with glossy green leaves. Most species produce sizeable trees, which are really only suitable for very large gardens and open parkland. However, there are now a number of modern cultivars that grow to more modest proportions.
Family: Fagaceae (Beech family)
Botanical Name: Castanea
Common Names: Chestnut, sweet chestnut, European chestnut, Spanish chestnut
Foliage: Deciduous, lanceolate, toothed, glossy green leaves. Turning golden in autumn. The trunk has rugged, grooved bark.
Blossom: Yellow catkins, followed by spiny fruits containing shiny edible nuts.
Flowering Period: Summer.
Soil: Well-drained, fertile soil (sand or loam). Acid or neutral pH.
Conditions: Full sun. Can be grown in any aspect.
Habit: Tall, fast growing.
Type: Large tree.
Origin: Southern Europe, Western Asia, North Africa, North America.
Hardiness: Hardy in the UK.
Thrives in deep, fertile, well-drained, acid or neutral soil, in an open sunny position. Dislikes alkaline/chalky soils. Fast growing and tolerant of saline winds. Good drought-resistance once established.
The average lifespan of a sweet chestnut is around 700 years, so choose your location well.
Plant any time in the dormant season, so long as the soil is not frozen or waterlogged. Improve sandy soils with well-rotted organic mater before planting. Support with a short angled stake until fully established.
Water well until established, after which, they won't need much moisture except in periods of severe drought.
Not necessary, except for the removal of dead, damaged or crossing branches in early summer.
Weevils can attack the nuts. Trees can be affected by phytophthora, leaf spot, chestnut blight and honey fungus.
Species are easily raised from ripe chestnuts planted in spring. Cultivars should be increased by grafting.
It is best to grow a compact modern cultivar, as species trees are far too large for the average garden. Named cultivars also crop much earlier, usually within a few years from planting. There are two main groups: 'Marrans', which produce one nut per fruit and 'Chataignes', which produce multiple nuts. Some varieties are self-fertile but others need more than one plant for cross-pollination.
Castanea sativa (Spanish or sweet chestnut) has deeply grooved bark and shiny, mid-green, sharply toothed leaves. Pale yellow catkins in summer, followed by prickly burrs containing chestnuts. Height to 65ft (20m), spread 50ft (15m). Cultivars include:
Castanea vesca (sweet chestnut, common chestnut) forms a largish tree with rugged, grooved bark and long glossy, lanceolate leaves. Height to 40ft (12m), spread 26ft (8m).