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Hickory trees (Carya) are large deciduous trees with a spreading canopy and dense foliage. They have gray flakey, ridged bark, serrated edged leaves, and egg-shaped nuts. Hickory trees can grow between 60 and 80 feet tall and can spread to about 40 feet.
Hickory trees are in the plant genus Carya, belonging to the walnut family (Juglandaceae). Growers prize hickory trees for their sweet syrup sap, delicious nuts, and dense hardwood. They grow well in some parts of Asia and North America’s temperate rainforests.
How to Identify Hickory Tree
You can identify hickory trees through their nuts, leaves, and bark. They have long leaves with about 17 pointed leaflets growing opposite each leaf stem. Hickory tree bark peels easily and is gray and ridged. The common hickory trees have sweet nuts.
Hickory trees are temperate forest trees with large nuts and pinnately compound leaves. They have yellow-green, small catkins produced during the spring.
Hickory trees are self-incompatible and wind-pollinated. The fruit is an oval nut or glucose between 1.5 to 3 cm in diameter and 2 to 5 cm long. They have split open in maturity and are enclosed in a four-valved husk. Most species have bony and thick nutshell and thin in a notably, few pecans. The two halves typically split open during the seed germination process.
Hickories are robust shade trees prevalent in the moist ground close to floodplains, rivers, and streams. They have hard and dense wood because of their slow growth. Hickory trees have 18 species, and 12 of them are native to North America.
Shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa or king nut) and shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) are common types of hickory trees. Other hickory types are bitternut hickory trees (Carya cordiformis) and pignut hickory (Carya laciniosa).
Generally, hickory species’ common names are tree nuts or bark. For example, shellbark and shagbark are the most frequently found hickories for nut production. Having ornamental worth through bitter nuts are bitternut and pignut hickory trees. Some of the rare hickory species include sand hickory (Carya pallida), red hickory (Carya ovalis), and black hickory (Carya Texana).
Many growers value hickory timber because they are shock-resistant, robust, stiff, and tough. Hickory wood uses include walking sticks, gold clubs, drumsticks, and baseball bats.
- Hickory tree nuts are typically tasty and sweet. The pecan tree (Carya illinoinensis) and the shagbark hickory tree produce the most flavorful drupes or nuts. The shellbark hickory also has one of the largest nuts among the hickory species, and these nuts are delicious.
- Hickory tree leaves have a single terminal leaf growing on the stem with leaflet pairs. Typically, shagbark hickory leaves can grow to about ten inches or 25 cm, while shellbark leaves grow to about 60 cm or 24 inches. In addition, there are more two leaflets in shellbark leaves than shagbark.
- Hickory tree bark has curled ends and scaly plates at the bottom and top. It is straightforward to identify shellbark hickory bark and that of shagbark hickory. Shellbark hickory back is less shaggy than that of shagbark and is smoother.
Where Does Hickory Tree Grow
As part of trees that perform many things, many growers rank hickories high on the list. Hickory trees have thick canopies over dignified trunks to shade landscapes, while some toss in excellent fall leaf shade or ornamental bark to flaunt their beauties. These trees control the eastern hardwood environment, from the prairie states to the Appalachians.
When it comes to where hickory trees grow, there is one hickory species grown in eastern Mexico, and about 12 species of hickory trees are grown in the United States of all the 19 hickory species in the world.
Wildlife and Hickory Trees
Acorns are the wildlife’s most essential food source that hickory nuts trail against oak trees that produce an annual crop. Hickory flowers attract spectacular moths like Branded Sphinxes, Imperials, and Lunas. Roosting under their peeling bark are endangered Indiana bats and also several bird-attracting insects. We recommend looking no further than a hickory tree if you want a tree to anchor a wildlife garden.
Hickory Trees for Home Landscapes
There are five native US hickory trees with mature size and sweet nuts perfect for large home landscapes. These species typically exceed 80 feet tall with about the same height and width regarding their canopies. You may need to consider them permanent landscape addition because they generally send down deep taproots.
- Red Hickory (Carya avails) will tolerate a wind-sheltered space with full sun and moist loamy, deep soil. This species grows in USDA zones 5 to 9.
- Sand hickory (Carya pallida) prefers partial to full sun, moderately dry loam, or sandy or moist soil as a tree thrives well in USDA zones 6b through 9a.
- Mockernut hickory (Carya tomentoso) grows well in USDA zones 4 through 9 and prefers partial shade to full sun and can tolerate dry sites but thrives well in moist, fertile, and well-draining soil.
- Shellback hickory (Carya laciniosa) thrives well in moist, fertile, and well-draining soil and can tolerate occasional flooding as a tree grows in USDA zones 5 through 8. It requires partial shade to full sun, and its best uses include ornamental bark.
- Shagbark hickory (Carya ovate) prefers moist, fertile, and well-draining soil and grows well in USDA zones 4 through 8. It has shaggy bark that offers year-round ornamental value and can tolerate full sun to partial shade.
We recommend leaving the pecan hickory trees to urban landscapes and commercial growers even though it can be as tall as 130 feet and has the tastiest nuts of all. You also need to know that hickory trees can be notoriously slow to grow, other than pecans. You can expect to harvest the nuts after about 25 years of waiting. Others may take as long as 40 years to produce their first crop!
Uses of Hickory Tree
Many people prize hickory trees for smoking, fuel, seasoning meats of various types, and curing. Many people also enjoy feasting on certain types of hickory trees’ fruit, especially pecans. In addition, hickories have the hardest wood, which makes woodworkers love it for their woodworking projects.
Hickory wood has the cream-colored sapwood that makes it distinctive, which has recently grown in popularity and contrasts with the dark-red to brown or tan heartwood. Here are some of the uses of hickories.
Depending on the species, hickories produce nuts with various flavors, including oily, dry, or bitter. A hard shell has a woody, thick husk around it that holds the kernel within.
The drying and splitting process of the husks will prompt it to reach the shell within. As such, the shell will open, and you can extract the kernel. Hickories are similar to pecans with similar sizes and shapes with their nuts. You can add nuts to baked goods, toast them, or eat them raw.
Seasoning and Firewood
People used hickory trees mainly as firewood, even though the tree enjoyed wide acceptance as a tool handle. With time, people began to use the pleasant and distinctive smoke odor to cure meat like bacon, ham, and even fish. New growers use artificial flavorings and other techniques to cure meats.
However, a small percentage of traditional meat suppliers and even people still use the hickory tree to flavor their meat products with the smoking process. Also, many stores have hickory chips for their barbecue grill.
Cabinets and Furniture Flooring
Due to the sharply contrasting wood colors, people do not use the hickory tree for cabinets, flooring, and furniture. There has been a change to this case, particularly in the late 1990 and even beyond. Homeowners have enjoyed a rustic touch the hickory trees have been adding to furniture, cabinets, and flooring.
Woodworkers and manufacturers look for a unique wood appearance by specifying hardwood on the side of the boards and lumber pieces that exhibit the contrasting sapwood. There has been an increase in the hickory demand as a species for woodworking among small and large commercial companies.
People have been using hickory as handles for shovels, axes, and other long-handled tools. The hardwood and dense, straight grain can withstand any pressure under use.
In addition, the wooden handles can make the device easier to use when wielding them as they can flex slightly without breaking. For instance, as an ax head strikes a wood, the user will not feel the impact of the shock since a hickory ax handle has absorbed the shock, thus imparting little or no effect to the individuals’ arms and hands.
How to Grow Hickory Tree from Seeds
Hickory trees complete nut maturity in early fall after flowering in the spring. Many hickory nuts will be ripe and ready for collection as early as September and continue until November.
Whether you intend to collect hickory seeds from the ground or off the tree, the best for that is when the seeds begin to fall. Late September through early November is the prime picking, based on your location within the US and your hickory species. You will get the best from hickory seeds when the husks start splitting.
When you collect your seeds, you must expose them to moist conditions and cold temperatures before the germination stage. Growers refer to this cold-moist requirement as stratification. You can meet the requirement by planting the seeds about .75 to 1.5 inches deep on the ground during the fall.
Essentially, you can also accomplish the cold-moist requirement by placing the seeds in a sphagnum peat moss and a moist mixture of sand and prepare a cold space with 33 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit to store them.
Suitable containers you can use for this process are food storage bags, small plastic buckets, and coffee cans. Of course, a perfect storage location is a refrigerator. Allow about 90 to 120 days for the seeds to be in the refrigerator, and you can take them out of the refrigerator after you have adequately stratified them and plant them outdoors in spring.
Hickory Tree Growing Conditions
Apart from requiring considerable space to grow, moist, fertile soil drains that well, many hickory trees need constant pruning, fertilizer, and watering for healthy growth. We recommend pruning your hickories to eliminate diseased, damaged, or crossing limbs anytime year-round.
You can allow easy access under your tree’s canopy by cutting off low-hanging branches near the trunk. Remember that heavy pruning can delay your tree’s nut product for about three years. Avoid transferring disease to your tree by using sterilized pruning tool blades to cut into the wood always.
When it comes to fertilizer, your tree will need one pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer for each year if they have not started bearing nuts. Apply the fertilizer in late winter. Twenty-five pounds per tree yearly is enough, and avoid exceeding that. Alternatively, you will need four pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer per one inch of the trunk for your hickories that are bearing nuts already.
Evenly spread the fertilizer under your tree’s canopy without letting the fertilizer run against the trunk. After applying the fertilizer, water it into the soil. Ensure that the space under your hickory tree is free from weed growth or grass as your tree may compete for required water and nutrients with unwanted vegetation.
All hickory tree types require weekly water applications to grow appropriately, particularly with dry and hot conditions, except rainy weather conditions. Ensure to water your newly planted hickories immediately after planting. Then, increase to twice a week until your hickories have established themselves in the planting location about eight to twelve weeks later.
When to Plant Hickory Tree
The best time to plant hickory trees is early spring. However, remember that hickories are slow growers when you leave them to their own devices.
As such, growing one variety and home-grown harvesting nuts from it anytime soon may need some sort of cheat. Your local store or nursery selling commercial cultivars will help with the trick. They will use grafting methods that produce superior specimens, yielding a harvest in as little as two or three years.
If you want to plant hickories from seedlings, autumn is the best time to transplant your seedlings because you have cooler weather than in the summer. Ensure that your hole is three times as wide and the same depth as the nursery when digging a planting hole. With that, you can encourage lateral root growth for your hickories.
Prepare a helper to hold it upright as you back-fill the hole around it after putting your hickory seedlings in the hole. Next, spread about a 4-inch layer of mulch in a four to six-foot perimeter within the tree base and water the seedlings. Ensure to leave a space between the trunk and the mulch.
How to Plant Hickory Tree
When you plant your hickory tree properly, you can be sure of getting off to a perfect start and vigorous growth. However, don’t forget that hickories grow into large trees.
As such, ensure to have about 35 feet of sufficient space on either side of your tree when choosing an area for the tree. Also, ensure that the spot can get partial shade to full sun throughout the day. In addition, you will get optimal growth with your hickory trees when planted in early winter or during fall.
- Start by removing all weed growth and grass to prepare the planting location. Prepare about 3 feet in diameter of clearing space.
- Ensure that the hole you will dig will be as deep as the root system or as the growing container of your hickory tree if you plant to grow a bare root tree and relatively wider. Avoid adding amendments of fertilizer to the hole.
- Take out your hickory tree from the nursery pot and tease the roots apart gently.
- The next thing is to carefully put the root ball into your prepared hole and spread the roots around the hole as gently as possible. Ensure to have about two inches of the grafted area on the bottom portion and not plant too deep.
- Remove any air pockets by applying water after filling the hole half-full of soil. Tamp down gently with your foot after filling the hole with soil. Ensure to saturate the roots by watering the area.
Hickory Tree Water Requirements
The first years of hickory tree growth are critical as you need to water it regularly to ensure the soil remains moist. Ensure the water penetrates the soil deeply by watering slowly. You can water your hickories in drought conditions, particularly in higher temperatures after the first year of growth. Your hickories will get adequate water from the environment if you experience standard weather patterns.
Hickory Tree Sun Requirements
Partial shade to full sun is suitable for every hickory tree species. Therefore, a minimum of four hours of unfiltered, direct sunlight is highly essential. Your hickories may not produce as many nuts as you want if you cannot meet this sunlight condition. In addition, establishing your hickory tree in your landscape will require fun sunlight, though it can also tolerate partial shade.
Ultimately, your matured hickories will need at least eight hours of bright sunlight daily. Your hickory trees will possibly be one of the largest specimens in your garden once it is established. Therefore, you will not face any challenges from other trees regarding shade.
Best Hickory Tree Fertilizer
It is good to fertilize hickories until about two to fifteen years when it begins to bear nuts. This time depends on the specific tree maturity. Ensure to fertilize your hickory tree once a year in the early fall or spring if you want to fertilize the tree. Use a balanced slow-releasing fertilizer.
You can use one pound of fertilizer for every inch in the trunk’s diameter and ensure that you measure the fertilizer ahead of time. A perfect example is to use five pounds of fertilizer for a five-inch trunk. Spread the fertilizer throughout the canopy covers and begin the spreading three feet from the tree’s trunk. After spreading it, water the fertilizer into the soil to about one-foot depth.
Best Hickory Tree Companion Plantings
We recommend not to plant anything under your hickories for the first growing year. However, you can start growing various small veggies and herbs with your hickory tree after a year as long as they do not require plenty of sun.
Spinach (Spinacia oleracea) is native to Persia as a leafy green vegetable, and as a healthy plant, you can pair it with your hickories.
Pea (Pisum sativum) will pair well with your hickories for its edible seeds.
Arugula (Eruca vesicaria) is another excellent companion for your hickories with spicy, peppery flavored leaves.
Hickory Tree Diseases and Common Problems
Some diseases and common problems affect hickory trees even though it is a study tree, mainly when well established.
Hickory Bark Beetle
Hickory bark beetle is indeed the most destructive pest for hickories. It emerges in the spring after it overwinters under the bark, feeding on new growth and moving to target trees showing signs of a lack of vigor or struggling to grow. The male beetle bore into the tree’s surface throughout the summer, letting the females lay their eggs.
Then, the females will plug the hole, allowing the larvae to devour the tree’s internal wood. With this, there won’t be an adequate flow of nutrients and water through the hickory to keep it healthy.
Twigs, yellow leaves, and even woodpecker-like holes will be common during spring and winter. The infested tree’s foliage will turn red, then brown, and your hickory will die eventually. Healthy hickories are hardly the target of these beetles. The excellent cultural practice of thinning, pruning, fertilizing, or watering is your best defense. Also, ensure to address it promptly if your hickory experiences disease.
These pests stay under the hickory tree as they overwinter in the ground and typically come out in late summer, attacking the unripe nuts as they crawl up the tree and lay their larvae inside. The weevil larvae can destroy your tree’s nut harvest if left unchecked.
Spittlebugs are tiny insects that rarely reach more than ¼-inch in range and are small winged. They have brown and green colors, and it is almost impossible for any growers to notice them.
However, spit congregated on the buds, stems, and foliage is spittlebug infestation’s telltale sign. The foliage distortion is their major damage, even though they are not life-threatening to your hickories. Use a strong water blast to spray the infected areas to control the problem. Also, ensure the spot under your tree is clean from any fallen debris.
Aphids are yellowish-colored, pear-shaped, tiny, and sap-sucking insects. You can identify the mass congregation of these insects when you perform a close foliage inspection, particularly new shoots.
Sometimes, you can also notice ants moving to the aphids, milking the honeydew aphids produce. This situation will result in the black fungus sooty mold that will cover the foliage in a black substance as it drops onto it.
Aphids suck hickory’s foliage juices, causing leaf discoloration and curling. Typically, an aphid attack may not be life-threatening to hickories. However, an insecticide soap treatment is crucial if the landscape does not contain adequate predators like parasitic wasps. Use the product to spray the whole plant. Rinse again weekly as required. Wash sooty mold’s large outbreaks from the foliage using a strong water stream or a damp cloth to wipe the leaves.
Various fungi form galls as they penetrate the hickories, typically through the bark’s wounded parts. As a result, you will notice dark, round lesions on the branches and can create clumps. Since galls create cosmetic issues only, you don’t need to look for any treatment. Thus, galls can eventually kill the affected wood if left on the affected branch.
Avoiding injuring the bark and good care of the hickories are some of the measures for control. Ensure to fertilize and water your hickory tree properly to keep it growing at its best. Eliminate galls-infected limbs, ensuring you trim some inches back into healthy wood. Lastly, make sure the area under your hickory is free of debris or fallen nuts.
Hickory Tree Treatments and Maintenance
Hickory trees prefer well-drained, well-watered soil and love sunlight. A location with about six to eight hours of constant daylight each day is perfect for planting hickories.
These trees will grow well in a place on a river’s or stream’s edge if you stay close to moving water. While hickories require plenty of moisture for the roots, they can also adapt to moist soil conditions. However, avoid a puddle spot that retains water even though it cannot tolerate soggy soil.
A location far from other trees or structures is ideal for accommodating hickories’ mature spread that may reach about 20 feet in width. Hickory trees thrive well in the USDA zones four through eight.
Ensure to use a combined nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizer for a young tree through a soil injector each month. Water the hickory whenever the soil is dry. Ensure to reduce the amount of fertilizer to one application of slow-releasing granules in the spring after the first growth year. Use a garden claw to work the granules into the soil, and an alternative to commercial fertilizer is a two-inch layer of compost.
Work on your watering routine and use an equivalent of one inch of rainfall a week for your hickories’ first year. Reduce watering after the first year and start using a deep soak every two or three weeks. In addition, use high pressure from the water hose to wash the leaves at least once a week. With that, you can keep clean and free of spider mites or aphids. Also, remember not to leave out the underside of the leaves.
How to Remove Hickory Tree
There is no one way to remove hickory trees. The reasons for your hickories’ removal and the type of tree will determine the methods you can use to remove the tree. While skilled professionals should help remove older valuable hickories, you can also use store-bought herbicides to remove other trees.
It doesn’t mean the tree will die by cutting down the tree. Older trees can resist death through extensive root systems when sprouting the suckers from the remaining tree stump. Therefore, you must spray the stump with a herbicide once you have cut down a tree to kill the roots.
Many growers use water-soluble herbicides to treat their trees since the root system can absorb the tree. You can spray a herbicide onto the frilling or girdling wound of a tree to get into the tree’s internal system and poison it from the inside. You can get herbicides at nurseries or garden centers.
It can take many months before a tree shows any signs of death when you treat it with herbicide. When you notice that the hickory is effectively dead, ensure to remove it immediately so it won’t fall on a windy day or during a storm.
Answer: Hickory trees grow slowly and can live for hundreds of years. However, shagbark hickory is the fastest-growing genuine hickory, while pecan is the fastest-growing pecan hickory.
Answer: People use hickory wood for many things, including smoking cured meats, and it is popular in the US for cooking barbecue since it adds flavor to the meat.
Answer: Hickory trees are high-branching, attractive trees that make easy-care, excellent shade trees, growing to about 60 to 80 feet tall with about 40 feet spread.
Where to Buy Hickory Tree Seeds Online
You can buy hickory seeds online at:
Where to Buy Hickory Tree Saplings Online
Hickory tree saplings are available online at: