American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation

Restoration Efforts

Growing American Chestnuts

        We distribute American chestnut seed first because the job of restoring them to our forests requires lots of help,  secondly, because hands on experience is the best way to learn the American chestnut story, and third, but most important for our breeding program, because the annual reports from cooperating growers can provide useful information.   Over the past twenty-five years, in addition to several thousand individual growers, many grade school, high school, church, 4-H and scout leaders in states throughout its natural range have involved children in planting American chestnuts from our breeding program.    

Virginia students and teachers from Auburn, Giles, and Narrows  High Schools; Macy McClaughery  and Narrows Middle Schools; and Narrows Elementary helped for a decade, beginning in the 1990's, to harvest at the Martin American Chestnut Planting.   Jenny & Lizzy Cooper, from St. Simon's Island, GA, were excused from school  at Frederica Academy, to help in the 2003 harvest; they collected most of the seednuts which we sent to cooperating growers during the winter of 2003-04.   The list of harvest helpers includes many additional cooperators who have helped for more than one harvest:  Charles Lytton, Timothy Logan, Philip Latasa, Vicky & Eli Lewis, and Carol Croy from Virginia; Albert Ward from South Carolina, Harold & Rich Pierce from Alabama.

So we have had very good success engaging growers and educating the public, but success in our third goal has been spotty.  Most of the sponsored growing projects reported to us only the first year or two and then dropped out of sight, and most of the growers, who planted the seedlings which we distributed from 1989 through 2008, did not report at all.   In sharp contrast, most individual growers who started from seed have reported regularly.  Because of this experience, we require the grower agreement form (see front page) and we no longer distribute seedlings.  


 Raising American chestnuts is a long-term committment. 



Starting from seed

Seeds are shipped (beginning in October, until we run out) in damp peat moss, in plastic bags, with pin holes for air exchange, and should be kept in the refrigerator until you are ready to plant them, but for best results, you should be ready to plant them when they arrive.

 ACCF nuts are harvested in a Virginia Tech planting which contains original sources of blight resistance and all-American intercrosses. Blight resistance of the parent trees is inherited by only some of their offspring. When ACCF stock is planted within the area infested by blight, natural selection will reveal the resistant individuals. Trees which have inherited some blight resistance and are at least 1.5 inches in diameter at breast height (dbh) before they are infected by the blight fungus, make swollen slow-growing cankers which are confined to the outer bark and may not kill the tree; those which have no blight resistance, make rapid-growing, sunken cankers capable of  killing the tree within one growing season when the canker girdles the stem. Stump sprouts at the base of the chestnuts killed by blight can be used as grafting stock for scions collected from blight-resistant American chestnuts, providing a strong root system has been established. To complete the integrated management protocol for American chestnut revival, resistant American chestnuts should be reported to the ACCF.

 LOCATE SITE: Chestnuts prefer moderately acid, sandy loam soil and sunshine and require a well-drained location. The morning sun is much better than afternoon sun, which can cause the bark to crack (making an opening for the blight fungus) in winter when temperatures warm up by afternoon then drop rapidly below freezing at night.   At present, American chestnut plantings have better chances at altitudes below 2,500 feet.  For maximum protection from frost, plant on the high ground on sloping land. Avoid known frost pockets, wet spots, and limestone based or heavy clay soil. Chestnuts have both male and female flowers on the same tree but are not self-fertile. At least 2 trees are necessary to make nuts, and they should be no more than 200 feet apart for efficient pollination.  For a grove planting we recommend 10 foot spacing.

Prepare holes in winter (in the south) or spring for planting the next fall.  Dig a two foot hole; replace half of the fill with peat moss, or leaf mold, mixed with the soil from the hole or with sand, fill the hole, and drive a stake near the middle.  Push a small (8") tree shelter or 1/2 gallon milk jug with bottom cut out into the soil 2 to 3 inches deep, and secure it to the stake.  Make weldwire cages with 2" x 4" grid, five feet tall and about 2.3 feet in diameter; you can cut 7 or 8 from a 50-foot length of weldwire.  Set up cages so that a tree shelter is in the center of each, and secure the cages in place with four-foot stakes of rebar or one-inch aluminum conduit.  Hang bright flagging or a plastic shopping bag on the rim of each cage to increase visibility, so the deer may not crash into the cages. 

Direct seeding produces the best first year growth, by planting seeds at the same time as the squirrels (OCTOBER), so that the tap root begins to grow in late winter, and transplant shock is avoided.  Move the cage aside and press one chestnut, on its side, into the center of each shelter; cover the nut with an inch of peat moss.  Cover each shelter with netting or wire its top shut until May.  If you are using milk jugs, you will need to lift them, plant the seed and then replace them; in spring, once the tree begins to grow, you must cut out the top of each jug and remove the netting (save it for the next year) to make a large opening for seedling growth.   Jugs and tree shelters must be removed by cutting them away in August.  If you have or suspect raccoons, push a few moth balls into the soil surrounding the shelter and liberally sprinkle chili powder inside each cage.

 Starting seed indoors following the Moote Method is recommended only for green thumbs: make liners by rolling and stapling a large sheet of newspaper to fit inside each 1 to 2 foot tree shelter; fill with a 50/50 mix of sand & peat moss. Place them in plastic buckets in a south-facing window, and plant a nut one inch from the top in each, by February. These "pots" permit long root development and a head start on the first season's growth. The buckets, holding four to five shelters each, make it easy to water and also to move the seedlings, in and out for hardening off in the spring and then to their transplant site.  Newspaper liners degrade in the soil, so seedlings can be transplanted in their pots without disturbing the roots, to minimize transplant shock.

 TRANSPLANT: After the last frost date; make holes at least 2 foot wide and 2 feet deep.  For good growth, the taproot requires light soil. Usually the taproot is at least as long as the seedling is tall. Avoid disturbing this root by sliding one hand under the newspaper pot for support, as you lift the seedling in its shelter out of the bucket. Hold the shelter upright in the hole so that the taproot will be a few inches off the bottom. Push the soil (wich you prepared as above) into the hole, while sliding the shelter upward,  and piercing the paper container as you pack fill around it, until the seedling stands on its own. Tear away the top 6 inches of the newspaper pot. Water and push down the soil to prevent formation of air pockets which could kill the tree. Finish filling the hole, tamping and watering as you go, but leave a shallow holding basin for watering. The root collar should be at ground level, the same level at which it was growing in its pot. Install a stake beside the seedling and attach the tree shelter to it, pushing down so that the shelter's bottom is an inch into the soil.  These shelters must be removed by September.  Remember that transplants live mostly on  water.  In dry spells, give each seedling at least one gallon of water per week

 Nuts, sprouts & young trees are attractive food for animals and in most areas require PROTECTION.  Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, voles and mice eat the seeds and young sprouts and gnaw roots and the young stalk. Deer nibble the new growth and rub against the trunks.  Deter deer by attaching a mesh bag (in which citrus and onions are marketed) full of human hair (the barber's sweepings) to each tree stake. However, hair bags work for one year only in areas where the deer have not met them before. Deer can also be discouraged by moth balls as long as their aroma remains potent. But once again, with deer, the efficiency of the deterrent lasts only until they have become used to it.    For large plantings, make a double fence line by stringing a single line of 10# test monofilament line (fishing line) about 3.5 feet off the ground. Make a second fence line 10 feet inside the first one. Deer are frightened when they run into the line and it snaps; the second line generally stops them. These fence lines must be walked and repaired on a regular basis, until the deer learn to avoid the area (usually about a month). Mid-western growers say the fish-line fence works better than an electric fence, which deer eventually learn to jump over, because deer can't see the fishline fence.  However, if the deer herd in your area is out of control, none of the above measures are likely to work; the only sure-fire protection is staked wire cages which you also must check regularly, especially in hunting season when the deer are most likely to run into them.

 Tree shelters offer good first season protection against small animals, weeds, drought, mower and chemical damage. One foot or 18 inch shelters improve transplant success; taller shelters are not appropriate for chestnut because the large leaves become crowded and cause the stem to grow spindly. Remove shelters in August, at the end of the first growing season. This precaution is advised because in very wet weather the tubes can become incubators for blight, and all young American chestnut seedlings are highly susceptible to blight: they must be at least 5 years old before blight-resistance can be expressed. When ordering tree shelters, request 10% discount for an ACCF project:

Mulching protects the young plants from extremes of heat, cold, drought, and weed competition. If a deep mulch is used, push it away from the trunk during winter so that rodents will not live there and nibble the tree. If you have voles in the planting area mulching is a very bad idea:  it makes a perfect shelter under which they can hide and nibble away at their favorite food, chestnut roots.
Chestnuts do not require a rich soil, but the major nutrients should be balanced. FERTILIZE only in winter or early spring. On poor soil apply compost, well-rotted manure, or Miracid in a circle around the the drip line of larger chestnuts or one foot away from new transplants, or you can bury one or two banana skins beside each seedling.   For plantings on reclaimed mining lands, get a soil test first, then follow guidelines of VA TECH's,Powell River Project.

REPORT to ACCF, Forest Service Road 708, Newport, VA 24128 or by e-mail to Lucille (by returning to the bottom of the American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation home page) or by filling out the report form on our home page, EACH AUGUST: the number of American chestnuts growing, age and height of the tallest, and any chestnuts that make swollen blight cankers.

If you wish to start more seedlings, request nuts when you report. If not, please consider introducing this tree-growing project to a school teacher and donating your tree shelters for the class project. We would be pleased to supply them with the seed, to involve more of the next generation in American chestnut restoration.

To learn about other projects for American chestnut cooperators, go to Grafting For Blight Resistance or

Managing Aging Clearcuts For American Chestnut Revival.

Return to the American Chestnut Cooperators' Foundation home page.