SONG News Spring 1990 no. 36

Productivity of Hickories in Ontario

The hickories are prized by many discriminating nut consumers as the best flavoured nuts grown. If greater quantities of the nuts were available for sale, it is certain that there would be a much higher consumption of these delicious kernels. However, the productivity of hickories is one of the notable limiting factors which restricts supply. Therefore, the production characteristics of hickory types merit special attention.

There are several species and hybrids of hickory (Carya types) which have attracted interest from nut growers and consumers over the years. The most outstanding of these are the shagbark and shellbark hickories and their interspecies hybrids with pecan.

Shellbark Hickory
This is one of the fastest growing of the true northern hickories. Seedlings will sometimes start bearing nuts 10-12 years from seed. The first crop of a seedling may be rather heavy and then followed by several years of lean or even no crops. Therefore, it does take several years to determine whether seedling trees have worthwhile productivity.

The nuts produced from seedlings are quite variable in all respects compared to the parent trees. In some cases, up to 10 percent of the seedling trees may be very similar in characteristics to the mother tree. When seedlings are grown from large nut types, it is only occasionally that the seedling nuts will be larger than those of the mother tree ... perhaps 5%. If the starting seed stock is of medium size, the nuts from the seedlings may be larger or smaller than the nuts of the mother tree and in about equal numbers. The planting of small nut types will result in many seedlings which produce larger nuts than the mother tree ... a useful thing to know if the objective is to plant easy cracking nuts which may be on the small size of average.

Shellbark hickory require fairly rich soil and ample moisture levels to be annually productive. Both requirements may be supplemented actinically through the addition of fertilizers and irrigation water. Occasionally, the trees may benefit from the control of leaf hoppers and aphids.

The hickory weevil is not yet active in the Niagara Region and therefore is of little concern although in some areas it's a major factor which reduces the production of useable nuts

Some of the better shellbark cultivars in order to merit for the more northern latitudes are: Henry, CES-24, Fayette, CES-1, Hoffeditz, Stauffer and Totten. Several others may have usefulness further south or in the north where circumstances are especially favourable such as: Scholl; Stanley; Bradley; Keystone; and Stephens.

Shagbark Hickory
A comparison of shagbark and shellbark hickory indicates the following with reference to the shagbark: slightly hardier; less susceptible to drought; slightly less productive; notably smaller nuts; somewhat more irregular in bearing; somewhat slower growing; somewhat stronger in the wood and less susceptible to wind breakage; thinner nut shells and higher kernel percentages; produce less pollen and slightly earlier ripening. Otherwise, many of the comments may apply equally to both shagbark and shellbark hickory.

Some of the better shagbark hickory cultivars in order of merit are: Neilson; Yoder #1; Cedar Rapids; Walters; Weschcke Fox; CES-26; CES-8; Abundance; Wilcox. Others may be useful further south or in circumstances which are especially favourable such as; Glover; Porter; Grainger.

It has taken several years to prove it directly but most of the well known hican cultivars are essentially worthless. Occasionally, the McAlister hican will fill to a fair quality but most times it's just a big empty shell. The same can be said most years for Burlington, Rockville and Underwood. The Bixby hican often does fill but the productivity is very sparse.

The most regular filling of all of the named hicans are the Burton and the DesMoines. That is not to say well filled but at least fair or better. One seedling of Burton referred to as the Dooley Seedling does appear to give excellent crops of well filled nuts. Sometimes the nut clusters have contained fours and fives and then the following years the crops have been fairly good too. The nut resembles a good quality shagbark hickory. Numerous seedlings of DesMoines have been grown out at a property in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario. Several of the seedlings have started to bear at the 10 -12 year age bracket but it is still too early to determine whether there are any items of substantial worth.

The productivity of the true northern hickory types is still one of the limiting factors in growing these species to satisfaction. If a mature hickory tree produces a crop of 50-100 pounds of nuts in the shell at least one year in three, it should be regarded as one of the better performers.

Provided by SONG. Feel free to copy with a credit.