*A handy growing summary chart is at the end of the article.*
As with any plant you choose to put in your garden, there are things to take into consideration. It’s best to do this before you plant it, of course! Though almonds are fairly easy to take care of, they do have issues to be aware of that may make or break your ability to get those tasty treats.
Many types of nuts grow on trees that reach towering heights, however almonds can grow in a range of sizes, depending on which variety you choose. Much of what is available can grow up to 30 feet tall or more with about an equal spread, which is fine for many gardens. One variety in particular, the “All-In-One” only reaches 15 feet which is perfect for smaller spaces or for areas where you may not want a larger sized tree. The tree pictured had been in the ground just a couple of years at the time the picture was taken. It is 2/3 its projected height. As with any tree, you will want to make sure that it is some place where roof eaves, power lines, competition with other trees, or shade it will produce won’t cause problems. You will also want it to be accessible for harvest when the time comes.
The vast majority of almond varieties require a separate and different variety for pollination. One exception is the smaller “All-In-One” tree, hence the name. If you don’t have space for two trees, you’ll need to be sure you get a variety that doesn’t need that cross-pollination. If you ever drive through the Central Valley of California, which is where I am, you will see several orchards of almonds. It is easy to see when they are blooming that there are actually different kinds of trees mixed in the orchards, and it is to ensure that cross-pollination will occur to produce the fruits that contain the nuts.
Pollination can only happen with pollinators like bees. Having a variety of flowering plants helps to attract these little workers to your yard, especially if your neighbors don’t have a lot of diversity in their own gardens.
Almonds require a long and hot summer to adequately set and produce their fruits. USDA zones lower than 7 will likely not reach the time needed for proper ripening. At the same time, almonds do need a certain amount of chill hours during their winter dormancy. If you don’t have an accumulated amount of time where the temperatures drop below 45 F that is at least 200 to 500 hours, you may not be able to get blossoms produced. No flowers, no fruit. USDA zones over 9 or 10 may not be able to provide that requirement. There is a reason California’s interior valley is such a big producer of these tasty treats: we are one of the few places in the world that has that hot type of Mediterranean climate suitable for their successful growth while also having cool winters. Keep in mind that once blossoms and leaves start to emerge, late frosts will destroy them, so protect your trees in advance if the weather forecast suddenly turns cold in spring.
Despite what you may have heard about the amount of water needed to grow almonds, the trees are not really any more water needing than other plants adapted to a Mediterranean climate. About three feet a year is likely more than enough water for adequate production. This includes natural rainwater, so if you fall short of that amount, you will want to provide irrigation to compensate. Long and hot summer spells will mean your tree will need more water to help it through. If the leaves start showing signs of drying and browning at the tips, that’s a sign it’s getting too dry. You can help reduce how much water your tree needs by keeping the area around the trunk mulched, or by having low growing shade tolerant plants to cover the soil.
If you live in a windy area, you will want to provide a sheltered spot for your tree. Wind will knock down blossoms and fruit, and can damage branches, especially when they are laden with your crop. Wind will also cause a lot more water loss from your tree.
Pests & Diseases:
Almonds are in the same family as other stone fruits, like cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, and any of their hybrids. As a result, they are also susceptible to some of the same problems. Bacterial and fungal diseases can cause damage to leaves and developing fruit, or cause fruit to drop prematurely. Many of these diseases are caused by spores being splashed onto the leaves from things like rain and sprinklers. You can’t stop the rain, but you can make sure that irrigation water isn’t hitting the leaves or causing that splashing. Pruning to reduce crowded branches allows proper air flow and lowers the humid conditions these diseases need to thrive.
Should your tree become diseased, treatments with copper-based sprays or neem oil are organic means of dealing with the problem. If you have more than one tree, keeping enough distance to prevent contact can help prevent disease spread as long as they are not too far apart to reduce pollination. Also, removing dropped leaves will reduce the spores in the area. These don’t go in your compost otherwise you could spread more disease! If your locality offers green waste service, they can go in there. Serious infections could mean needing to remove the tree all together. Luckily the climatic conditions that create the best growth are also the ones that help lower the risks.
Pests include the usual suspects of aphids, various beetles, and hungry larvae of different moths and beetles. Oh yes, and squirrels!! Many of these can be kept in check by having a diverse garden that attracts the predators you need. Be careful if you decide to go with a more harsh control option because you don’t want to kill off your helpful organisms in the process. Lady bugs, green lace wings, and birds are all helpers that can keep pests from becoming too big of a problem. We find our cats do a good job of keeping the squirrels in our neighborhood from getting too comfortable! 😉
Harvesting and Storage:
Almonds are ready for harvest towards the end of summer and into the beginning of fall. You will know it’s time when the green husk around the seed shell begins to crack and open on the majority of the fruits. The farmers here use machines that attach to the trunk and give the tree the most amazing shaking that causes the fruits to drop to the ground. You probably won’t have one of those! You can shake yours by hand, though. If the trunk is too big, you can shake individual branches to send them down. Any that have already fallen are good to keep. You will want to stay on top of this because those lovely squirrels will be more than happy to harvest them for you!
Remove the green husks to expose the nut tucked in its shell. The husks are perfect for the compost as long as there is no sign of disease. Spread your unshelled almonds in single layers on trays and allow them to dry. Outside is best as long as it is protected from moisture and hungry pests. Drying helps to keep the nuts inside safe from mold. After they are dry, you will want to freeze them for a few days because it is quite possible that there could be bug larvae or their eggs that will eat your nuts before you get a chance.
You can continue to store your almonds in the freezer or refrigerator if it will be a while before you use them. Their higher fat content makes it likely for them to turn rancid if stored at warmer temperatures for too long. They can be stored in the shell if you choose, but they will take up less space if you shell them. The shells are tough, so a good nutcracker will be a must. When you are ready to use your almonds, check out this link for various recipes!
- Perennial: trees are productive for a few decades, which declines afterwards
- Harvest time: usually late summer, trees are alternate bearing so heavy crops one year are likely followed by light crops the next
- Height: depends on variety, anywhere from 15-30 feet
- Width: depends on variety, anywhere from 15-30 feet
- Sun: full sun
- Water: regularly, occasional deep watering rather than frequent light water is best
- Soil pH: neutral to slightly acidic
- Soil type: amend heavy clay or loose sandy soil
- Key nutrients: fertilize as you would for other fruit trees, if needed
- Planting time: best to start as bare root in winter to spring
- Zones: 7-9