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Characteristics of Badgersett hybrid hazels

The hybrid hazel populations at Badgersett include individuals showing extensive mixtures of the definitive characteristics of the three parent species (American, Beaked, and European), and virtually any combination of traits can either be seen or could likely be generated. Although the hybridization work is by no means finished, several general observations about the present performance and future possibilities for these plants can now be made.

Traits of hybrid hazels

The populations at Badgersett will generally adhere to the following list of traits:

  • Form: Multi-stemmed bush (10–30 stems).
  • Size: 10–12 feet tall at maturity (some up to 16 feet tall); 5–8 feet diameter.
  • Root structure: Deep, spreading, fibrous roots; no tap root.
  • Plant type: Seedling, not grafted or cloned.
  • Pollination: Wind; will not self-pollinate.
  • Growth rate: 1st year, 4–6". Thereafter, 18–30" if well-cared for.
  • Age to bearing: 3 to 5 years.
  • Productivity: Commercial range.
  • Nut type: Commercial processing; some larger.
  • Lifespan: Unknown. At least 30 years; possibly hundreds of years for the root system.
  • Disease resistance: Eastern Filbert Blight (EFB) resistant or tolerant.
  • Animal resistance: Young plants are susceptible to fatal damage by deer, rabbits, and pocket gophers. Established plants are tolerant of these animals.

Growing habitat traits

  • Soil type: Our hazels are broadly tolerant; demonstrated on heavy clays, silt loams, sandy loams. Can also survive in heavy sod; excellent root competitor. Avoid shallow hardpan. pH 5.5–8 (8.5?).
  • Light: Full sun or partial shade (tolerates very heavy shade, but nut production becomes slight). Established bushes with sufficient access to water do fine in full sun even in hot and dry climates.
  • Spacing: 3–5 feet for windbreak, 4–10 feet for nut production. We alternate rows 10 feet and 15 feet apart—the 10-foot rows eventually get so tight you can't get a tractor through for harvest or fertilizer; the 15-foot rows stay open.
  • Site: North or south slope, hilltop or bottomland, seems to make no difference. Wind damage is rare, even on bad sites.
  • Hardiness zone: Absolutely cold-hardy anywhere in growing zones 4 and 5, do well in 6, and very reasonable to try in zone 3. See the National Arbor Day Foundation's zone map. Also worth trying in zones 7-9; excellent performance of warm zone 6 plantings suggest that zone 7 is very reasonable to try. Our genetics do not include southern wild C. americana sources, so in warmer climates we expect increasing numbers (e.g. perhaps half in some zone 8 regions) to NOT do very well, likely experiencing problems with early dormancy break, pollination timing, and possibly lack of tolerance for prolonged high heat. We DO expect at least some of our plants to do well in these regions anyway. Other nurseries are likely to tell you that their (also northern) hazels will all do just super in warmer climes; we are a little more cautious.
  • Rainfall: Our annual average rainfall is 28 inches, but the bushes grew and bore crops amazingly well during our extreme drought years of 1988–89. It's not yet tested, but our guess is they will do well down to 20 inches or less, once established. Also tolerant of episodic flooding.

Bearing characteristics

  • First crop: A few nuts should appear at 3 years, increasing to full crop at 5 years; crops will continue to increase until age 8 or so.
  • Yield: (Note: This is a new crop; yield data are based on calculations from research, not commercial production. Yields will certainly improve as we improve genetics and understanding of plant nutrition.) An average bush now produces about 1–2 lbs of dry nuts/year. Sounds small, but that translates to 1,200–2,000 lbs/acre, well within world production norms. Our best bushes produce 4–5 lbs in good years—that equals 4–5,500 lbs/acre.
  • Ripeness: Most nuts can be picked during the first 2 weeks of September here; a few will be ripe earlier or later.
  • Nut characteristics: Hybrid hazelnuts are slightly smaller and thicker-shelled than Oregon nuts, which is the perfect size for processing but not usually for in-shell sale. Taste is fine, often a little different from Oregon when raw, hard to distinguish when roasted or processed. Nobody turns them down!!
  • Harvest handling: Pick nut clusters when ripe but before they drop; they will hang on the bush about 2 weeks when ripe. Allow clusters to mature further for several days/weeks in shade, then thresh husks off—we are developing small and large scale machines for this.
  • Nut storage: Dry nuts quickly to below 10% water; a grain dryer should work for large scale. Common dry storage is fine.
  • Disease: These hybrids are guaranteed to be resistant to Eastern Filbert Blight, the main disease of concern. We have seen no other serious problems so far. Some plants are affected by anthracnose or powdery mildew in wet years.
  • Pests: Remarkably few problems, so far. As far as deer go, hazels are not favorite browse, but deer will sometimes hit fast-growing young plants. We spray egg (see below) to repel them, which is not a problem for mature bushes. Deer do eat male flowers in winter and in spring; they may eat ALL male catkins below 4' high, if pressure is heavy.
  • Mice, rabbits: They rarely eat hazel stems in the winter, and plants recover very quickly. Rabbits can snip off tops of young plants, which is annoying, but not deadly. In case of serious rabbit populations, spraying a repellent during establishment will likely be economically sensible.
  • Insects: There have been no serious leaf-eaters so far. A borer will kill a few branches in older or stressed bushes, which are immediately replaced by the plant. Several kinds of weevil can attack the nuts; our average infestation is about 1%, and our worst bush ever seen was 11%. We have never sprayed for any insect, but it might be economical some day.
  • Nut thieves: Squirrels and chipmunks will be a problem near the woods but not in fields. Mice can be a problem, as can bluejays, woodpeckers, and bears. If you have only a few bushes, theft can be serious, but the problem decreases as the planting gets larger. Mow grass short to discourage mice, and put up a pole for a hawk and owl roost to attract predators. Prior to last year, we believe we got about 90% of the nuts. A new, smarter, and more serious nut thief emerged last season, however—crows! Battling crows requires much more vigilance, and potential losses can be serious. We have found hawk-shaped kites to be moderately effective at reducing losses to crows, but the best way to keep crows in check has been the regular presence of humans.

Next: Basic Hazel Info 3: Maintenance and care of Badgersett Hybrid Hazels