Almond Trees (Prunus dulcis)
Before Almond trees leaf out in early spring, they are covered with exquisitely fragrant flowers of white or pink. It’s no wonder that these showy blossoms look like miniature roses, because almond is actually in the rose plant family (Rosaceae). The blooms are only a hint of what’s to come, because they develop into the fruit of the tree, which are commonly called almond “nuts.” In climates with long growing seasons that have hot and dry summers, almonds take 7 to 8 months to mature; just in time for an October harvest. Depending on cultivar, almond trees grow as perennials in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9, but the late frosts in colder climates may damage the spring flowers and prevent nuts from forming. Almonds are typically produced only in the warmer regions of zones 7-9. Although a few almond trees can bear fruit without a nearby tree for cross-pollination, you’ll need to plant at least two different cultivars for most trees to produce nuts.
The health benefits of almonds are backed by numerous research studies. Almonds are rich in minerals, such as iron, magnesium and calcium, and a good source of vitamin E. Use almonds in your favorite fish recipes, bake them in breads, cook them with rice for pilaf dishes, sprinkle them over your cereal or simply enjoy them for snacking.
Even in cooler climates that prohibit nut formation, almond trees are beautifully shaped and sized for smaller landscapes. Their flowers attract pollinators, which also help pollinate the flowers in your vegetable and flower gardens. And even in humid climates that aren’t optimal for nut production, a row of almond trees along the side of your property provides a riot of color when the flowers bloom in early spring.
- Choose a sunny spot to plant almond trees – at least 6 hours of sun each day.
- Loosen heavy clay soil and work in organic matter, because almond trees grow best in loamy or sandy soils that are well-draining.
- Space almond trees at least 20 feet apart.
- Dig a planting hole that is just as wide and deep as the rootball, and place the almond tree no deeper in the hole than it was in the container. (If you’re planting a bare-root tree, plant it with just enough soil to cover the top roots.)
- Tamp the soil gently around the tree, taking care not to damage the roots.
- Water thoroughly and deeply.
- Water. Keep your almond tree well-watered during its first year after planting to encourage a vigorous root system. When the tree is actively growing during spring and summer, apply 1 inch of water each week if rainfall is less than this.
- Fertilizer. When trees bloom in spring, apply fertilizer according to soil-test recommendations.
- Pruning. You won’t need to prune your almond tree when you transplant it. In future years, prune during the dormant season only the branches that are dead, broken or crossing other branches.
- Harvesting. You’ll begin to harvest nuts as early as the second year after planting, with yields increasing each year as the tree grows. In late summer to early fall, spread a tarp underneath each tree when you notice the hulls have split, and gently shake trees to release the nuts. Gather the fallen nuts from the ground, and spread them on newspaper in a warm, dry location. Let them dry for several days, and then remove the shells from the hull before shelling the nuts.
- Pests. Almond trees are susceptible to insects and diseases, so you may need to spray them in the dormant season (after the leaves drop). Consult your local Cooperative Extension Service office for spray recommendations in your area.