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You can enjoy a fall harvest of chestnuts just in time for roasting over the fire during the holidays when you plant the Chinese Chestnut Tree (Castanea mollissima). Sturdy, beautiful, and prolific are only a few outstanding qualities of this tree. All chestnut trees are not created equal, which means they all can't lay claim to these merits. But if you want a long-lived, disease-resistant chestnut tree that is recommended by numerous universities as "the" chestnut tree to grow, put the Chinese Chestnut Tree at the top of your list! The Distinctive Taste and Texture of Chestnuts Even though you'll enjoy numerous benefits from your Chinese Chestnut Tree, a plentiful harvest of succulent chestnuts is the jewel in its crown. A fall harvest is worth the season-long wait to enjoy your homegrown chestnuts '– they have a sweetness combined with a delicate crunch. If you've never grown chestnuts, you'll find their intriguing and unrecognizable appearance on the tree is vastly different than the familiar dark-brown nuts. Several chestnuts are hidden inside a large spiny case, called a bur, which doesn't make them look very appetizing! But when the nuts ripen and fall from the trees, the burs split open, which makes harvesting the delicious nuts inside a snap. Flurry of Flowers in Summer Before the nuts appear on Chinese Chestnut Tree, you'll be treated to a showy summer display of white, fluffy flowers. Each tree bears male and female flowers that are formed on 6-inch-long panicles called catkins '– the male flowers are at the top of the catkins, and the female flowers are at the base. Although each tree is somewhat self-pollinating, horticulturists recommend planting a second tree to facilitate cross-pollination. This results in a more abundant crop of chestnuts! Stronger Disease Resistance As its name implies, Chinese Chestnut is native to Northern China (also Korea). But even though it's not an indigenous plant here in the U.S., the Chinese Chestnut Tree is favored over the American Chestnut Tree for a very important distinction '– its disease resistance. An insidious fungal disease called chestnut blight nearly eradicated our native American chestnut trees in the mid-1900s. But the Chinese Chestnut Tree shows resistance to chestnut blight disease, which makes it the healthier choice for your landscape. In fact, of all types of chestnut trees, the University of California describes the Chinese Chestnut Tree as "the most resistant to chestnut blight." Shade Tree with Colorful Fall Foliage One of the extra benefits you'll enjoy from planting a Chinese Chestnut Tree is the shade that it casts. In fact, the Missouri Botanical Garden recommends it as "a beautiful specimen shade tree." The 3- to 6-inch-long leaves form a dense canopy on these deciduous trees, which typically grow 30 to 40 feet tall (although they can potentially reach 60 feet). Chinese Chestnut's shiny green summer foliage transitions to golden-yellow leaves in autumn to bring a glorious end-of-the-season show to your landscape. Tip: Because the nuts are encased in a spiny bur, plant Chinese Chestnut Tree as a lawn tree away from hardscapes to keep the burs off walkways, driveways, and patios. Resilient in Cold Climates Chinese Chestnut is a perennial in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 4 through 8 where it's a winter-tough tree (able to handle temperatures to minus 20 degrees F) that's also heat-tolerant. If you're one of our warm-climate friends who may not routinely build fires in the winter, you may want to have one just for roasting your homegrown Chinese Chestnuts! No Hassle Harvesting You'll have easy work of harvesting your Chinese Chestnuts '– no ladders are required! These nuts fall naturally from the trees when their outer casings split open to reveal the ripened chestnuts inside. You'll want to gather chestnuts every day as soon as they begin to fall because they are susceptible to sun scald and they can become too wet from heavy dews or rainfall. Harvesting tip: Spread a tarp on the ground underneath your Chinese Chestnut Tree to collect the nuts and keep them from contacting the wet ground. Gloves Will Come in Handy Because Chinese Chestnuts are encased in a spiny capsule, wear gardening gloves when you gather them from the ground. The burs are sharp, so you don't want pin pricks on your fingers. And it goes without saying ?… but we'll say it anyway ?… don't harvest Chinese Chestnuts while barefoot! You'll also want to keep curious children away from the chestnut burs. How to Cure Chestnuts The key to enjoying the sweetest flavor from chestnuts is to allow them a proper curing period. Newly harvested chestnuts have nutmeats that taste more starchy than sweet, but this starch converts to sugar during the curing process. They'll naturally cure after a few days when stored at room temperature, but the best flavor will result from cold-storage curing. All you have to do is place them in your refrigerator immediately after harvest, and let them cure slowly for at least two weeks. Yields Plenty to Share Although a single mature Chinese Chestnut Tree typically produces 50 pounds of nuts, its harvest potential can yield up to 100 pounds of nuts! If you're wondering what you'll do with all those chestnuts, take a peek at your holiday gift list. You'll be the hit of your circle of family and friends when you tuck some of your homegrown Chinese Chestnuts into gift baskets. You can even present your Chinese Chestnuts in a gift box that's designed for homemade candy '– don't forget to include your favorite recipe! A Low-Maintenance Tree That's Super Easy to Grow It may not be the most common nut-bearing tree you've heard of, and you may not even know anyone who is growing it, but even novice gardeners can easily grow the Chinese Chestnut Tree. Plant it in a spot that receives full sun to keep it healthy and productive. It's not too fussy about the type of soil located where you plant it '– Chinese Chestnut can handle loamy, sandy, and clay soils. All it asks is loose and well-draining soil that doesn't become soggy after rainfall and irrigation sessions. It grows best in acidic soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Keep your newly transplanted Chinese Chestnut Tree carefully watered during its first growing season to help it develop a strong root system, which establishes it as drought-tolerant. To eliminate the guesswork of what type of fertilizer to use '– and how much to apply '– it's best to have your soil tested by your local Cooperative Extension Service. Soil fertility can vary widely, even in a small geographical area, and the only way to get an accurate snapshot of your tree's nutritional needs is to have your soil analyzed. A Versatile Nut for Your Favorite Recipes Chinese Chestnuts are significantly lower in fat than most other types of nuts, and they even contain Vitamin C. Other than roasting chestnuts, you can also boil or saut?© them for incorporating into your favorite recipes. • Thanksgiving stuffing or dressing just wouldn't be the same without diced chestnuts as an ingredient! • If you like stir-fry dishes, you'll love adding sliced Chinese Chestnuts to your favorite saut?©ed meal or fried rice. You can also add sliced chestnuts to Asian-style soups and diced chestnuts to eggrolls or spring rolls. For a mouthwatering appetizer, try rolling a whole, peeled Chinese Chestnut in brown sugar and wrapping it with a half-slice of bacon. Secure the bacon with a toothpick, and bake the chestnuts in a 300-degree oven for 30 minutes.
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