Hazelnut Orchard Rehabilitation?

Asked August 21, 2018, 3:49 PM EDT

I am considering making an offer on 4 acres of land on Whidbey Island in WA, where I intend to establish a u-pick fruit orchard and build a retirement home. The land currently has about an acre dedicated to hazelnut trees. There are about 80 trees spaced in a grid 25-feet apart and they are 18-20 feet tall. They are over 20 years old and have been neglected for years. I would like to get some advice on the prospect of rehabilitating this grove of trees rather than chopping them all down. I have a number of pictures taken in mid-August that I would like to share to learn from your observations and comments. As a first step I have also gathered leaf samples and have sent them off to a lab for analysis. The overgrown structure of the trees make it appear to be a considerable project for me to prune out the dead wood. I am wondering if it would be worth the effort. The Island County extension agent suggested I contact you since Oregon is where all the Hazelnut production is. On Whidbey Island I may be a little north of the ideal zone for Hazelnut growth, but perhaps it could be worth while since the tree have reached maturity?

Island County Washington hazelnuts hazelnuts or filberts

5 Responses

I can get things started but will forward to another to take over. You will need to do a little sleuthing out there to see what has and has not happened. I can see they left the sucker to grow and you have a multi-trunked trees. That is not terrible but difficult to extract nuts from the center area if they fall there.
It would be good to know the cultivar planted. Short of that, search out the pollenizers and see what shape they are in. Hazelnuts are open pollenated and it takes different kinds to make a nut. The arrangement might be regular - maybe every third tree in every third row? or a whole row of them? Just need to know how healthy they are or are not.
Also important is to see if you have any eastern filbert blight. This is a difficult disease to manage in this kind of orchard. If you have a lot of it then starting over might be the best way to go. Have a look here to read up on this disease:
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Thank you for your response. I had inspected the trees last weekend with EFB in mind, but did not see the characteristic rows of stroma or cankers illustrated in the online literature anywhere on the trees. But in my inexperience I may have missed some of the signs. There is considerable lichen on the trunks and branches. I noted in the links you sent that there are some indications of infection on the mature trunks that do not involve the rows of stroma. With the age of the orchard and it's appearance of being poorly cared for, it is hard to believe it would be free of any EFB.

I have not been able to gather any history on the orchard and do not know what cultivars were planted. Is there any way to easily identify cultivars from leaf shape or nut characteristics?

How does one identify the pollinizers? Is there a specific characteristic for the pollenizer tree I should be looking for? Thanks again.

From the photos, the orchard certainly looks like it has had a problem with eastern filbert blight (EFB) for a while but if you are not finding symptoms it could be another problem. Did you examine branches that are flagging, i.e., the leaves are turning brown or have recently turned brown and dry?

If you don't have an orchard map it might be challenging to identify pollenizers. They don't necessarily conform to the tree habit of the production trees, often they are larger, and there could be obvious differences in the nut characteristics but not necessarily. One thing to look for would be trees that are on a different schedule from most other trees as far as catkin elongation during winter. It sounds like that is not an option if you are thinking of purchasing the orchard but don't yet own it.

It is difficult to identify cultivar by the nuts and leaves. There are labs that could identify the plants for you using genetic markers. If the orchard is 20 years or more old it may be a cultivar such as Barcelona or Ennis but those are just guesses.

I'm with Jay on this, assuming it is EFB in that orchard, I would replant with one of the new cultivars that have EFB resistance. This will greatly reduce the labor necessary to manage the trees and keep them healthy. Managing EFB is labor intensive and requires fungicide sprays in spring. I don't think it is very feasible to scout and remove all the diseased wood in an orchard like that and then get much production. Once an orchard is multi-stem, it is difficult to get the tree back to a single trunk.

You may be able to limp it along for quite a while by pruning heavily every year and there will be some nut production, but much better to replant so you know you have the correct pollenizers and the correct number of them. This will ensure higher nut production and lower maintenance.

Thanks for your comments. Sounds less optimistic than I had hoped. We are looking at purchasing the 4 acres by end of Sept. We will need to decide if we raze the 1 acre hazelnut orchard or try to rehabilitate. Sounds like your recommendation is to cut down and start anew. If we raze it, we would likely want to re-plant with a variety of fruits (apple, blueberry, raspberries, etc) for a u-pick fruit orchard. We might re-plant some hazelnuts, but our original thought was to try to begin the fruits elsewhere on the property and take advantage of the existing mature hazelnut trees for some nut harvest. Sounds like your recommendation is that rehabilitating the trees would be less cost effective than beginning fresh. FYI attached is a leaf analysis I had done (5 leafs taken from 10 different trees). It shows nutrients in the optimum range. Also attached are a couple more photos, not sure if it provides any additional insights. Do you recommend a soil fumigation prior to re-plant, or would a soil test be required to determine? If I were to begin several rows of apple tree plantings in the acre adjacent to the hazelnut trees and handle the nut tree removals over the course of a year or two, would I be endangering my apples with the EFB disease exposure from the nut trees? With the nut trees must the wood be burned instead of chipped and used as mulch to avoid disease spread?
Thanks again for your help and continual guidance.

You could try to keep the nut orchard going and you may be able to keep it producing some nuts for a time. However, production may be low and it may be more profitable to grow fruit there for your U-pick operation. You could do a rough estimate of the nut production per tree and scale that up to the whole orchard and guesstimate how many pounds of nuts are there and apply a price to the total based on how much you think you could get for them to see if there is any profit there. Keep in mind there may be a lot of defects on those nuts from lack of management, and it is very labor intensive to harvest hazelnuts by hand.

Q: Do you recommend a soil fumigation prior to re-plant, or would a soil test be required to determine?

A: I'm not aware of any replant issues from hazelnuts to fruit trees so I would not recommend fumigation.

Q: If I were to begin several rows of apple tree plantings in the acre adjacent to the hazelnut trees and handle the nut tree removals over the course of a year or two, would I be endangering my apples with the EFB disease exposure from the nut trees?

A: EFB does not affect fruit trees.

Q: With the nut trees must the wood be burned instead of chipped and used as mulch to avoid disease spread?

A: Chipping works, it is an effective alternative to burning of EFB-infected wood.