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Steve Nix

How to Collect Seed and Plant Walnut / Butternut

By October 15, 2008

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Now is the time to collect walnut and butternut seeds for planting this fall. Remember, after harvesting seeds, keep them moist for the entire time you store them - never let them dry out! They can also be planted the following spring.

In theory, you can plant the seed with the husk. That is what nature does and seems to work OK. Still, you would be better served if you prepare the seed and husk or completely remove the hull. You can pour boiling water over the husks and let them soak over night. Plant the soaked hull and seed the next day.

Removing the husk increases the germination rate of walnut and butternut seeds but can become a big job if you have a large volume. There are mechanical hullers you can rent or purchase. The best way to de-hull small seed batches is to refrigerate in plastic bags for two or three weeks and until the husk turns black. The hull will wash off with a water hose under high pressure. Extended storage can drop the germination percentage if not done correctly so try to plant the seeds this fall (preferably the day after hulling).

Most experts agree that the seeds will do just fine without scarification. Some say that the natural temperature cycle through the winter gives the seed the cold it needs but others recommend refrigeration for 3 months and planting in the spring (stratification). Plant the nuts in an open area at a depth of one to two times their thickness. Mulching will help as you do not want the seed to freeze. Chicken wire over the planted seeds will deter digging rodents.

Walnut Photo - Paul Wray/UGA


January 22, 2008 at 10:01 pm
(1) C Meek says:

Question: I collected a big basket of walnuts from a huge, straight timber tree this fall, intending to take them to some forest land I own next spring to plant them. I neglected them and they dried out in my house over the fall, I have since taken care of them and they are “winterizing” outside. Do these have a prayer of germinating? Should I go to the trouble? Thanks!

May 20, 2009 at 5:45 am
(2) KC says:

yes they do as I did the same however I have only germinated about 15%. I had 100 nuts and now have 5 seedlings.

July 14, 2009 at 8:54 am
(3) rich says:

hi I planted over 200 butternut seed pods and since last year only 34 cane up I see some animals have dug up some ot them in one general area and nothing came up there so I am only getting 34 how long before I should wait to transplant them and what distance apart also what is the best location for these I have some wet areas some dry and rocky areas and some flat to rolly areas also some tree lines but there are box elders of which I am slowly removing as I replace them with better trees and plantings also how often do the butternut trees bare nuts i am hoping to plant lots more this year

July 14, 2009 at 9:09 am
(4) rich says:

I also want to know how to save a butternut from what I think is drowning due to my neighbors relandscaping his land and making the area where the butternut very wet at times there were three rather lagrge trees and I have cut down one so far and it looks as though another is in trouble what can I do ?

March 24, 2010 at 5:11 pm
(5) Derrick says:

My butternut seeds grew mold on the outside, are they garbage now?

May 1, 2010 at 10:55 am
(6) Sherrie Norman says:

I would very much like to plant a couple of butternut trees in my back yard. I live in Montana and have seen ONE tree here. It is doing well, but they don’t know how it came to be in their yard. Where do I get the seeds, how & when do I get them, and how do I plant them with success??? Thank you for the information.

April 5, 2011 at 2:41 pm
(7) Suszen says:

I just discovered that we have a butternut tree I am in question if I am able to take the nut and start a seedling with it? I didnt want to bust open the shell but not really sure as to how to start the seedling. Any suggestions…

Thanks Suszen

August 10, 2011 at 12:27 am
(8) Don McN. says:

Suszen: Just do what squirrels do and you’ll end up with seedlings next year. Plant the nuts, with the husks on if you want. You can plant them in fall or spring. They will have turned black by spring, but there’s less chance the critters will get them. I’ve had good results putting them roughly 1 nut diameter below the surface. Honestly, I wasn’t that careful about the depth. I’ve had to re-bury lots of nuts the racoons dug up for the fun of it. They apparently didn’t know what to do with them. There is a good chance the squirrels will dig some up, move them and re-bury them, thus making them “theirs.” They won’t find them all, so you’ll end up with seedlings wherever you and the squirrels put them. The seedlings will look just like black walnut seedlings, but the leaves won’t have the same aromatic smell when you pinch them with your fingers. So far, the white tail deer have not bothered the butternuts. They have made a steady diet of my black walnut seedlings.
Hope this helps.

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