Resources for Growing Chestnuts

In my effort to learn up from down before I got too involved with "Chinese Chestnuts" I came across professional resources - what I call educational documents. The American Chestnut Foundation has the funds, momentum and scientist behind them. I support their efforts but I can't rely on the American Chestnut to feed deer on my farm during my lifetime due to the blight.
I pray they win their battle and the sooner the better. My son and grandsons will enjoy the successes of the American Chestnut Foundation but I will be long gone before the forest has seen their widespread return.

The link below is a 3 page fact sheet provided by The American Chestnut Foundation. It is general information. Fact Sheets/Growing Chestnuts_Guide to Basics_FINAL1.pdf

The link below is another 3 page fact sheet provided by The American Chestnut Foundation that dealing with growing the chestnut. Fact Sheets/How To Grow Your Chestnuts_FINAL.pdf
The document linked below is one of my favorite learning documents. It is from the Pennsylvania Chapter of The American Chestnut Foundation. It is a 15 page pdf document. It expands on topic more than the 3 pages documents linked in the post above.

If you spend 30 minutes reading on the internet and that helps you plant tree successfully that is time well invested. On the other hand it is frustrating to plant a seedling in the wrong location and never see it bear nuts because it don't bloom in the shade.

My 2 cents ...
I sell or gift seedlings to folks that are first time growers. They want to know how to plant the seedling so it makes a tree.

The number one mistake made by good growers is too plant the seedling properly and walk away. We have to protect the chestnut seedlings we put in front of the wildlife. Kid yourself all you wish - but they will destroy or setback your seedling.

I use a one page guide that has been placed in the post following this post. I hope it helps you. Contact me if you have questions.
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ABCs of Planting Chinese Chestnut Seedlings

by Wayne Pruett revised on July 30, 2016
  1. Your seedlings need to be planted 20 feet apart. They are air pollenated which requires them to be close to one another to produce viable chestnuts. Chestnut Pollen begins to fail at distances greater than 20 feet.

  2. Seedlings need full sunlight in order to grow the burr and chestnuts. The sun is the energy factory. If you want chestnuts to eat or feed the deer – avoid the shade!!!

  3. Chinese Chestnuts don’t like to have their roots wet. You don’t plant in a spot where standing water will occur. A slope is good – stay away from streams that will pool rising water in the periods of great rainfall.

  4. Dig a hole deeper than the height of the soil found in the container. If your soil is 6 inches tall in the container – dig the hole 9 or 10 inches deep. Put loose dirt back in the hole so that when planted, the seedling stem hits the soil about one inch higher than the surrounding ground. The seedling will settle over time putting it at the right elevation. By digging a deep hole we help roots establish quickly because chestnuts put down a deep taproot.

  5. Rabbits and deer are the critters that will kill your Chinese Chestnut seedling. This requires us to protect our seedlings. This is accomplished either with a tree tube or a wire cage. To protect the top of the seedlings, we need protection 5 feet high as the seedling grows. First year seedlings are not close to five foot – they will get there in 18 to 24 months.

  6. Stem protection in the beginning. If you use 18 inches of window screen, hardware cloth wire, short tree tube or metal flashing – you will keep the rabbits from eating the tender bark. Mice and groundhogs also hit the tree trunks. Hardware stores sell aluminum window screen. If you have a wood stake, PVC Stake, Rebar Stake, or Conduit Stake this will protect the stem. This approach will be used where a wire cage was protecting the growing leader (top of stem) from being browsed by whitetail deer.

  7. When first planted a seedling requires watering at the time of planting and during the first month and first summer if planted in the spring. Water each seedling in well at planting to eliminate air pockets. Water well means to water – wait for that to soak in & then water again. If you can’t visit the seedling often – get a five gallon bucket for each seedling or a 2 liter soda bottle. Drill two 1/16 inch hole in the five gallon bucket at a location one inch above the bottom of the bucket (drip bucket). We locate the drip hole up one inch to allow the dirt and sediment to settle below our holes.

  8. If you use a two liter soda bottle, drill the plastic cap with a 1/16 bit. Get a stake and place the 2 liter bottle upside down. It will water that seedling slowly. If you must mound some dirt to eliminate fast run off – do this – the seedling will respond positively. A gallon milk jug accomplishes the same thing – drip the cap.

  9. Eliminating competition: I use landscape fabric around my chestnut trees. You can weed eat the ground and spray roundup on day one at each planting location. Roundup does not transfer to the seedlings once it hits soil or dries on vegetation. If you spray vegetation and the roundup is wet – if it contacts the seedling you probably lose the seedling due to the chemical. On day two you can plant the seedling. On Day One when you spray, apply it 24 inch in each direction to eliminate the competition.

  10. Don’t fertilize in year one. I have placed Osmocote Plus in the growing media (a slow release fertilizer that will not burn the roots). We never fertilize after July 4th because it gives a growth spurt that will leave tender leaves that get slammed in fall colder temperatures. The following April 1st, you can fertilize the seedling. Chestnuts like acidic soil. Orchid food by miracle grow is good to feed them. A small box goes a long way.

  11. Don’t add any potting soil or any other product to the hole. Use the soil in the container and what is near the planting site. Adding potting soil will cause a pooling of water & too much water drowns the roots!!!

  12. Best planting approach: east to west 20 to 21 feet apart. This allows the sun to cross the trees all day long.

  13. If you have a black fabric pot, cut the fabric off with a pair of scissors. While still in the container, water the seedling good in advance of your planting time (night before or hours before).
These seedlings are part of the “One Thousand Chestnut Trees – a Deer Project” which involves participants in 26 eastern states. Update: Due to hackers, I have stopped using email in the middle of 2023. So, it is best to send me at text message to 615.517.4873 or message me here.
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Resources to Acquire for Growing Chinese Chestnuts

1. You need a well draining container. Root circling is something to avoid IMHO. You can purchase commercial containers or design your own. GraceNmercy from the old forum is one person who uses large growing containers to put multiple seedlings inside of and is extremely successful. I like rootmaker express 18s and I life netting pots you see in Hydroponics stores. If you design your own - punch drain holes if needed to get that water out of the container - roots will rot or drown in standing water.

2. You need a good growing media. We don't actually grow in a container with dirt you find in the field. You can mix your own growing media or you can purchase. I spend good money for commercial growing media.

NOTE: If you cut corners on containers and growing media - you will likely suffer or fail.
I don't repeat these mistakes anymore! Just trying to help you avoid issues.


I thing growing media is more important than growing containers. A compress bale when opened will go much further that you could imagine.

Don't purchase commercial stuff that has water retention properties - for chestnuts that works against us.
What Kills Our Chestnuts When We Try to Grow Them?

#1 Main Killer is Moisture! We over water them. We think Miracle Grow with Moisture Control has to work - look who is selling it. More chestnuts will rot before they break soil than a first timer would ever guess.

#2 Wrong Type of Growing Medium - We don't need soil & we don't need moisture control. Chestnuts like to get to the point of dry before they like water. Using the right growing medium helps the roots and allows us to learn what watering plan works. Roots need air for oxygen and they need space to grow.

#3 Mold Kills - We put them in airtight container with no chance to breath & we put too much moisture inside the container.

#4 Sunlight & Heat Kills - We collect chestnuts but we put them somewhere and forget about them. When a chestnut is collected - get it cleaned and inspected to see if it is a firm chestnut with no rattling in the hull. Leaving them in a hot vehicle for a week after collecting - just reduces our chances.

#5 Chestnuts Smell Good to Critters. Chipmunks, Squirrels, Rabbits, Deer, Turkeys, field mice, etc. Our chestnuts get killed because we don't protect them. If you plant a chestnut in the wild outdoors - you better protect it for a couple of years. Better to plant 5 trees well than plant 50 trees without protection.

#6 Chestnut get killed / setback by sunlight. Grown inside means we must gently push them into the sunlight. Baby steps required here. I use a pine tree that protect them from mid day and pm sun. My seedlings get early morning sun. Worked well until the squirrels made a raid.

#7 Lack of Moisture During Dog Days of Summer. Depending on your containers and location, in July and August if you go three or four days without watering seedlings that have many leaves, you can lose all of your work. Shade cloths are what nurseries use and they water twice a day.

#8 Chestnut Seedling is in Perfect Health then it gets planted in the wrong location. Sunlight is the power plant that generates the chestnut seed. We have to get pollinated by another chestnut tree that is nearby. Location of tree and proximity to other trees matter. We avoid stream sides due to risk to standing water during certain months.

#9 Negligent will kill. Every two or three days you better check on chestnuts under grow lights. In summer heat, you better water at reasonable intervals for your climate. I like to feel of the chestnut leaves with my eyes closed. What does the touch tell me? If you check ten seedlings - one of them may really need some water while the other nine show no stress.

Folks I am not an expert. I am motivated to accomplish my goal - improve my deer's habitat. It is certain I left something off the list above. I just wrote the hard lessons I have learned. If you like to cut corners - your success rate will go down. Mine did until I wised up.
Easy to Be Confused - When Outside Looking In

In the beginning, many of us read and confuse the following two products. Pictures first.

Peat Moss Bag.JPG

The photo above is what most will call "Peat Moss" and is used in growing media mixes. If you were mixing your own growing media you will likely use this. It does retain moisture - good to a small degree but too much moisture kills our growing efforts.

Sphagnum Moss Bag.JPG

The photo above is what many will call "the long leaf stuff". This product is used when we cold stratify chestnuts in the fridge inside a sandwich bag with holes poked to promote air flow. I don't know of many people that uses this product in their growing media.

Both products are available at the Lowes, Walmart and other big box stores.

I hope my explanation helps you avoid a mistake.
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I use Osmocote Plus. It is a slow release fertilizer. You can say it is widely used. Here you go - it is on the right side of the photo below.

Acid 4 H20 & Fertilizer.JPG

I use Osmocote Plus on the top of the rootmaker 18 container after the Chinese chestnut has put on it first set of leaves.

When I move that same seedling up to a one gallon root pouch or a Rootbuilder II one gallon I mix the Osmocote in with the growing media. I mix quite a bit and by having it inside the media it prevents it drying out.

On the left side of the photo is acid I use to lower the pH of city water I use. I went to a Hydroponics Store in Murfreesboro TN and got a pH tester. My procedure is to fill three five gallon buckets with city water and add the correct amount of acid with a medicine dropper. I let the treated water sit until the next day and then use it on my acid loving plants. I grow many seedlings and after one year it is time to purchase another quart of the acid.
Two more products that are used in growing media in combination with other products. I am not going to give mixing ratios - I suggest you get that from more trained individuals. Simply do a computer search - rootmaker website will give you some mixing ratios. Remember I buy expensive stuff 'cause I went down the DIY path once.


Perilite is a widely used product in the horticulture industry. You can buy in bulk quantity at Tractor Supply or in the size bag above in Lowes, Walmart, etc. It helps with drainage and aeration. for sure. Roots need air and room to grown.


Vermiculite is a very fine product - also dust like. I use it on a limited basis. Occasionally we will have growing containers that get in poor shape - drainage may suffer and the soil appears waterlogged. These two products are what I will use to improve the situation without total root disturbance. The red label on the bottom of the bag - reduces soil compaction is accurate in how I use this product.
Once the seedling gains one good set of leaves and appears it is headed to a second growth, many growers will feed it with an acid loving fertilizer. Here is what I use.

Orchid Food Single.jpg

How often to feed? I get more aggressive feeding a seedling when it has been moved to a larger growing container. In May, June, early July, I may feed them this water soluble food once every two or three weeks. If my green leaves on the Chinese Chestnuts drop their color to light green - feed more often. If you see skeleton leaves, feed maybe twice within the same week on that tree only.

Item tends to be on sale at reduced price in late fall and winter.

Note: Trees are like students - they respond the way they respond.
Moisture miser is sold by the Wildlife Group in Alabama. I buy my tree tubes from Allan. He has been good to answer my rookie questions. This product helps a seedling planted in the field manage moisture better. I consider this extremely important in the first summer.

As I fill the hole dug for the seedling, I drop these crystals in the hole from the bottom to the top. A little goes a long ways!

Other products by different names accomplish the same thing as this particular product. Use them in the field. I don't use them in containers when I am growing seedlings at home.

Additionally, if shipping a bare root tree - this is a good product to put in water -dissolve it and then baptize the bare root seedlings before you ship them. I have used it that way in what few shipments I have made.

Moisture Mizer.JPG

Sorry but I don't know the names of similar products. Search the greenhouse supply stores on internet - they are there.
Root Pouches are what I use when seedlings get moved out of rootmaker 18s express trays. I have one gallon and two gallon. The one gallon is black and narrow while the two gallon is brown and wide. These are affordable choices. If you set them on the ground you will need to rotate or reposition them about every two weeks.

I like the fact that in hot weather the fabric will be cooler than a container made of plastic. They need to be watered a little more often - they do drain well.

Root Pouches.jpg

I have not planted from these yet but I will be cutting the fabric down the seam when I do. For me I don't wish to disturb roots any more than necessary.
Mini Pine Barks are sold by various big box stores. I use this with pro-mix, original seedling with growing media and Osmocote Plus when I upsize out of rootmaker 18s to root pouches.

In order to be clear and not mislead folks, the photo below is the exact product I purchase.

Pine Bark Mini.JPG

Three big advantages to using this product: 1) improved drainage, 2) cost less than pro-mix, and 3) helps with pH
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Mini Pine Barks are sold by various big box stores. I use this with pro-mix, original seedling with growing media and Osmocote Plus when I upsize out of rootmaker 18s to root pouches.

In order to be clear and not mislead folks, the photo below is the exact product I purchase.

View attachment 1337

Three big advantages to using this product: 1) improved drainage, 2) cost less than pro-mix, and 3) helps with pH

Good luck finding this product in Texas

After reviewing everything I could find on the topic of planting media when upsizing from 18s, I came up with

the TreeDaddy blend:4parts peat,2parts vermiculite, 2 parts perlite,2parts pine bark mulch 1"scoop" osmocote plus

a "part measurement" is an empty plastic folgers coffee container

Looks amazingly similar to promix when done mixing ingredients!!

Tree Daddy, I am glad I was able to find the mini-pine bark on the shelf. Any newbies reading this post, if you mix your growing media make sure you follow the recipe as close as possible. I would think the park bark mulch increases drainage.

Thanks for sharing.
I have a hard time finding vermiculite so I just substitute more perlite. Might not be the right thing to do but my trees don't seem to care.
Matt as you and I know - the trees are the stake holders that matter. When given a choice between theory and practical - I take practical.

Are you mixing growing media or buying commercial?

New tree growers - always read the post by MattPatt - he is not only practical but successful in a difficult growing environment. :)