Hazelnuts come from hazel trees which are a great choice for a garden. They are fairly small and will grow successfully in most temperate areas. The bees love both catkins and flower so if you are keen to encourage wildlife then they are a good option.
Hazels like a moist but free draining soil, in a bright, sunny situation. The production of hazelnuts is likely to be better if your tree is sheltered.
They naturally grow as multi-stemmed bushes - you often see them in hedgerows. So for the home gardener they can provide useful screening and shelter for tender plants. If you really want nuts though, open-centre trees with a single main stem will allow more light to get in and improve both the quality and the quantity of nuts.
Buying a tree
If you want to buy a hazel tree then they are most commonly bought as bare-rooted saplings, although pot grown plants are also available. They can be put into the ground at any time of year, but it is best to plant during the dormant period in winter. Make sure that the soil is not frozen or water-logged and plant following the instructions further down.
Growing from seed
If you can find someone who has a hazel tree then you should be able to get a ready supply of nuts which have the seed inside. Hazelnuts come in clusters surrounded by husks. Simply pick the nut out of the husk.
Separating those that will grow from those that may not is easy. Take your nuts and put them in a bucket of water. Select only those that sink and discard the ones that float. The ones that sink are more likely to grow and give you healthy seedlings.
Take a plant pot and place some stones in the bottom for drainage then cover them with a shallow layer of sand. You can just put your nut in with its shell but it will make germination easier if you nick the shell with a file first. To do this carefully file through in a small spot on the top side of shell. Just enough to penetrate the shell without damaging the flesh of the seed inside. Once done, mix a handful of your nuts with the same amount of horticultural sand and put them into your pot. Cover very carefully with something like wire mesh otherwise you are sure to lose the lot to mice or squirrels. They love a hazelnut! Put the pot in the shade and prepare to forget about it until early Spring.
Start checking the seeds in late Feb/ early March. If they have germinated then it is time to either transfer them to pots or plant them out in the garden.
If using a pot then fill it with compost and put two seeds in each at about 2-3cm deep.
For outdoor sowing, you can just scatter the seeds at around 400 per square metre. The seeds must be pressed into the soil - so use a roller or an old scaffold board to do this before covering the bed in horticultural grit.
Cover the bed or pots once again with some mice proof netting or wire mesh until plants are strong enough to withstand mouse attack (around 15cm tall)
As with all young trees, it is important to keep them weed free so they don't have to fight for light and nutrition. Once established, use a Haxnicks Tree Mat around the trunk to keep weeds away. Remember to water regularly too as they establish their root system.
Your patience so far should now be rewarded as Hazel trees can reach 40cm in one year. It is best not to move them yet though. They should not be moved to their final position until they are 2 years old.
So, if they are OK for space - about 10cm around them - then leave them another year before you transplant them. Keep them fed as well during their second year and you will get a healthy, robust plant.
Planting your tree
Whether you have bought a tree or grown it from seed prepare the site by clearing away any weeds or grass. Then make a hole big enough to comfortably take the root ball. Place your sapling in the hole being careful to plant to the same depth as it was in the pot or bed. Firm the soil.
If you require a hedge, plant new trees roughly 2m apart, depending on the variety and how dense you want the hedge.
Protect the young trunk with a StrimGuard when mowing or using a strimmer near it.
Pollination of hazelnuts is tricky. It is best to plant two different - compatible - varieties, which are known to pollinate each other. If you got your nuts from someone local then this could solve the problem as they are wind pollinated over a distance of around 50m. An alternative is wild hazel bushes which will work too.
Hazels bear male catkins and small, less conspicuous, red-tipped female flowers separately on the same tree. Hazels should be self fertile as a result but, due to flowering times generally not overlapping, this is usually not the case.
Don't let the Squirrels get your Nuts!
You will probably have to wait until they are around 2m high, in around another 2 to 3 years, for your first crop of hazelnuts. Harvest in late September–October once the leaves and burrs starting turning brown..
You might wish to let the squirrels have the hazelnuts the first year. After this though you should protect them with a Fruit Tree Protector from early summer as the squirrels take them before they are ripe.
The burrs will mostly fall to the ground naturally, but a few may need to be picked. Crack open the nuts, remove them from their shells and place them in a single layer in a warm, airy position to dry for a couple of days. You can store them and eat them raw at this point or roast them. Roast for 20-30 mins at 180º moving them around regularly to prevent them from burning.