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Connecticut Garden Journal: Blight-resistant chestnut trees are available. Here’s why you should plant one

We all know the famous holiday song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” It harkens back to a time when chestnuts grew in abundance in our forests from Georgia to Maine. Unfortunately, the chestnut blight wiped out most of the trees about 100 years ago, but we still can grow versions of the American chestnut in our yards.

The American Chestnut Foundation has been working to develop blight resistant hybrids. They've been crossing American chestnuts with the more blight resistant Chinese chestnuts with good success. In fact, some of these hybrids, such as 'Dunstan', are available for sale. There's even been genetic engineering work done on American chestnut trees to introduce a gene to thwart the blight. But those trees haven't been approved for sale yet.

Hybrid chestnut trees grow into statuesque 30- to 50-foot tall specimens in the landscape. They start producing nuts in about 5 years and produce best with two different varieties. While the tree nuts are great for roasting on your open fire and making breads and other baked goods, these trees are fantastic wildlife plants. They supply food, shelter and homes for a whole host of insects, birds and mammals.

Plant chestnut trees on well-drained, moist soil in full sun. Plant trees 25 feet apart and protect the young trees from mice and rabbits chewing the bark and deer nibbling the tops. The trees are moderately fast growers. Under ideal conditions they may take up to 15 years to fully mature. So, think of chestnuts as an investment in your kids or grandkids future, while making your yard a more environmentally-friendly place.

Charlie Nardozzi is a regional Emmy® Award winning garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 30 years bringing expert information to home gardeners.