Chestnut cultivation

The sweet chestnut tree that we have growing in the UK is also called the 'Spanish Chestnut' , Castanea sativa, and was brought into the UK by the Romans.  It is a broad crowned tree and can grow to 30 m or more.

chestnut

Planting for timber production

Martin Crawford, in his booklet, 'Chestnuts, production and culture' printed by Agroforestry research trust,  recommends a stocking rate of 1000 per acre, trees spaces 2m apart. Tree shelters do give an initial advantage, although as the chestnut trees grow so fast this may not be economic. The trees are light demanding, so thinning would need to take place after about 20 years - to aim for a stocking rate of 40 - 76 per acre after 60 years.

Coppice

Managing chestnut as coppice was developed in the early 1800's to meet the demand for long, straight poles for hops. The trees were coppiced on a 8 - 10 year rotation. As wire supports began to replace the poles for hops, demand for chestnut coppice fell rapidly. A new market has emerged, using chestnut for fence palings, and so the coppice is now often cut on a 12 - 16 year rotation. Coppice is an extremely sustainable management style, and there are some coppices which have been managed for 800 years with no significant decline in growth. 

coppice

Establishing new coppice

Chose a site that is well drained, on acid soil and not in frost hollows. The stools need to be more widely spaced in a coppice, to allow room for the shoots to grow out from the base. Chestnut seeds are best sown immediately after they ripen and fall (around October).

 young chestnut

Mice and squirrels enjoy eating them so if sown outside they will need to be well protected. It is more effective to plant them in pots and then a nursery bed until they are a year old. When planted into a woodland the young trees will continue to need protection. Warm, dry weather is required for the trees to pollinate effectively, so a summer over 27 degrees C is optimal. Bees help greatly with pollination and are attracted by the chestnut pollen.

The first cut can occur at about 5- 8 years, and preferably in March or April, so that the new shoots don't emerge until June, after the risk of frost. The cut stools send up a large number of shoots, as many as 50 - 150 per stool, but these will self thin quickly and you can expect to have 5 or 6 stems for each stool after about 15 years, when the trees are about 10 m high. 

Growing standards within a chestnut coppice is important to extend the biodiversity of the woodland, but chestnut is not shade tolerant, so it is recommended that 12 - 40 standard trees per acre is sufficient, according to their canopy size. As each coppice cycle is cut, mature oak can be felled, while others are thinned and left to grow on.

oak

There is a really good guide for cultivating Chestnut here.

Layering

Layering is an effective method of increasing the stocking density of a coppice woodland. 

BTCV have a good introduction to layering in their handbook on Woodlands.

Pests and diseases by Prof Julian Evans

Ink disease of chestnut is  present in UK.  Phytophthora damage to sweet chestnut coppice is the main disease of chestnut grown on damp, soggy soils. The other key issue for chestnut is that it is strongly calcifuge as a species demanding acid soils

Wiley InterScience

Forest Research, and the Forestry Commission keep up to date information on pest and diseases. 

Further reading

Chestnuts, Production and culture by Martin Crawford

Comments on this article

keith 26 May, 2013

This is a good article. i live in central scotland. horsechestnut is much more commpn. Can this be coppiced in the same manner? Thanks

Sue Littlejohns 26 April, 2015

I have a lovely sweet chestnutn tree growing in a pot. It is about 7 foot high and probably about 7 years old now maybe more. I was hoping to move to somewhere where I could plant the tree, so it could grow to its full size, unfortunately that cannot be done where we have moved to. So unless I come into possesion of some nice woodland (in my dreams), can I continue to grow the dear tree in a pot or plant it in the garden but keep its size in check, and still get nuts from it? Look forward to hearing from you.

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