The almond belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae), making it a relative of several well-known fruit trees. There are different types, ranging from small ornamental shrubs (Prunus glandulosa) grown only for their pretty flowers to medium-sized trees that produce edible nuts. Almond trees can have a lifespan of 25 years when cared for properly. It is not difficult to grow almond trees and harvest their nuts as long as you have the right kind of climate and are armed with a few critical growing tips.
|Botanical Name||Prunus dulcis|
|Common Name||Almond tree|
|Plant Type||Deciduous tree|
|Mature Size||10 to 15 feet tall and wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Rich, deep, well-drained loam|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to neutral to slightly alkaline|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|USDA Plant Hardiness Zones||7 to 9|
|Native Area||North Africa and the Middle East|
How to Grow Almond Trees
Almond trees grow best in climates with hot summers and low humidity, which helps the tree make a healthy crop of nuts. It's important to have a long growing season free of frosts since the almond nut takes seven to eight months to mature, and it typically takes about five years to grow a tree that is mature enough to produce nuts. A spring frost can damage the almond tree's flowers, which are essential for the harvest. It is for these reasons that almond nut production in the United States occurs mainly in California.
Almond trees can survive winter in USDA Hardiness Zones 7 through 9, while some cold-hardy varieties can even be overwintered in regions as cold as Zone 5. While there are a variety of pruning options to help these plants stay healthy through the winter, many growers opt for maintenance pruning. By leaving the tree's main branches intact, the inner branches can be pruned to keep the canopy of the tree open to sunlight.
Your almond tree will bear the most flowers (and therefore, potentially nuts) if located in full sun.
Good drainage is important, so sandy soils are preferred over clay soils. Till deeply into the soil so that the roots can strike down deep.
Like other nut trees, almond trees need a lot of water to grow healthy. Aim for about 3 to 4 inches of water per week, or enough to keep the soil moist. Almond trees are relatively drought tolerant, but it's best to provide plenty of water to produce a suitable harvest. Just remember that overwatering your tree can cause root rot: Soggy soil means the plant is receiving too much water.
Growing and Harvesting a Crop of Almond Nuts
Technically, the crop produced by almond trees is not a nut, but a stone fruit (drupe). The fruit growing on almond trees initially looks nothing like the almond you later end up eating: Instead, what you see is a leathery, green hull. Inside the hull is a hard, light-colored shell. This is the shell that we crack with a nutcracker to get to the edible part. Cracking the shell frees the brown seed ("nut") that we eat. While you can eat the fruit of an almond tree, it's best before the nuts are hardened, which may be too early to let them ripen fully.
There are different types of almonds. The kind found in nut bowls and dessert recipes is the sweet almond (Prunus dulcis), but there is also a bitter almond (Prunus dulcis var. amara) that is used, for example, to flavor certain liqueurs.
For the most part, almond trees are not self-fertile, as are some trees that bear edible fruit: You will need two or more cultivars for pollination, and they can't be just any cultivars (flowering times have to line up). This is the trickiest part of growing almond trees for a crop of nuts. Plant your almond trees 15 to 25 feet apart from one another.
A smart way to avoid having to plant different cultivars for pollination purposes is to select a self-fertile variety. For example, 'Garden Prince' is a self-pollinating almond tree that grows 10 to 12 feet tall; however, it is cold-hardy only to zone 8.
Almonds give you a clue as to when they are ready to be harvested: The hulls begin to split apart, revealing the familiar, light-colored shell. Do not wait too long after this splitting to harvest your almond nuts because the exposed shell is now fair game to both birds and insects.
The easiest way to get the almonds off the tree for the home grower is to tap the branches with a pole. Lay a tarp down ahead of time to catch the almonds as they fall to make pick-up easier.
After gathering the almonds, they must be dried properly, or else they can become moldy. Drying requires several steps:
- Remove the hulls.
- Spread the nuts out (with the shells still on), in a thin layer, across a surface conducive to drying. An ideal surface would be a table, the top of which has been replaced by a screen. Cover them with BirdBlock mesh (buy on Amazon) to prevent the birds from taking them, and cover them with a tarp when rain is expected.
- The only way to know for sure when the drying process is complete is to sample the "nuts." Crack the shells of a few to find out whether the edible seeds within are hard or rubbery. If they are rubbery, then they are not completely dried out yet. If they are hard, then they are ready.
- When you have determined that your crop has dried out enough, bring the rest of the nuts, with their shells still on, indoors. Stored at room temperature, they will keep for eight months.