The almond tree 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 springtime white or pink-tinged flowers, to medium-sized trees that produce edible nuts. It typically takes about five years to grow a tree that is mature enough to produce nuts. An almond tree can have a lifespan of 25 years and will continue to produce nuts when cared for properly.
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. The "nut" is nestled inside the layers of a leathery green hull. Inside the hull is a hard, light-colored shell that can be cracked to free the brown seed, or the "nut" that we eat.
|Common Name||Almond tree|
|Botanical Name||Prunus dulcis|
|Mature Size||10-25 ft. tall, 10-15 ft. wide|
|Soil Type||Well-drained, loamy|
|Soil pH||Acidic, neutral, alkaline|
|Flower Color||White, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||7-9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Africa, Middle East|
How to Plant Almond Trees
When to Plant
Almond trees do not tolerate any frost so make sure to plant them in the spring or early fall.
Selecting a Plant Site
Opt for full sun, six to eight hours, and a site with well-draining soil. The tree won't tolerate clay soil. Plant almond trees far away from sewer and water lines or the roots will grow towards those sources.
Space, Depth, and Support
Plant your almond trees 15 to 25 feet apart from one another. Place a bare root or sapling in a hole about 18 to 24 inches deep, which should be about the size of the container the tree came in. Be careful when placing the taproot into the hole, but make sure it's laying firmly at the bottom for support.
Almond Tree Care
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. It's also best to keep this tree healthy by doing at least some pruning versus no pruning.
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.
Temperature and Humidity
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. 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.
Fertilize your almond tree in spring with a balanced fertilizer. Apply this fertilizer along the drip line of the tree. For the amount to use, follow product label instructions.
Pollination is the trickiest part of growing almond trees for a crop of nuts. 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). A smart way to avoid having to plant different cultivars for pollination purposes is to select a self-fertile variety.
Types of Almond Trees
There are different types of almonds.
- Prunus dulcis: The sweet almond is found in nut bowls and dessert recipes.
- Prunus dulcis var. amara: This bitter almond is used, for example, to flavor certain liqueurs.
- 'Garden Prince': This self-pollinating almond tree grows 10 to 12 feet tall; however, it is cold-hardy only to zone 8.
Harvesting Almonds From Your Tree
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 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 the shelled nuts with mesh to prevent birds from taking them, and cover them with a tarp when rain is expected.
- Check if the drying process is complete by sampling 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.
Many growers of almond trees prune their plants in a few ways. Almond trees are best pruned in the winter when they are dormant. If the trees are left completely unpruned, they may not thrive. Some growers opt to keep young trees unpruned to encourage the growth of the scaffolding (branches forming the canopy) for a larger fruit yield when the tree matures.
However, you may want to remove a small amount of awkward or weak branches over time to help the tree correctly grow without stressing it. Remove the following with sanitized pruning tools:
- Dead or broken branches growing into the middle of the tree
- Vigorous limbs, branches, and shoots blocking light and air from reaching the center of the tree
- Branches crossing one another
- Poorly angled or wide-angled branches that prevent the tree from growing in an upward shape
During the winter months, an outdoor almond tree is dormant and needs little water or food. But this tree does not do well in frost conditions. Protect the tree from freezes with mulch or burlap cloth coverings at night to save buds from frost damage.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Almond growers in California note that the naval orangeworm is the worst offender of the crop. This pest bores, eats, and destroys the nuts. Farmers handle the problem with pesticides. Leafrollers are another pest that eats the buds of almond trees. Otherwise, look out for aphids and scale that produce honeydew (insect waste), which in turn attracts ants to the tree. If conditions are dry, look for white webs from spider mites, and spray them off the tree with water.
The almond tree is also susceptible to many fungal diseases. Fungal infections, such as canker, can kill the tree. Other fungal problems, such as anthracnose and leaf spot, can attack an almond tree but can be controlled and managed with fungicides.
Are almond trees easy to grow?
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.
Why do growers shake almond trees?
The first phase of harvesting almonds is to shake them off the trees. Farmers use machines called shakers to encourage the shelled almonds to drop off the tree to the ground where they will dry for about a week. Once the shells are dry, a sweeper grabs the nuts for further harvesting steps.
Can you grow an almond tree indoors?
If you have a big pot (10 to 20 gallons) with at least one large drainage hole, lots of direct sunlight (or artificial light), and patience, you can grow an almond tree indoors. You cannot grow a tree from an almond. You will need farm-provided seeds to grow indoors, but it is difficult at best. Instead, opt for an almond tree seedling for indoor growing.