Trees are beautiful things to have in the garden, but we don’t all have the space. Yet some of the most productive and pretty trees can be sneaked in as part of a hedge or into the back of the ornamental border without taking up much room. Filberts and hazels make themselves useful in other ways, too – the routine pruning required gives rise to wonderful durable, flexible and long poles to make into pea sticks and plant and legume supports, hurdles, canes.
The attractive leaves often turn bright yellow in autumn and the male flowers which appear in mid to late winter in the form of catkins are also highly attractive and an important early source of pollen for bees. One form, Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’, the contorted hazel, is a popular garden tree and at its most effective in winter when the bare, twisted stems can be seen at their best.
Which Tree is Right For Me?
Hazelnuts and filberts are extremely closely related and look and taste similar, it is largely the green or purple outer husk around the growing nut that differentiates them – in the ease of filberts it are often visible and frequently fully covers the fruit but hazels protrude from the end. Botanically, hazelnuts (or cobnuts) are Corylus avellana, while filberts are Corylus maxima. There are several cultivated varieties of both including some lovely purple-leaved sorts. In terms of size, shape and growing conditions, however, all are very similar and will thrive in a wide range of sites and soils providing they are moist but well drained. Although some can reach a height and spread of 12m, regular pruning ensures they remain a compact and manageable 3-4m.
Site And Soil
All types will grow well in neutral to alkaline soil and in the sun or partial shade (you will often see them growing among woodland trees where they form the under canopy). As a result, they do appreciate some shelter, but a wall or fence is a suitable alternative. Plant bare-touted trees from October to March or potted trees any time providing it is not too hot, dry or frozen. Dig in plenty of well-rotted garden compost or manure to improve drainage and moisture retention.
These trees produce separate male (catkins) and female (tiny bud-like flowers) inflorescences on the same plant and rely on the wind to carry pollen from male to female. However, not all self-pollinate and most require another tree in the vicinity to ensure a crop. Planting several in a hedge, or having a few trees in the corner of the plot, is enough tо guarantee a crop.
As mentioned, coppicing ensures that plants continue to produce a good supply of young, vigorous branches for bean poles etc., but in the garden, rather than cutting down all the shonts at once, it is better to remove up to a third of the oldest branches to leave a 2.4m stub and the tree will quickly shoot again from the base. This is done in winter when the tree is dormant.
At the same time any over-long shoots or sideshoots, can be tipped back and branches growing into the centre of the tree removed. If you are lucky enough to have space for a number of plants you may decide to completely coppice one in three every year, leaving the rest to grow on.
Where you are growing primarily for nuts a technique called brutting can be used to maximise yields; in summer look for long sideshoots produced on the current season’s growth and snap them in half (don’t cut) and leave the snapped end hanging. This encourages more flowers and allows air and light into the tree. These same shoots are shortened to three or four buds in winter.