We love our almond milk, trail mix, and marzipan, but how much attention do we pay to the producer of these nutty gifts? As it turns out, the almond tree is quite a spectacular plant, with beautiful blossoms, delicious fruit, and majestic form. What’s better is that growing your own is a project that will put your gardening skills to the test.
Almond trees are used to being outside, but they can be potted and brought indoors (your family will love the fragrance!). Like most producing plants though, you’ll find that you get what you put into it. Almond trees themselves are easy to care for, but if you want a good harvest you’ll have to invest much more in it.
If you’re willing to put in the work, you’ll definitely be rewarded. The average almond harvest is 50-65 pounds of nuts per tree! You’ll be eating them whole, sliced, slivered, chopped, and any other way you can. The uses for this versatile nut are endless!
So are you ready to get your hands dirty? Let’s dig into the precise details of how to grow almonds.
Good Products For Growing Almonds:
- Espoma Tree-Tone Fertilizer
- Monterey Liqui-Cop Liquid Copper Fungicide
- Bonide All Seasons Horticultural & Dormant Oil
- Tree Tanglefoot Insect Barrier
Quick Care Guide
|Common Name(s)||Almond tree|
|Scientific Name||Prunis dulcus|
|Month(s) of Harvest||August-September|
|Water:||Consistent, deep watering|
|Fertilizer||Fruit tree fertilizer, every 4-6 weeks|
|Pests||Mites, scale, ants|
|Diseases||Verticillium wilt, shot hole fungus, leaf curl|
All About Almond Trees
So how do almonds grow? It’s hard to imagine nuts growing on trees, so we’ll break it down for you. Almonds are technically seeds which, like all seeds, develop inside fruit. Almonds are actually in the same family as the peach, plum, and cherry trees (Rosaceae family). Their fruit is tan-colored and somewhat fuzzy. Inside it is the pitted hull that contains the seed, or kernel. In commercial production, the fruit and hulls are saved as a co-product and used in animal bedding and cattle feed. In your garden, you can turn them into compost or mulch.
The almond tree size reaches 10-15 feet tall. It features vibrant green leaves that turn yellow and drop in the fall. Perhaps the most beautiful part of this plant though is the almond tree blossom. They form in clusters of white and pink flowers, resembling cherry blossoms. Almonds are early bloomers, so those blossoms are some of the first flowers of spring.
One of the best things about these trees is that they please the bees. Their pollen is very nutritious and boosts the health of bee populations. Plus, since they bloom early, they’re one of the bee’s first food sources each year. So, by growing this tree, you can also help out the dangerously dwindling bee population.
Almond cultivation has been around since 4000 BC, originating in southwestern Asia. This tree is so historic that it’s even mentioned in the Bible (Book of Numbers). Almonds represented fertility to the Romans, so much so that they showered newlyweds with them. Almonds are still used in weddings today on occasion.
The almond tree was introduced to the US in the 1700s from Spain. However, they weren’t well adapted to the climate. After lots of crossbreeding though, the trees were ready for cultivation by the 1870s. Today, they are California’s top export – producing 80% of the world’s almonds.
Popular Types of Almond Trees
There are essentially two different types of almond varieties – sweet and bitter. The sweet almonds (Prunus dulcis var. dulcis) are the most common and produce the edible nuts that we’re all used to. On the other hand, bitter almonds (P. dulcis var. amara) are grown as ornamentals or pollinators. Here are some popular varieties of the almond family.
‘All in One’
This is one of the most popular sweet varieties, and for good reason. The most amazing thing about it is that it self-pollinates, which is very unusual for almonds. A dwarf almond tree, it grows to only half the height of a regular almond tree. Thanks to those two attributes, ‘All in One’ is perfect for small spaces.
These are the toughest varieties when it comes to cold climates. While we don’t recommend you expose it to frost, this tree grows well in northern areas. It also blooms later in the season, which may work well in your landscaping and reduce the risk of blossom frostbite.
This is considered one of the bitter almond varieties, so it’s mainly used ornamentally. The almonds can still be consumed though and make excellent food for wildlife like birds or deer. The selling point of this tree is its gorgeous, light pink blossoms.
Bounty is one of the sweetest varieties out there. It produces large almonds with just the right natural taste for snacking. It’s a late bloomer, but the fruit is usually ripe by September.
The best time to plant almonds is when the ground has thawed but young trees are still dormant. This gives them time to stretch out their roots before the next winter. Find a spot in your yard that gets full sun and protection from cold winds. Because they need cross-pollination, you’ll have to plant at least two almonds if you want a large harvest. You can plant any almond variety. Almond trees like plenty of root space, so plant them at least 15 feet apart.
This tree can live indoors, but fruit production will be much less likely. If you decide to make this trade-off, you’ll need a dwarf almond tree and a 10-20 gallon container with drainage holes that’s easy to move. You’ll have the most luck moving the container plant outside during the summer and bringing it in when it gets cold.
To plant, you’ll need an almond start either from a nursery or your own grown from seed (see how in the propagation section). The start should be at least 6 inches tall before planting it. Gently remove the baby almond tree from its container, wet the roots, and massage them out. Take care not to damage the taproot, as its health is vital to the rest of the tree.
Dig a hole that’s as large as the entire root system – no cramming allowed! Nestle the tree into the hole and add the backfill, gently pressing it down. To help it settle, treat your almond tree to a hefty drink of water.
New almond trees grow at their own pace. They can take anywhere from 2-12 years to produce almonds. It seems like an unbearably long time, but please be patient. These bountiful trees are well worth the wait.
As we mentioned, almond trees will produce as well as the care they receive. Here’s everything you need to know about getting the most from your almond orchards.
Sun and Temperature
Almond trees like their surroundings sunny, hot and dry. The more sun they get, the better their fruitset will be. For best results, plant your tree where it can get at least 8 hours of full sun. These trees can handle partial shade in a pinch but will flower and fruit best with lots of sun.
The ideal temperature range is 60-85°F, but the length of the growing season will directly affect fruiting. If your tree only gets a short warm season, it may not produce at all. Frost can heavily impact fruit production and wipe out early flowers in the spring. You’ll also have to protect this tree from cold winds.
In order to fruit, almond trees have to undergo dormancy, which requires extended exposure to cold temperatures (but not too cold!). They need about 200-300 hours of temperatures below 45°F. During this time, they’ll lose their leaves and store up the energy needed to produce almond fruit. Dormancy takes place from November to January.
In zones 7-9, this cold period can be achieved by leaving the almonds tree outside year-round. Some varieties of almond tree can handle the weather in zones 5 and 6 as well, but please do your research first. If you have an indoor-outdoor tree, you’ll have to find a cool place for it that doesn’t get frost such as a garage or shed. However, the harvest may not be optimal with those conditions.
Watering & Humidity
Along with the warm season, watering is a key part of getting your tree to produce nuts – and almonds are quite the water guzzlers. Young trees need 2-3 inches of water daily while mature ones take the same amount weekly. On top of that, they need extra water in the spring to boost flowering. Ideally, they should also get more than the recommended amount during summer and fall. However, you should stop watering a week or two before harvest so the fruit can dry out.
Production depends on lots of water but the almond tree is easily damaged by overwatering. To achieve the right balance, you need to be consistent. When you water, do so deeply without drowning the roots. Then, leave it be until the top inch of the soil is just starting to dry out.
Almond trees also need very low humidity, which is why they don’t thrive in the tropics. The drier your location is, the better.
Almond trees may be picky with sun and water, but they’re actually very tolerant of different soils. The only major requirement here is that the soil is well-draining. If it stores too much moisture, the roots can drown and rot. If needed, boost your soil’s drainage with sand or organic matter.
For the absolute best results, choose a soil that’s sandy or loamy, fertile, and has a pH around 6.5. Almond trees are very vulnerable to soil-based diseases like verticillium wilt. For container plants, always use new, store-bought soil. If you suspect disease in your garden’s soil, perform a soil pathogen test to determine what needs to be done. These are often provided by university agriculture departments.
The fertilizing schedule for almond trees is sure to keep you on your toes. These plants need lots of nitrogen in order to grow and produce fully. However, too much nitrogen can cause damage to the trunk and leaves. In order to find the right balance, you’ll need a good fertilizing schedule.
A good rule of thumb is to apply one ounce of granular or slow-release fertilizer per year the tree has been growing, leveling out to the manufacturer’s recommended amount once it’s mature. Begin fertilizing in the early spring and every 4-6 weeks until harvest. Optionally, give a final dose after harvest before the leaves drop. This will give the tree a headstart on blooming the next year.
For baby trees, don’t apply any until the spring after they’ve been planted. For that first fertilization, give them less than one ounce just to be safe. Fertilizing in regular small amounts like this drastically lessens the chance of nitrogen burns. Ideally, the fertilizer you use should be high in nitrogen and phosphorus. However, a balanced one works fine as well.
Pruning is a vital part of keeping your almond tree healthy and fruitful. When it’s young trimming will determine its mature shape, which in turn determines how it’ll produce. In the winter, when the almond is dormant, prune it to 3-5 branches forming a cup or vase shape. Use sterile loppers or good clean pruning shears as needed.
Mature plants should have about 20% pruned each year. Maintaining the shape it already has, focus on old wood since new will fruit better. If needed, thin out the canopy so there’s good air circulation and sunlight reaches the center. This will encourage new growth, flowering, and boost the tree’s vitality. Additionally, you should prune anything that’s dead or dying – not just in the winter but any time of year.
Almond trees may also be trained as fan-shaped espalier trees. This is a very intricate process, which we discuss thoroughly in our article on espalier fruit trees.
To keep it true to type and increase durability, almond trees are often propagated by budding. This is a simple method of grafting that’s easy to do yourself. To start, you’ll need the following:
- An almond tree to take a bud from
- A healthy rootstock (preferably a peach tree or bitter almond)
- A sharp, clean knife
- Grafting tape
We’ll begin with selecting a healthy bud from the almond tree. Using your knife, carefully slice the bud off of the branch about an inch above and below. Cut through the bark and just the outer surface of the trunk. Set aside the bud for now.
Move over to the rootstock. Peach trees work really well for almond grafts, but you could also choose a different, hardier variety of almond. On the rootstock, find a healthy spot and make a vertical cut that’s slightly longer than your bud cutting. Cut through the bark, but not the wood underneath. On top of that cut, make a horizontal one forming a T shape. You’ll now be able to gently peel back the bark flaps made by that perpendicular cut.
Grab your bud cutting and carefully slide it under the bark on the rootstock. It should fit in like a nice little pocket. Using grafting tape, secure the bud in place. All that’s left to do now is wait for the bud to fuse with the rootstock. Once this is complete, remove the tape if it hasn’t already degraded.
If grafting isn’t your style, you can propagate your almond the old-fashioned way – by seed. Just keep in mind that the resulting tree may differ from the parent since it’s been cross-pollinated. You’ll need a fresh almond that hasn’t been roasted or otherwise altered.
Get started by placing the raw and fresh almond into a bowl of water and soaking it for 48 hours. When time’s up, take it out and place it in a damp paper towel. Put the towel and seed in a plastic bag and store them in the fridge for about a month. During this time, the seed will germinate and begin to sprout.
Take your peppy new sprout and plant it in well-draining soil. Keep the soil moist, but don’t drown the vulnerable plant. Place it in the sun and wait for the sprout to grow. When it’s transformed into a half-foot tall plant, you can repot it into its permanent home.
Harvesting and Storing Almonds
You’ve watched your almond tree flower, grow, and produce. Now, it’s time to enjoy the best part of orchards: the nuts!
Almond nuts are ready to pick when the hulls have cracked open. Before jumping into harvesting though, wait until over half of the nuts have cracked. You’ll be removing them all at once, so you need optimal ripeness.
Harvesting almonds is pretty easy. All you do is shake the tree and they’ll fall off. To save yourself from scouring through the grass though, place a sheet or tarp under the tree for easy gathering.
Before they can be eaten, the almonds have to dry out for a few days. If it’s not going to rain, you can just leave them on the tarp on the ground. Otherwise, remove each shelled nut from its hull and store them in a cool dry place.
Once they’re dry, remove the hull if you haven’t already done so, and crack open the shell. Unless you have the commercial machinery made to do this, it may be a long process (get your family to help!). It’s highly recommended to freeze the almonds for a couple of days to kill any bacteria or bugs. After that, you may prepare them however you want!
When stored properly, your almonds can last quite a long time. However, thanks to their high-fat content, almonds can go rancid if stored wrong. This doesn’t make them inedible, but does turn them bitter.
For the longest shelf life, immediately package your almonds in an airtight container. Store them in the fridge, freezer, or anywhere that’s dry, dark, and less than 40°F. With this method, almonds will last at least 2 years!
You can also store your almonds in a cool pantry for a few months. Keep them in a sealed container though so insects don’t get to them. Keep in mind that almonds can absorb other smells over time, so keep them away from odorous foods. Because plastic bags are permeable, we recommend storing your nuts in solid plastic or glass containers.
Even if you put your almonds to culinary use, they’ll need proper storage. Roasted almonds will last up to a year when kept in a vacuum-packed bag in the fridge. Almond milk should be used within 4 days but can be frozen up to 3 months. Almond paste will last for 3 months in the fridge and 6 in the freezer.
As we’ve learned, almonds are pretty finicky, and this extends to pests and diseases as well. For these nut trees, the best things you can do are prepare and prevent.
Almonds rely on bees for pollination, but sometimes you may have to literally take things into your own hands. Hand-pollination will take a while with this tree, so it’s usually only used for small harvests. Begin pollinating as soon as the flowers open and remember to cross-pollinate with a different tree. Simply transfer pollen from one flower to another with a paintbrush or cotton swab.
Frost can be extremely dangerous to almond production. It will wipe out early spring flowers and prevent the almond tree from growing its ideal yield. This can be difficult to protect your tree from, especially if they’re large. The best thing you can do if your area gets temperatures below freezing is to keep your tree inside and not bring it out until you’re positive the frost is gone.
If your almond tree is blossoming, fruiting, or even growing well, it’s likely underwatered. It takes just the right watering schedule to please these plants and some practice to get it down. When you water, don’t flood the soil so there are puddles. Water frequently so that the ground never completely dries out.
Commercial almond growers apply dormant sprays which largely keeps many pests and diseases away. They apply horticultural oil 3 times a year during the winter, usually around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. The application in February is especially important because it carries into the tree’s blooming season. Additionally, it’s helpful at killing off overwintering pests and eggs.
A common pest to almond trees and nuts is mites. These tiny bugs live off of plant sap and reproduce like crazy. They can carry harmful diseases and cause your tree to lose its vigor. The most noticeable symptom is yellow speckling on the leaves caused by their feasts. Horticultural oil will prevent the mite eggs from hatching. If adult mites are in evidence as well, apply a miticide spray or neem oil to control them. These methods will usually control scale as well.
Ants, especially fire ants, are big fans of almonds. They usually don’t cause too big of a problem unless they’re transporting aphids up to the leaves of your tree, but they can cause damage to the husk that surrounds your almonds. To prevent these, it’s recommended to use a “tanglefoot trap” type product on the trunk of your tree. Wrap a section of the trunk in a waterproof material like bandage fabric, then paint or smear the sticky product on top of the fabric. The ants will get caught in the sticky material and won’t reach the tree canopy.
Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne disease that grows in the roots. Trees between one and five years old are the most common victims, especially in the spring. This disease isn’t usually fatal, but can impact the nut yield. It usually shows itself by causing leaves on one branch to turn yellow or brown. You may see the branch wilting from the top down while the rest of the tree is healthy.
It can be prevented by using a tree with a resistant rootstock, such as peach. It’s also good practice to not overwater, as this just creates an ideal place for the bacteria to grow. If your tree is already infected, you mostly have to wait it out. As long as the infection doesn’t spread, the tree will grow out the infected areas and you can prune them.
Shot hole fungus starts as tiny red dots on leaves and fruit and grows into large lesions, sometimes collapsing to form “shot holes” (in young leaves). It can cause the leaves to drop, weaken the tree, and hinder the nut production.
Prevent this fungus by not overwatering and keeping the foliage dry. If needed, prune the lower branches so they don’t get hit by sprinklers. Once you see any sign of shot hole, prune the section with it and destroy it away from the tree. If the problem is out of control, you’ll need to apply a Bordeaux mixture (an organic blend of copper and lime in water) or a synthetic fungicide, like Chlorothalonil.
Leaf curl is another common problem in almonds, particularly in California. Spraying the tree with horticultural oil three times a year (typically Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day are the rough times to spray) should prevent most leaf curl-related problems.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Where do almond trees grow best?
A: These trees are used to being hot and dry. They thrive the best in zones 7-9, especially in California!
Q: How long does it take for an almond tree to bear fruit?
A: It really depends on the tree. Some will begin to fruit in two years while others may take up to 12.
Q: Is almond a nut?
A: It may be considered a nut in the culinary sense, but almonds are actually seeds. They develop inside of the fruit, like a peach, whereas true nuts are hard-shelled fruits themselves.
Q: Where do almonds come from?
A: Almonds originally came from southwest Asia, but are grown mostly in California now. If you’re asking about what they grow on though, almonds are seeds grown in a small fruit on trees.
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