Today’s blog is a complete guide to Horse Chestnut tree care! After reading this you will be fully able to sow and grow your very own horse chestnut tree!
Not only are these trees majestic, symbolic and mythical, they are hugely valuable to our great British wildlife. Horse chestnut trees make great homes for all sorts of insects, birds and squirrels and their flowers are a rich source of pollen and nectar. Many insects snack on these tasty trees’ leaves and conkers provide food for local deer. This is why horse chestnut tree care is so vital.
It has been known for some time that horse chestnut trees themselves are fighting for survival. Bleeding Canker is a huge contributor to the plight of our horse chestnut trees. This bacterial disease is mostly fatal to an infected horse chestnut tree and is rapidly reshaping our landscape; and in turn our ecosystem. Horse chestnut tree care has never been more important!
If you have been toying with the idea of planting a horse chestnut tree yourself take the leap it could be so worth it! It’s a majestic tree rich in history. Another plus side is your contribution will reinforce the effort to conserve these trees and increase their presence.
Horse Chestnut Tree Care: Identification
This particular species of tree aren’t particularly difficult to identify, especially in the autumn months when they adorn prickly green fruit containing beautiful brown conkers. In the winter twigs tend to be decorated by large sticky looking red buds.
Horse chestnut trees are rarely found in local forestry. They are most prevalent in our parks and gardens.
In the summer months horse chestnut trees produce magnificent flowerings often either white or pink in colour. The branches are covered in vibrant green leaves that appear to tooth at the central stem.
Now you know what to keep your eyes peeled for if you are planning to plant your own horse chestnut seed from a humble conker. Lets move on and explore the very first stages of horse chestnut tree care!
Horse Chestnut Tree Care: Planting
The most natural and inexpensive way to plant your very own horse chestnut tree begins by embarking on a conker hunt.
Conkers appear as early as August, however a horse chestnut tree can produce fruits all the way through till October, so you have plenty of time to get gathering!
The best conkers to take home are those that have fallen from the tree naturally. As conkers ripen they harden. When they have reached significant hardiness chestnut fruits fall to the ground and set their conkers free. If you prematurely remove a conker from its fruit there is little chance of a successful propagation. Picking the perfect conker is the first prominent step in horse chestnut tree care.
You may desire to speed up the process by opting to purchase a sapling instead. We will jump in with the details on how to achieve this type of horse chestnut tree care a little later on in our guide.
Some fully grown Horse chestnut trees can reach astonishing heights of up to 36 metres and can spread up to 25 metres in length. To ensure your horse chestnut tree care is manageable for you, we suggest picking out a plot with plenty of space.
Leave at least a 12 metre distance between your desired location and any nearby buildings, power lines or other trees to avoid any potential disasters later on down the line.
2. Selecting your Conkers
The picture above is exactly what you are looking for when it comes to identifying conker fruits. At the right time of year these are easy to locate, they can be found in our parks, schools and on the streets.
Avoid picking fruits from branches as they simply aren’t ripe and even though the majority will grow, they are highly unreliable. They also tend to be a little prickly!
Conkers tend to ripen in the autumn months, so September and October are the most fruitful for gathering. However, your collection window technically remains open from August all the way through winter as conkers need a dose of cold weather to grow.
So if you do stumble upon a conker in December pick it up and take it home! You may be able to skip a few steps in our ultimate horse chestnut tree care guide and have your tree in the ground in no time.
The next step is to pry your conkers from their fruity shell. This should be a relatively simple task as many conker fruits will naturally start splitting once they reach the ground.
If this isn’t the case for you, you should be able to gently pull the fruit apart to reveal your conker. If this is still proving difficult, gently score the fruit with a knife and continue. Take extra care not to damage the conker inside.
You don’t need to hang on to the green, spiky shells any longer so be sure to compost them!
To kick off the selection process, you will first want to identify the conkers with the most potential. Pick a container large enough to submerge all of your gatherings and fill it with cold water.
Next place your conkers in the container and wait a minute or two…Have any of them floated to the top?
If the answer is yes, these are conkers that have dried out and unfortunately are no longer alive. Scoop these out of the container and discard one of two ways…
Chuck them back outside, they make great food for hungry wildlife. Alternatively pop them in the compost heap and use to revitalise your plants later on
If the answer was no, empty the water out of the container and set your conkers aside. Time to move on to the next step of horse chestnut tree care.
There is a small amount of freedom when deciding the best time and method to stratify your conkers. As we have already discovered conkers need to receive a good dose of the cold treatment in order to germinate. How you want to go about achieving this is up to you.
Some gardeners prefer to place their conkers in airtight bags and pop them in the fridge for a few months to achieve cold stratification. Then when spring arrives they start them in pots.
We prefer to introduce our conkers immediately to the challenges of great British weather. The plant itself is hardy enough to withstand climate conditions provided you execute these tips for horse chestnut tree care correctly. You will have to be aware of critters attempting to steal them for food, but with some dedicated protection your tree will germinate.
In order to achieve this you will need to…
Consider the ultimate window for planting, this is from late October to early December.
Next grab yourself a small pot. You then want to fill it with a mixture of potting soil (roughly 70% of the pot) and compost (the remaining 30% of your pot). Fill your chosen container all the way to the rim and then give it a good pat down.
Using your hands, gently make a hole 2cm deep in the middle of the soil and place your conker inside. Then neatly cover the hole over with another topping of soil.
Plant your conkers individually in pots to lighten the maintenance load. You can place a few conkers in one pot and they will grow, however they will need transplanting sooner. This most likely will cause complications for you depending on how hospitable your garden and soil is in late winter. The majority of gardeners will agree soil conditions in the winter months make planting hard work!
You are now ready to move your pot outside. Consider these factors when identifying your starter plot.
Choose an area that is less susceptible to heavy frosting in the winter. If there is no such place in your garden, consider purchasing some garden fleece, or a frame to protect them.
Pick an area of your garden that receives natural sunlight. You are aiming for around 4 hours of sun exposure a day. No more, No less.
Look for a sheltered space such as a wall or fence. This will offer protection from wintry winds.
Water regularly, yes even in winter providing the temperature is above freezing. Touch the soil first to diagnose whether it needs water or not. You want your soil to maintain a consistent level of moisture. For ultimate horse chestnut tree care don’t let your plant dry out, and equally don’t over do it on the water.
Now we sit tight and wait a few months for spring to arrive. Stay vigilant during this time and check in with your plant regularly to ensure it is still going strong.
As spring commences you should be able to see sprouts shooting through the soil. When your shoots are reaching around 11 inches tall they are ready to be transplanted. (This process can take as long as 12 months after they were first introduced to soil, so you will need planty of patience!)
Within a year your plant should have grown the optimum 11 inches. You can finally plant your horse chestnut tree in the space you picked out one and a half years ago!
* Those of you who opted to purchase a sapling, your journey begins here! Make sure to have a quick read of step 1 before continuing.
Horse Chestnut Tree Care: Sapling Stage
Before you place your young tree in the ground you will need to clear the site of any weeds or grass that will inhibit the growth of your tree.
Begin digging a hole deep enough in the ground to fit your horse chestnut. If you uncover any roots as you dig, you can either clear them, cut them or remove them altogether.
Once you have the perfect hole, you need to free your tree from its plant pot. You may have to tap the bottom of the pot quite a bit, but with a lot of care and some well placed force, your tree will be released. Before planting in the ground, be sure to untangle the roots and help them to point outwards. Failure to do this could be fatal for your new tree.
Pop it in the ground and cover in soil. The hard work is done! Be sure to keep watering your horse chestnut tree until it has established itself and protect it from wildlife.
Do not be fooled by the name chestnut, the conkers that grow are NOT for human consumption.
Horse Chestnut Tree Care: Maintenance
As we mentioned previously these trees are pretty hardy, which makes looking after them a straightforward task. With regular waterings, a hearty dose of mulch and a gentle prune (if necessary) they will live a long healthy life.
Check out our blog Caring for your Newly Planted Tree for a complete guide to growing a successful sapling.
Horse chestnut tree care is relatively simple as they pretty good at keeping themselves in check, so pruning tasks are usually just for maintenance purposes. The only other time you may need their assistance is to protect the survival of your tree from disease or pests. This, depending on the extent of your issue, could be a hefty task.
Horse Chestnut Tree Care: Pests
So you have yourself a fully established horse chestnut tree! Tree-mendous effort! But our hard work and care doesn’t end there. Regularly inspect your tree for any of these symptoms to protect it from pests and disease.
Horse Chestnut Leaf Blotch
To identify leaf blotch on your horse chestnut look for brown/yellow blotches dotted around the tips and edges of your leaves. This could progress further, eventually drying out leaves and turning them completely brown.
This disease is rarely fatal for the horse chestnut and effective pruning should be enough to save your plant. Be aware, sometimes where you have leaf blotch, leaf miners follow.
Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner
A horse chestnut leaf miner is caused by a small species of moth. The trouble occurs when the caterpillars of micro moths get hungry. Usually you will start to notice symptoms of leaf miner in June.
Caterpillars burrow their way through a horse chestnut’s leaves, causing them to brown, shrivel and fall earlier than normal.
Horse chestnut leaf miner is not a fatal issue for your tree and effective pruning should rid you of these pests.
Bleeding Canker of Horse Chestnut
This disease unfortunately is a lot more threatening to your tree than miners of leaf blotches. This particular bacteria seeks to destroy your tree at its bark.
If you notice any cracks in the bark of your tree accompanied by an oozing, rusty coloured liquid or dried black crust you may be in trouble. We recommend the seeking help of a professional to tackle this one.
If you come across a confirmed case of bleeding canker, you can report it for research and conservation purposes to the Forestry Commission via their Tree Service Alert.
Horse Chestnut Scale
This is another problem caused by the insect Pulvinaria regalis. The female of the species seeks to nest in horse chestnut trees and begins laying her eggs in early summer. These nesting habits will not prove fatal for your tree.
Look for little white spots with a brown or orange top colour. These will present either at the trunk of your tree or around branches.
And there you have it, your complete guide to horse chestnut tree care. If you do discover something foul is going on with your horse chestnut tree, get in touch with one of our friendly professionals. Their advice and services will leave you with an overwhelming feeling of releaf.