Elegant and attractive, the flowering and fruit producing almond tree is a fabulous addition to the garden.
Interestingly, the almond tree belongs to the same family as many other fruit trees including apricots, cherries, plums and peaches. A versatile addition to the garden, the almond tree (prunus dulcis) is believed to be native to central and southwestern Asia but this is not known for certain.
Cultivated since 4000 BC, both Romans and Ancient Egyptians prized the fruit. Romans saw the nuts as a fertility charm, showering newly weds with the fruit. Even today some people hand out sugar almonds at weddings.
Reaching a height of 10 to 15 ft, once established the fragrance from the pink or white flowers fills the spring air. Popular for their edible nuts, the fruit can be used to make candy, marzipan or almond “milk” as well as a healthy snack. If you don’t want to harvest the fruits, the almond tree is an attractive ornamental addition to the garden.
Prunus dulcis is an attractive addition to the garden.
If you want to add an almond tree to your garden, this guide will take you through everything that you need to know. From planting to harvesting this is your complete guide to growing an almond tree.
Prunus dulcis is one of the more sensitive fruiting plants. This can make them more difficult to grow than other fruiting specimens.
The almond tree is best planted in hot, dry conditions. They typically thrive in areas that enjoy long, hot dry summers. Most cultivars are classified as hardy in USDA Zones 7 to 9. Some also tolerate conditions in zones 5 and 6.
While the almond tree thrives in hot weather the plants do require exposure to a spell of cold weather to break their winter dormancy and start forming floral buds again. Exposure to temperatures lower than 45 ℉ for a couple of weeks is enough to encourage flowers and later fruit to form.
While a spell of cold weather is necessary to break their winter dormancy, the almond tree is intolerant of frosts. Flowering varieties are particularly frost sensitive. These plants also struggle in wet soils. Most varieties tend to do best on the East Coast of the United States, in states like California.
These specimens thrive in open, sunny positions.
Best planted in a full sun position, the almond tree also tolerates partial shade. However flowering may not be as profuse as if the specimen were planted in full sun.
The soil should be well draining and loamy. While the plants can tolerate planting in poor soil, it should still be well draining. Soil that is poor to drain away or is frequently waterlogged can cause the roots of the almond tree to become soggy and start rotting.
Selecting the Right Almond Tree
Bitter almond varieties are more ornamentally attractive than sweet prunus dulcis plants. However if you want to eat the fruit you should plant a sweet almond tree.
Many almond tree cultivars, unlike some fruit trees, are not self-pollinating. This means that if you want fruit to develop cross pollination is necessary.
One of the best self-pollinating types is All-in-One. This is often recommended to backyard growers because as well as being self-pollinating it grows to just half the size of a standard almond tree. Ideal for smaller spaces, the soft shelled nuts ripen in late September or early October.
Other popular varieties include:
- Hall’s Hardy, slightly hardier than other cultivars as the pink flowers fade, fruits form. These are typically ready for harvest in October. A full sized specimen that does best with a companion for cross-pollination it is cold tolerant and hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9.
- Carmel is a reliable choice, popular because it is an excellent pollenizer which produces league yields of well protected nuts. One of the smaller types of almond tree both its height and spread are more contained than other varieties.
- Robijn is a self-fertile variety, it is resistant to some common almond tree problems such as peach leaf curl.
- Mission is a late flowering cultivar. Despite this it is a pleasingly productive and resilient specimen. Mission is ideal for planting in areas that are prone to late season frosts.
If you are planting these specimens for their fruit make sure that you select compatible plants. Not every specimen is compatible with each other.
As well as ensuring that the pollen is compatible, you should also make sure that your chosen specimen’s flowering period overlaps. If the chosen specimens flower at different times of the year they will not bear fruit even if the pollen is compatible.
The pollen must be compatible for pollination to occur and fruit to form.
How to Plant an Almond Tree
Knowing how to correctly plant a fruit tree ensures that it settles quickly and becomes both healthy and productive.
Choose your planting position carefully. Prepare the soil before planting, working in any necessary amendments to ensure that it is both rich and well draining. When selecting your planting position take into account any potential overhead obstacles as well as checking that there are no below ground pipes that the roots may disturb.
Before planting, soak the roots with water. Soaking roots prior to planting helps the almond tree to become established more quickly.
Use a suitable shovel to dig a hole wide and deep enough to hold the root ball. When placed in the hole, the tap root should not be cramped or bent out of shape. Like many fruit and nut trees, prunus dulcis is sensitive to tap root damage. Do not trim the tap root down or force it into a hole that is too small.
Take care to gently spread the roots out as you place them in the hole. This prevents the roots from matting.
Aim to plant to the same depth as the specimen was previously planted. This applies to both bare root and potted specimens. If you are planting a grafted specimen, make sure that the grating union is above soil level.
Once you are happy with the position of your plant, backfill the hole, firming down the soil as you do so. Water well, giving each plant at least two buckets of water. This helps the plant settle in its new position, reducing the risk of transplant shock.
If you are planting in the spring you can also add a little fertilizer to help the plant settle. For fall plantings, do not apply any fertilizer until the following spring. Mulch the soil around the trunk after planting.
Plants grown in pots can be planted at any time of the year. However they are best planted in fall or early winter after they have entered their dormant period. At the time of planting the soil should be workable and neither frozen or waterlogged.
Bare root specimens can be planted in late fall or early spring.
Planting is also the ideal time to install some form of support. This encourages the plant to develop an upright, healthy growth habit, preventing it from spreading into areas you would rather keep open. The Dalen Young Tree Stake kit is a durable, easy to install product suitable for a range of fruiting plants.
If you are planting more than one specimen, space them roughly 12 to 25 ft apart, depending on the variety. Remember a mature almond tree can grow to a height of 10 to 15 ft and achieve a similar spread. If space is at a premium, to encourage cross pollination some people recommend planting two specimens in the same hole. The branches and trunks intertwine as they grow, enabling the flowers to cross pollinate.
Depending on the cultivar, age when planting and whether it is a bare root or potted specimen, the almond tree can take between 5 and 12 years to mature. During this time the plants require regular care in order to encourage healthy, productive growth.
Caring for an Almond Tree
Once established these are easy to care for specimens.
Regularly weed around the base of the trunk. Weeds can impact growth, harvesting valuable nutrients and moisture from the soil and depriving your plant. There are a number of weeding tools you can use to keep your soil clear.
To compliment your almond tree, plant cover crops like clover. A good companion plant, clover aerates the soil, improving water penetration. It also restores nitrogen to the soil and attracts pollinators, increasing your harvest in the process.
Established specimens are easy to care for.
When to Water
The almond tree requires regular water to produce lots of well-filled nuts. In general a healthy, growing plant requires at least 20 to 25 inches of rain, or around 500 to 600 millimeters, a year.
Many growers find a drip irrigation method is the best way to water the plants. While a Drip Irrigation Kit may take some time to set up it is a great way to keep all your plants happy and hydrated.
Your almond tree will appreciate a little extra water in early spring. Continue to water regularly throughout the summer and early fall months. If you neglect to regularly water the plants, fruiting won’t be as abundant.
The key point to remember when growing an almond tree is not to water in or near harvest time. Cease watering the plants 3 to 4 days before your intended harvest date. Too much water at this stage can cause the shells to split, spoiling the fruit before you have time to harvest.
For new growers knowing when to water can be a bit of a guessing game. Monitoring the shape and ripeness of the fruit can help you to measure this. If you struggle to know when to water, a soil moisture sensor is a useful tool to help you accurately monitor the moisture content of your soil.
Fertilizing Growing Plants
In the spring a small dose of an organic, nitrogen rich fertilizer should be applied. These plants have a high phosphorus and nitrogen requirement.
If planted in healthy soil, growing almond trees require fertilization twice a year. The first dose should be applied in the spring as new growth appears and the second dose in early fall.
Knowing how much fertilizer to apply varies depending on the product you are using. If you are using a commercially produced product consult the information on the packet label. In general, every spring, aim to apply one cup of 10-10-10 fertilizer per year of plant age up to a maximum of 10 cups. For example, if your plant is 3 years old, apply 3 cups of commercially produced or homemade fertilizer.
In the fall, apply 1 cup of calcium nitrate per year of plant age up to a maximum of 4 cups. Do not apply the fall dose of fertilizer if no nuts have developed that year.
In addition to regular fertilization, spread a 3 to 6 inch layer of mulch in a 3 ft radius around the trunk. This helps to prevent weeds and enrich the soil. When applying, don’t allow the mulch to contact the trunk. This can cause issues such as root rot to develop.
How to Overwinter Sensitive Specimens
Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 9 in cooler areas the early spring blooms are susceptible to bud damage. They may also fall from the branches if a late spring frost hits. Planting late flowering varieties such as Mission can help to prevent this.
Smaller specimens can be protected by covering with a REMIAWY Reusable Shrub Cover once fruiting has finished for the year. This can be removed the following spring, once all danger of frost has passed
Exposed buds are prone to frost damage.
In warmer areas, the plants may only have a short semi-dormant period during which general maintenance such as pruning should be done.
Pruning Growing Plants
Depending on the age of the plant, pruning serves different purposes.
For young plants pruning determines their future shape and productivity. The almond tree is typically cut into a vase shape with 3 or 4 main branches. This allows for easy harvesting. It also helps to encourage the plant to become a vigorous, productive specimen with a long lifespan.
Once mature, pruning is mainly done to keep the plant in an established shape. For mature specimens pruning helps to renew the plant and stimulate fresh growth. When pruning mature plants, aim to prune back around 20% of the canopy every year.
When you prune, focus on removing damages and diseased branches. You should also thin out any overcrowded areas. These can impair air flow and cause fungal issues to develop. If you are new to caring for larger, fruiting plants and are unsure what tools you should use, our guide to tree cutting tools is a good place to start. Remember to regularly clean and sharpen your tools.
The almond tree is best pruned in late winter. Be careful when pruning at other times of year. The flowers, and fruit, typically set on second year wood. Pruning this away can deter flowering and impact on your fruit yield.
Pruning in late winter, when the plant is dormant, prompts fresh growth, rejuvenating the plant.
Don’t prune in spring or when the tree is in flower.
After pruning, clean the debris from around the tree. This helps to eliminate the threat posed by overwintering pests such as navel orangeworms. This is a destructive pest that targets the fruit of nut trees. After pruning you can treat the plants with a dormant oil to kill various pests such as peach twig borers and mite eggs that may be present.
Common Pests and Problems
Almond trees are sensitive plants. They are particularly susceptible to soil-borne diseases such as fungal verticillium wilt. This can be avoided by using specimens grafted with a hardy peach or bitter almond rootstock.
Being careful not to over water the plants helps to prevent many common fungal diseases such as verticillium wilt which thrive in wet soil. If you are prone to overwatering your plants, a soaker hose and soil moisture meter are useful tools. It is particularly important to try and prevent fungal diseases from developing if you are growing fruit. Many fungal diseases, if allowed to develop, can cause hull rot.
Crown gall is a bacterial disease which can enter through cuts and marks in the bark. Be careful when pruning your plants not to cause any damage. Always use sharp tools to prune your plants. Sterilizing tools before and after use helps to prevent diseases being accidentally transferred between plants.
Peach leaf curl can also be an unsightly problem. Caused by the Taphrina deformans fungus, peach leaf curl causes foliage to become severely distorted soon after emerging in the spring. Regular treatments of copper or sulfur-based fungicides that are suitable for use on peach and nectarine plants can help to control and prevent peach leaf curl. Apply an appropriate fungicide in the fall, once the plant has lost most of its leaves, and again in early spring before the buds open.
Finally, mites can also affect the almond tree, causing stress and leaf damage. Applying an oil spray during the plant’s dormant period prevents this issue. You can also introduce natural predators such as the Western predatory mite to the garden.
How to Propagate
While you can purchase an almond tree from a plant nursery or garden store you can also try propagating your own.
One way to do this is to germinate the nuts. A relatively simple process, growing from seed is time consuming and can be prone to failure. Many growers find it easier and quicker to purchase young bare root or potted specimens. These are typically 2 to 3 years old meaning that they start bearing fruit sooner than plants grown from seed.
You can’t start an almond tree from a store or market purchased nut. Since the early 2000 the USDA have required that all almonds are sanitized via pasteurization, even those labeled as being raw. This process means that the nuts are not viable. You need fresh, unshelled unroasted and unpasteurized nuts if you want to grow from seed.
Prior to planting, fill a bowl with fresh, tap water. Soak up to 12 nuts for at least 8 hours before draining. Even if you only want one almond tree because of their uncertain germination rate, it is advised that you start more than one seed.
After soaking, use a nutcracker to partially crack the shell, partially exposing the interior nut. Do not remove the shell. Place the cracked nut in a container lined with moist sphagnum moss or damp paper towels. Cover with a plastic wrap to keep the moisture in.
Refrigerate the covered nuts for 2 to 3 months. Known as stratification, this process tricks the seeds into thinking they have gone through the winter. This helps to increase the germination rate.
During the stratification process, check the nuts every week to ensure that they are still moist. Almonds are not the only seeds that require stratification before germination. Both crabapple and cherry seeds require exposure to cool temperatures before germinating.
Following stratification plant the seeds in individual pots filled with potting soil. Plant to a depth of an inch and water well. Place the pot in a warm, sunny area. As the seedlings develop, continue to water the soil regularly, either once a week or when it feels dry to the touch.
Following germination, once the seedlings are 18 inches tall, transplant them into larger pots. Continue to care for the growing saplings undercover, ideally in a greenhouse, until you are ready to transplant into the garden. Remember to harden off your young plants before transplanting.
Propagation by Budding
An easier way to propagate an almond tree is by budding. This effective process ensures that the new plant grows to be a true replica of the parent plant.
In the budding process a hardy rootstock, often of the more resilient bitter almond or a peach is used to give the plant resistance to soil borne diseases. A fruit bearing branch is then grafted into the root stock. This means that grafted specimens are more resilient and grow more quickly than specimens grown from seed.. This is particularly true of plants with peach rootstocks. Peach rootstock plants also tend to be more productive than those with almond rootstocks.
Water your chosen rootstock two days before starting the budding process.
Collect bud wood by cutting twigs from a healthy almond tree. The twigs should be from this year’s growth. Budding is unlikely to work with older twigs. The bud twigs should be roughly the same diameter as the rootstock.
Cut the tips from the selected branches, the buds at the top are too immature to graft. Remove any leaves from the twigs, leaving some of the small twigs or petioles as a handle. Place the cut twigs in a plastic bag. This prevents them from drying out.
Use a sharp, clean knife to make a vertical cut roughly 1.5 inches long on the bark of the rootstock. This mark should be roughly 3 to 4 inches above the soil line. At the top of the slit make a second, smaller cut to create a T-shape. Lift the bark away from the trunk on either side of the T. At this point you also need to remove any leaves from the bottom 6 to 8 inches of rootstock trunk.
On the bud wood, make a cut under a bud. Slide the knife under the knife under the bud and make a cut that comes up about three-quarters of an inch on the other side of the bud.
Open the T-shaped rootstock cut and slip the bud into the bud. Use Wuhuwuhu Grafting Tape or rubber grafting strips to fix the rootstock bark flap in place. Make sure that you don’t cover the bud as you secure it in place.
After 2 to 3 weeks the bud should have taken to the rootstock. At this stage you can remove the tape. The grafted bud remains dormant until the next growing season. Remove any growth above the bud as soon as it starts to grow. Do not allow new shoot growth to emerge from the rootstock. Remaining rootstock shoots can be removed after the second year of growth.
How to Harvest
This is the fun bit. Wrapped in their protective shells, the easiest way to harvest nuts is to simply shake the almond tree. This causes the nuts to fall down where you can simply pick them up. Placing burlap sheets underneath the almond tree before shaking it makes the gathering process easier.
It can take 180 to 240 days for fruit to mature. Almond fruit is ripe when the hulls start to split open. In most climates, almond nuts ripen in October. However, depending on your growing conditions, the fruit can mature at any point from late summer until late fall.
Wait until three-quarters of the nuts are showing signs of splitting for a good harvest. The average mature and productive tree can produce 50 to 65 pounds of nuts.
Technically, prunus dulcis plants don’t produce nuts. Instead they produce stone fruits or drupes. A drupe is a fruit which produces a seed in a shell, also in the shell is a protective flesh. The flesh of some varieties of almond tree is edible and can be eaten in the same way as nectarines and peaches. Other common drupe producing plants include plums and cherries.
Wait until the developing nuts start to split before harvesting.
Before consuming, you need to dry the nuts. This can be done by either leaving them on the ground for a few days if there is no risk of rain or storing them in a cool dry location. If you are drying outside, cover the drying nuts with Bird Netting. This stops birds and other creatures from taking them.
To check the nuts are dry ,sample one or two by cracking the shells open. Edible, dried nuts are hard. If the nuts are rubbery it means that they are not fully dry. Allow the nuts to dry for a few more days before testing again.
When the nuts are dry, bring them inside and store, still in their shells. In this condition, the nuts can be stored at room temperature for up to 8 months.
Elegant and attractive, the almond tree is a fantastic ornamental addition to the garden. With a little extra care they can also be encouraged to bear fruit, making them a productive addition as well as an ornamentally pleasing one. Suitable for a range of garden sizes and planting schemes, why not add these versatile fruit trees to your garden?
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.