Do you have room for an almond tree?
I planted a bare root almond tree two years ago and it just started to blossom last week. The flowers are so pretty!
Almonds are California’s third largest agricultural product and the drought has caused prices to skyrocket. Almonds are an incredibly healthful snack and the trees are lovely additions to a landscape.
According to Wikipedia, “The pollination of California's almonds is the largest annual managed pollination event in the world, with close to one million hives (nearly half of all beehives in the USA) being trucked in February to the almond groves.” Imagine that! Unless you get a self-pollinating variety, you will need to plant 2 or 3 trees to get any fruit.
Almond's bittersweet history
Now, I’m not sure how people started eating almonds because the fruit of wild “bitter” almond trees is poisonous. Bitter almond trees contain a chemical called glycoside amygdalin, which turns into deadly hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid) when the fruit is injured by chewing. Apple, cherry, peach, plum, pear, and apricot seeds, and cassava root (tapioca) also contain cyanide compounds, but it takes an awful lot of any of these to get sick. The trees we buy now are called sweet almonds and they are safe and they taste better!
The almond tree
Almonds are deciduous, which mean they drop their leaves in winter. They can grow 13-33 feet tall, with a 12” diameter trunk. The canopy is 10-15 feet wide. Dwarf varieties are being developed, but their productivity is still questionable. Almonds do not do well in containers. Unlike avocados, which can take 10 years or more to produce, almond trees bear fruit as early as their third year! To improve root development, remove flowers the first couple of years.
Almonds are related to peaches, nectarines, cherries, plums, and apricots, all members of the Prunus genus, which, in turn, is a member of the rose (Rosaceae) family. The nut we are all so familiar with is actually the fruit, or drupe, of the almond tree. Botanically, it is not a nut at all. That’s why they are called stone fruits.
How to grow almonds
People have been growing almond trees for 6,000 years, in South Asia and the Middle East, and you can, too. Almonds were introduced to California in the 1840s. Almonds grow very well in the Bay Area’s Mediterranean climate. Your first decision will be location. Almonds need lots of sunlight and they prefer temperatures between 59 and 86°F and the buds have a chilling requirement of 300 to 600 hours below 45°F. Chilling requirements are accumulated hours of cold temperatures that cause vernalization, or the ability of a plant to bud and flower. They do best in mild, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Almonds do not like soggy, heavy soil. They are a deep rooted tree and should be planted 20-25 feet away from any other tree. Almond trees benefit from the following seasonal care:
Almond pests & diseases
If you are going to grow almonds, you will need to know what problems to watch for. This include leaf spot, mites, leaf-footed bugs, voles, crown gall, Eutypa dieback, brown rot, shot hole disease, bacterial canker, navel orangeworms, redhumped caterpillars, rust, and peach leaf curl. The better you understand what to look for, the quicker you can nip the problem in the bud.
Rather than planting an ornamental tree, almonds can provide 30-40 years of delicious food for you and your family!
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!