Almonds belong to the same family as peaches, plums and apricots and look similar. If you've ever eaten a peach and noticed the similarity between a peach pit and an almond - it wasn't coincidence.
The almond is actually a fruit, not a nut. The fruit of the almond tree, called the hull is not used - it's very leathery and tough and also not edible. The pit is the almond nut. The fruit resembles a green peach, but it's the nut inside you want.
There are also almond varieties known as bitter almonds which are not edible either the nut or the fruit as they have a high cyanide content. There are other hybrid varieties that will not produce fruit and are used as ornamentals.
All almond trees, whether the poisonous bitter almonds, ornamental almonds or the edible varieties produce aesthetically pleasing blooms and are very attractive in the yard and garden.
Almonds originated under the glow of Middle Eastern sunshine and warmth and will not fare well in cold climates. Some hardy varieties will grow as far north as USDA Zone 6, but as a general rule they should only be planted further south or use dwarf potted varieties.
Starting Your Tree
Almond trees can be started via seeds or seedlings /sapings. If your are starting via seeds - don't use processed nuts. You can use store bought almonds but you don't know what you're getting.
Choose your variety wisely and choose a sunny location where there is no standing water during and after heavy rains or watering. Almonds are susceptible to various types of rot and excessive moisture only exasperates the situation.
Starting Almond trees in a container is best. When you plant the seed it will germinate in about 3 months. Having it containerized is so much more efficient. Transplant a healthy sapling outdoors once it has reached a foot or more in height and weather conditions are favorable.
Find a suitable location. Loosen the soil to a depth of about a foot, then back fill most of it. You want the soil under the seed to be loose and uncompacted. Plant the almond about an 1 1/2 inches beneath the soil surface
Direct seeding is best done in the fall, this allows the seed to over winter and sprout come the spring. When direct seeding there is always the possibility that a squirrel or other rodent will view you seed as manna from heaven should they discover it. Covering the spot with boards or a wire screen over winter will not only prevent this - but mark your spot as well.
When transplanting seedlings / saplings dig a hole larger than the root ball and break up the soil at the base of the hole to allow for easy root expansion and adequate drainage.
Many almond varieties are not self-pollinating, you will need at least 2 or 3 trees or grafted trees in order to ensure pollination. Spacing of the trees depends on the variety. Dwarf trees need only a few feet while standard larger varieties need 12 feet or more - use your judgement based on the anticipated mature height.
During the trees formulative first year water it generously. More frequently in the summer. Come spring, fertilize with aged manure and or compost. Almond trees have high nitrogen and phosphorus requirements.
A thin layer of mulch near the base of he tree is also a good idea once the compost or manure has been worked in. Leave a gap between the mulch and the trunk to help prevent rot.
The first pruning is crucial in order to establish the canopy shape, 3 or more primary main limbs should be selected to form the foundation of the trees canopy and all others removed.
Don't butcher it - don't remove any heavy wood. The tree should still be a sapling when you do this and anything your remove should be removable with snips. If its too heavy for simple snips than it probably shouldn't be removed.
Regular light pruning in subsequent seasons is advisable on almond trees.
... And I do mean LIGHT pruning. Light pruning is needed to help thin the canopy and for disease prevention. Pruning should be done In the winter or dormant season.
Pests and Pathogens
Almonds , like their cousins peaches and cherries produce lovely fragrant blossoms come spring, you'll adore them, your neighbors will adore them and so will the insects. They attract bees - that's good, however they also attract unwanted pests such as aphids, worms, leaf miners and caterpillars.
Insecticidal soap is helpful. If insects are a persistent nuisance try dormant oil spray in the late fall. Almond trees are also prone to several viral and fungal issues such asPeach leaf curl , Peach yellow leaf roll which leads and is caused bt the same pathogen as Almond kernel shrivel, Almond leaf scorch, Alternaria, Anthracnose, shot hole, are all diseases that are known to effect almond trees. To cover them in any useful parameters can not be done in this article. A preventative spraying of the trees in the fall before the winter rains, will reduce the damage from fungus come spring.
Harvest and Storage
Once the green hulls that resemble green peaches start to dry, they will split open revealing the almond inside. Some will drop to the ground of their own accord and others you will have to pick by hand. Just make sure you beat the squirrels to them or make sure you have no squirrels.
Remove the fresh almond from its husk,and let it dry in a well-ventilated place for a few days. The nuts generally rattle when shaken once they are sufficiently dried.
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