How To Grow An Almond Tree In Your Backyard - A Beginner's Guide

Almond Tree
Almond Tree 

Probably we all have fond memories of childhood when we used to love almond shakes, ice-creams, desserts, and chocolates. You bet, most of us still yearn for all these delicacies. At least I still love fruit and nut chocolates (my hubby got me one a day before :)

I feel happy to be writing this almond tree guide as my most fond memories of growing up are with the flora and fauna that surrounded our residential complexes.

My father headed the civil department of this huge government-owned corporation and luckily, the plantation came under his supervision. He was assigned the task of overlooking the vegetation of the entire project area, including residential complexes.

This gave me enough chances to learn the nuances of gardening through many gardeners who were deputed in our residential blocks. Not only we had almond trees in our compound, but we also had other amazing plants including papaya, guava, cashew nut among others :)

We always had a huge collection of fruit and vegetable trees in our front as well as backyard gardens across different residences during all my school-going days.

Well, many of us might not be aware that an almond tree can easily be planted in a home backyard as it is not a bulky tree. An average almond tree will measure between 10 to 15 feet. As a bonus, it bores beautiful fragrant pink or white flowers in early spring.

Almond belongs to the same family that has peaches, cherries, plums, and apricots. The only difference is that while others are mostly consumed as fresh fruits, almond is a dry fruit.
Interested to know more about the almond tree?

Curious to know whether you will be able to grow one in your backyard? Read on to find out everything about the almond tree and whether it is really possible to plant one in your home garden.

Almond Tree
Almond Tree Blossom

Let's delve into some history first
Almonds are believed to have been cultivated since 4,000 BC. Almonds (Prunus Dulcis: that's the botanical name) are believed to have originated in central and southwestern Asia, but it is difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of this species.

According to some archaeologists, the earliest known evidence for almonds dates back to the Palaeolithic period when they were domesticated by humans.

Anyway, almonds have always had customary importance across the continents. It also had religious and cultural eminence. It's been mentioned in old religious texts across countries and their civilizations.

The Romans also held a special place in their hearts for almonds, showering newlyweds with the nuts as a fertility charm. Ditto with the Egyptians.

Today, some Americans give out sugared almonds at weddings, as a representation of children, happiness, romance, good health, and fortune.

In Italy, they are used as a symbol of love and friendship. In Spain, they are used as a symbol of marriage and family. In China, they are used as a symbol of wealth and power. In India, they are used as a symbol of prosperity and wealth.

Almond Tree
Almond Tree Blossom

Fast forward to today's era
Today, California is home to many varieties of almond trees. These include the golden-brown variety, which is native to the United States, and the golden-brown variety that is found in Mexico.

The golden-brown variety is also known as the 'queen of all flowers'. It is also the largest producer with over 50 million acres of land in California. This is because of the high demand for almond products from both farmers and consumers.

There are millions of almond trees in California. This huge acreage under almond tree cultivation has made it the hub of almond supplies. It is estimated that the almond tree produces more than 100 million tons of food annually.

As a matter of fact, California caters to about 80% of the earth’s almond supply, and industry has increased over the last decade as more reports on almonds’ health benefits have been published increasing demand.

Growing conditions
Almond trees are sensitive and are fussy about their growing conditions, which unfortunately means they can be about as challenging to grow as they are delicious. The best way to avoid these problems is to keep your almond trees moist and dry.

The trees require hot and dry conditions, thriving in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 7 through 9 as they especially enjoy areas that have long summers with hot, dry, sunny weather, and therefore a long growing season.

That being said, they also have a need for a certain amount of cold (around 200-400 hours per year at temperatures less than 45°F/7°C ) to successfully break the dormancy of their buds.

This is why they’re not well adapted to tropical climates. They are particularly intolerant of wet soils and frosts, and as such is well suited to places like California and the East Coast. This is a problem for the early flowering almond, which is particularly vulnerable to frosts.

Prunus Dulcis loves the sun as much as the sun loves the golden nuts. Although they will tolerate partial shade, they won’t flower or fruit nearly as well as they would if planted in full sunlight.

Although they prefer well-drained, deep, loamy soils, they will tolerate other soil types, including poor soils, as long as they are not wet or poorly draining, which they absolutely cannot abide.

Conversely, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the trees need ample rainfall (around 500-600 millimeters or 20-25 inches annually) or irrigation to produce good yields and well-filled nuts, although they will survive with less water.

Traditionally, they weren’t irrigated until farmers discovered they responded well to just the right amount of help given at the right time.
Although they flourish in semi-arid climates, these nut trees like a bit of extra water applied at the right times. Drip irrigation is the best method.

They especially benefit from extra watering in early spring, during the summer, and sometimes during the first months of autumn, but really need a helping hand at the beginning of the growing season, as starting off the season too dry can result in a significant decrease in production.

However, it is important not to water them around or near harvest time, with commercial growers stopping irrigation around 3-4 days before harvest. This means it’s a bit of a guessing game when growing these, and you have to find just the right balance to achieve a good harvest.

Almonds are generally not self-pollinating, so cross-pollination with a second variety is usually required for fruit production.

almond tree
Almond Tree Blossom

Recommended varieties
When choosing your tree, the most important thing to keep in mind is your growing conditions, and which hardiness zone you’re in.

Another top tip is to make sure you buy a sweet almond if you plan to eat the nuts rather than a bitter almond tree, typically an ornamental which is grown more for aesthetic reasons.

There are quite a few standard varieties, including ‘Carmel,’ which gives an excellent, well-protected nut and is also an excellent pollenizer, and ‘Mission’ which, despite being a late bloomer, is a very productive tree.

However, ‘All-In-One’ is often suggested as the best backyard variety, thanks to the fact it only grows to about half the size of a standard tree, making it ideal where space is a bit tight, such as in-home orchards.

So, if you were thinking of planting an almond tree in your backyard, an all-in-one almond tree could be your variety.

‘All-In-One’ is exceptional as one of the few self-pollinating cultivars, so it has no need of a neighbor for a helping hand in making fruit, adding to its value for the small space gardener. The fruit from this tree ripens in late September or early October, and it is considered a soft-shelled nut.

For a slightly hardier variety, ‘Hall’s Hardy’ is a good bet. This cultivar is just as often planted for its beautiful pink blooms as for its nuts. Ripening in October, it is a full-size almond tree that does better with a buddy for cross-pollination, so be sure to plant another variety nearby for a good harvest.

‘Hall’s Hardy’ is very cold tolerant – in fact, it even requires a bit of a chill to produce fruit, so this is perfect for slightly more marginal places, recommended for USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9.

Proper planting practices
As with all trees, giving them a proper start in life is the key to their future success.
Almonds like a healthy distance from their neighbors, well at least 15-20 feet (4-6 meters).

Before planting, the roots should be given thorough dosing with water, ensuring that they’re thoroughly wet before they are put into the ground to get them off to a good start in life.

The hole should be dug wide and deep enough for the whole root system, with special attention given to the taproot so that it’s not bent out of shape.

As with many nut trees, almonds are especially sensitive to tampering with their tap root, so they should never be trimmed or forced into a hole that’s not big enough to accommodate it. The rest of the roots should also be sensitively handled, and carefully spread out to prevent matting.

They should be planted to the same depth they were grown at the nursery (you should see the noticeable color difference between the roots and the rest of the plant, which indicates which part should be buried). This is the same for both bare-root plants and potted trees.

Soil should be firmly compressed around the roots as you refill the hole. Once the hole has been refilled, you should give your baby tree two buckets of water to settle it in well to its new home.

At this point, you can also give your tree a little boost by adding some fertilizer, though it is best to wait until spring to fertilize if planting in the fall.

Like most fruit and nut trees, almonds are normally propagated by budding. This is by far the easiest and most effective way to grow them and ensure that they grow true to their parent plant.

A hardy rootstock (often of peach or the more resilient bitter almond variety) is used to give the tree resistance to soil-borne diseases, and then the fruit-bearing branch is grafted onto the rootstock.

Using grafted almonds makes the trees much more resilient, and they often grow much faster than from seed.

This is particularly the case for those that have a peach rootstock, which generally tends to be more productive than those grafted with the almond rootstock.

A further complication with almond trees is that you have to have at least two different, but compatible, varieties so that they can cross-pollinate, usually via bees.

From the nut
It’s perfectly acceptable to try growing your own from seed for a backyard project, as long as you are aware that it will take much longer to bear fruit, and any nuts that are produced may not be of the same quality as that of the parent plants.

Find fresh nuts, leave them to soak for around 48 hours, and then place them on a wet paper towel in a plastic bag and place them in the refrigerator.

About 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator should do the trick, and the almonds should start sprouting. At this point, they’re ready to pot in a nice, well-drained soil mix (something like a mix of sand and compost) and placed in direct sunlight, ideally on a windowsill where it’s nice and warm.

The important thing is to keep them moist, but never soggy. After they have reached about 6 inches in height, they’re ready to be moved up to bigger pot size.

almond tree
Almond Tree

Pruning has different purposes at different stages of the tree’s life. Pruning young almond trees determines their future shape, and therefore their productivity and the quality of the nuts produced. It’s important to get it right to ensure a good harvest.

Almonds are commonly pruned into a “vase” type shape with 3-4 main branches, which also allows for ease of harvesting. If done correctly, the “vase” shape makes the tree more vigorous, more productive, and guarantees a longer lifespan.

Pruning after maturity, however, is more about maintaining the shape established in the early stages of the tree’s life. Pruning renews the tree and stimulates it to produce more. Around 20% of an older tree’s canopy should be pruned back each year.

Well, harvesting must be the most important part that you must have been looking forward to eagerly. Well, almonds are wrapped up in their shells, all it takes is a firm shake to make the nuts fall to the ground, where they can be gathered.

You should lay a sheet on the ground so that when the tree is shaken, the nuts can be easily collected.

You’ll know they’re ripe for picking (or a shaking) when the hulls start to split open, often from late summer through to October in the US. If you wait until about three-quarters of the nuts have started to split, it’s a safe bet to harvest them.

The nuts must be dried before consumption, which can either be done by leaving them on the ground for a few days after shaking them (if there’s no risk of rain where you are) or storing them safely somewhere cool and dry.

The average healthy and mature almond tree can produce up to 50-65 pounds (23-30 kilograms) of nuts.

Pests and diseases
Almonds, as I’ve already mentioned, are sensitive souls. They therefore may suffer from a number of afflictions.

They are particularly susceptible to soil-borne diseases, such as the fungal disease Verticillium wilt.

Verticillium wilt can be avoided by using a grafted specimen with a hardy rootstock of peach or bitter almond. It’s also important not to over irrigate, which encourages the kind of conditions that verticillium thrives in. Soaker hoses are your best bet.

Fungal infections can also cause hull rot and there are mitigation techniques for this condition.
Apart from that, these trees often suffer from a bacterial disease known as crown gall.

This usually gets into the tree via cuts, so care should be taken not to damage the tree. If pruning, always cut branches with clean, disinfected equipment.

Almonds may also have issues with mites, such as the brown mite and the red European mite, which stress the tree out and cause damage to its leaves.

The best way to control the menace of red European mite is through introducing natural predators such as the Western predatory mite. Also, there are also some pesticides that are effective against mites, including some pyrethroids.

Some interesting facts about almond trees:
Almond trees produce not only the actual almond nuts that we consume but also the hulls and shells which encase the nut as it develops. In addition, the tree itself is a source of essential woody biomass. These parts of the almond are known as coproducts.

Almond trees are 100 percent reliant on the honeybee, without which they won't be able to pollinate. In fact, the relationship between bees and almonds is symbiotic.

Almond trees need cross-pollination to thrive, and male bees move pollen between the plants, helping them to grow. In return, almond trees offer pollen, which is considered a natural form of food and nutrition for bees. 

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