Grow Your Own Buckeye Tree
On autumn hikes, between glimpses of brilliant red and orange leaves above, remember to look at the ground. The next great feature of your yard could be underfoot. Paul Snyder, a program coordinator at Ohio State’s Secrest Arboretum, and Kathy Smith, a forestry program director in Ohio State’s School of Environment and Natural Resources, explain how to make a fallen seed grow into a tree that shows the world your Buckeye pride. — Kristen Schmidt
- The Ohio buckeye or fetid buckeye, Aesculus glabra, is a medium-sized, nut-bearing tree with distinctive pointy leaves. It makes a fairly good shade tree, and fall foliage can be red, orange or yellow. The Ohio buckeye is rated for USDA zone 4, meaning it is native to a wide swath of the country, from Pennsylvania to Nebraska and south to Alabama, Snyder says. Smith cautions you might want to do a little research to make sure buckeyes are welcome in your state. “Always you get alumni who want to grow them, and I think one of those states out (west) actually has it on their invasive plant list.”
- If you’re going to start buckeyes from seed, you need to plant them as soon as you collect them, Snyder says. If they dry out, the embryo dies.
- Here are two ways to care for buckeye seeds you collect in autumn: Put them in moist peat moss and refrigerate them. Or plant the nuts in a container and let them sit through the winter until they sprout in the spring.
- You can plant buckeyes in full sun, but since they are adapted to live beneath a forest canopy, Smith recommends giving them partial shade. Be aware that buckeyes can reach 40 to 60 feet in height. “Don’t put it up next to your house; put it in the backyard where it can grow and spread and do its thing,” Snyder says.
- As for soil, Buckeyes are native to the banks of streams and forest floors. They do best in soils that are a silty clay loam, rich in organic matter, slightly acidic and moist but well drained. They can grow in other conditions, but won’t do as well if soil is too dry or very clay based or sandy. “Typically on new construction sites, you’ll see soils that are really compacted,” Snyder says. “Buckeyes aren’t going to respond well to soils like that.”
This article appears in the fall 2018 issue of Ohio State Alumni magazine.