Hickory tree makes lots of nuts in ‘mast’ year

Published 4:52 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2024

By Biff and Susan Andrews

Contributing writers

“Welcome to the Nut House,” says a squirrel, donning a Christmas hat, on the little flag in our front yard with good reason. 

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Our yard is a small grove of trees, mainly beech trees, a few yellow poplars and some oaks. As you may have guessed, we love trees. Some might even call us tree huggers. We love all trees and hope everybody will plant more of them. 

But we have a problem with our mockernut hickory. It stands in our back yard, about 80- to 100-feet tall, and unfortunately only three feet from our deck. It has been a serious over achiever in the nut department this year.

We have about 20 minutes during the year when something from above isn’t landing on our deck. If it weren’t for our handy blower, we’d be buried alive by now. 

Among the leaves and other things that have been falling from the trees this fall, we have been besieged with hickory nuts. You think pinecones and acorns are bad, how about a nut the size and weight of a golf ball.  

The little, immature ones started falling around the end of July. As the season progressed into October and November the golf ball size nuts started falling and falling.

We have lived through what is called a mast crop, which comes every few years. The tree makes more nuts than usual in order to overwhelm the squirrels and other nut loving creatures who couldn’t possibly eat all the nuts, insuring another generation of trees will survive. 

If the tree usually produces two bushels, but this year reached five bushels. Our tree was going for the nut record of all time. Thank goodness it is December and it’s finally done so we can have some peace.

When a hickory nut hits the wooden deck it makes a “pow” sound like someone has fired a shot. It is really a shocker when one hits the skylight in the roof. Imagine golf balls on glass. They are like missiles, but you do get some warning of incoming nuts. You can hear them hitting the leaves on their way down from the crown of the tree. 

We use our patio umbrella, not for shade, but for nut protection. We have had friends over in past years and handed out stainless steel mixing bowls for helmets. 

Some mornings we would wake up to a sound like someone was on our roof pouring buckets full of them. Our little dog refuses to go out on the deck by herself.  She obviously has had a bad experience with the nuts because she would ordinarily love to go out and chase a squirrel. She will come out and sit with us, but she sits under the metal table that is under the umbrella. Now the squirrels rule.

As we count our blessings this Christmas season, we include among them our hickory tree and that we were not blessed with a black walnut tree that produces nuts the size of baseballs. 

Virginia Cooperative Extension programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, veteran status, or any other basis protected by law. An equal opportunity/affirmative action employer. Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Virginia State University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Edwin J. Jones, Director, Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg; M. Ray McKinnie, Administrator, 1890 Extension Program, Virginia State University, Petersburg.