Hickory, a member of the walnut family, is a slow-growing, long-lived, deciduous hardwood tree. It can take up to 40 years to produce nuts, but after that will continue to produce for more than a century. Like walnuts, hickory seeds need a period of cold stratification in order to germinate. If you want to grow a hickory tree from seed, collect nuts in October when they begin to fall. Look out for the competition, though. According to the University of Maine, hickory nuts are a favourite food of black bears.
Collect hickory nuts when they fall from the tree. The fruit is round and green, slightly larger than a golf ball. Peel the hulls away with your fingers, revealing the hard-shell nut inside. Discard the hulls.
Soak the shelled nuts in a bowl of water for two to four days, changing the water twice a day. Prepare small containers for stratification by filling them with moist, soilless potting medium. Plant the seeds 2 inches deep in the containers, one seed in each.
Place the containers in plastic bags, secure the top with twist ties and place in the refrigerator for 90 to 120 days. This process, called cold stratification, mimics the conditions of winter and is necessary to make hickory seeds germinate. Keep the medium moist, but not saturated, throughout this period.
Remove the containers from the refrigerator after cold stratification. Place them in a warm, sunny spot and continue to keep moist until the hickory seed sprouts, usually within the next 60 days. Seeds will sprout a tap root before sending out a green shoot above the soil.
Move containers outdoors in late spring. Transplant into the ground in a sunny, well-drained spot by late summer. Surround the hickory seedling with a wire cage to protect it from rabbits, groundhogs and deer.
Hickory trees are self-pollinating, so you only need to plant one tree in order to eventually get hickory nuts.
Hickory trees grow very slowly. If you are anxious to grow a large tree more quickly, you may want to buy a 3- to 5-foot specimen rather than grow the tree from seed.