Almonds join a number of other plants from the warmer areas of the eastern Mediterranean that grow well in our Southwest gardens. Celebrate “National Almond Day” – February 16!
There are many trees you can plant in your Southwest yard, but if you are going to the effort of planting and watering a tree, why not make it one that will also provide a nutritious and tasty snack – like almonds.
Almond Tree Care
These lovely trees are living beings, so they will need some care, but they do need minimal care. They tolerate our alkaline soils, need fertilizer three times a year, and will need water in dry months. The dwarf varieties have a short and compact form, thus they fit well in smaller yards, or in the corner of an already planted yard. The incredibly fragrant flowers grace the trees in early spring and provide ample nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators.
Almond trees require full sun, but appreciate some afternoon shade in our summer. Avoid a spot where they will be exposed to reflected heat and light, like near a swimming pool.
Almond trees grow well in our alkaline soils, not needing extensive soil amendments and constant monitoring like citrus trees. One exception is clay soils. Almonds require well-drained soils. If you live in an area of clay soils, plants can easily drown if you over-water them. Amend clay soils before planting with ample sand and compost.
Almond trees are fairly drought tolerant but if you give them a good soak once a week when they have leaves, they will fruit better.
The easy thing to remember is to fertilize with the major holidays. Twice early in the year and once early in the fall. For most of the Southwest this is Easter, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Use a fruiting fertilizer for all of these for best results.
One bonus of almonds is that the pesky birds can’t peck into the fruits, destroying your harvest. Squirrels and packrats are a different issue. You may need to apply a metal collar around the trunk to keep these pests out of your trees.
It takes 2 to 4 years after planting for the almond trees to start bearing. Related to apricots, the edible almond seed develops inside a fuzzy apricot-like fruit or “hull” that is discarded after harvest. The taste of homegrown almonds is far far far better than store bought. Milky and sweet! Almonds are a nutritious, heart-healthy snack that can be eaten raw, roasted, or made into a non-dairy almond “milk.”
Select The Correct Almond Variety to Plant
The key to growing fruit and nut trees in the Southwest is to match their required chill hours with your area. Almonds are one of the nuts that also require a pollinizer plant if they are the standard size. The dwarf and semi dwarf forms do not need pollinizers. Contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for their recommendations for your region.
Chill hours are the number of hours below 45 degrees in a winter and are an essential requirement for many fruit trees, like apples, plums, and almonds.
Pollinizer plants are same species a different variety so that they can provide different pollen for each other. (The term “self-sterile” means they need a pollinizer plant.) Pollinator animals do the pollination work for you. Almond example: the variety ‘Texas’ needs ‘Thompson’ or ‘All in One’ as a pollinizer.
Harvest Window. One final thing to consider when selecting variety is the harvest window. Almonds ripen early (August) or late (October). Think about when you want to be outdoors harvesting. Luckily, nuts don’t have to be processed all at once before they rot, like tomatoes.
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More about fruits for your landscape in this book Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening, written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies – at no extra cost to you.
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