Gardening: Want to grow your own Ohio buckeye tree? Here are 7 things you need to know (2024)

Mike Hogan| Special to The Columbus Dispatch

It’s officially football season now that the Buckeyes have played their first games of the season.It’s also the season when Buckeye fans can plant their own source of buckeyes — a buckeye tree.Even if you don’t root for the Scarlet and Gray on the football field, you may want to add some Ohio lore to your landscape, as the buckeye has been the state tree of Ohio since 1953, when it was so-named to commemorate the 150th anniversary of statehood.

The buckeye tree’s virtues extend beyond state pride and gridiron greatness with its greenish-yellow spring flowers, pumpkin-orange leaves in autumn, and eventually buckets of those shiny brown Buckeye nuts.The nuts are toxic and can’t be eaten but Scarlet and Gray fans find many uses for them, particularly during football season.

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The Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra)is native to Ohio and is well-suited to our soils and climate. It is the best-known of 13 species of buckeyes. Other popular members of the genus include horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), and the large shrub-like red buckeye (Aesculus pavia).

If you are interested in planting an Ohio buckeye tree in your home landscape, here are seven things to know:

1. Soil moisture is critical

The Ohio buckeye tends to grow near streams and rivers in its native habitat.In order to flourish, buckeyes need deep, well-drained soil. Buckeyes should never be planted in soils that tend to stay wet after a rainfall. It is also important to not let the soil around newly planted buckeyes dry out during periods of low precipitation.

2. Avoid full-sun locations

In its native habitat, buckeyes are like understory trees, which means that they grow naturally in "edge of the woods" locations where there is some shade during the day. When choosing a location for a buckeye in your landscape, avoid full-sun locations.The perfect location is one which gets morning sun and then some shade or dappled sunlight in the afternoon, similar to locations where we would plant understory trees such as dogwood and pawpaw.

3. Plan to mulch

To help conserve soil moisture, keep a 2- to-3-inch-layer of mulch around buckeyes at all times.As buckeyes grow and mature, they will have a dense canopy, which will shade the area under the canopy, so avoid growing grass directly under the canopy of the trees. Mulching under the tree will also make harvesting fallen nuts easier.

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4. Dig a proper hole for trees

When planting a buckeye tree, be sure to dig the planting hole two times the diameter of the root ball or container. Dig the hole 2 to 3 inches shallower than the depth of the root ball or container, so that the tree is planted 2 to 3 inches higher than it was growing in the nursery. Backfill the planting hole with a mixture of two parts soil dug from the planting hole and one part compost or peat moss.

5. Gathering seeds

If you already have a buckeye tree and wish to collect nuts and plant them to grow additional buckeye trees, collect the nuts once they fall from the tree naturally in September and October. Remove the nuts from the leathery husks and store them in the refrigerator for 120 days. Place the nuts in a container or plastic bag filled with moist peat moss for storage in the refrigerator.

This cold storage process is called stratification, which is a process designed to stimulate natural conditions that seeds would experience in the soil over winter.

After 120 days, the nuts can be removed from the refrigerator and planted 1 to 2 inches deep in a seed-starting mix and placed in a warm, sunny windowsill location to germinate.Seedlings should be ready to plant outside by mid-May after the last frost. While Buckeye nuts can be planted directly in the soil outdoors in autumn, starting them indoors will prevent squirrels from digging up the nuts before they germinate next spring.

6. Totally toxic

Not just the nuts, but all parts of the Ohio Buckeye tree are toxic, including the leaves and bark. Its leaves also smell bad when crushed, which explains why Buckeye trees are sometimes referred to as "fetid buckeye" or "stinking buckeye."

7. Foliar imperfection

Most buckeye trees get a disease called leaf blotch nearly every year, late in the growing season.This disease is cosmetic, and does not kill the tree, but in late summer causes leaves to brown, which sometimes progresses until the entire tree has a scorched appearance.

There is no practical treatment to prevent or treat leaf blotch. Buckeye trees typically shed their leaves before other deciduous trees in Greater Columbus.

The Ohio buckeye is a beautiful native tree that can be incorporated into most home landscapes in Greater Columbus. O-H!

Mike Hogan is an associate professor at Ohio State University and an educator at the OSU Extension.

Gardening: Want to grow your own Ohio buckeye tree? Here are 7 things you need to know (2024)


Gardening: Want to grow your own Ohio buckeye tree? Here are 7 things you need to know? ›

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 said.

How to grow an Ohio buckeye tree? ›

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 said.

Where is the best place to plant a buckeye tree? ›

Plant buckeye trees in spring or fall. They grow well in full sun or partial shade and adapt to most any soil, but they don't like an extremely dry environment. Dig the hole deep enough to accommodate the root ball and at least twice as wide.

How to care for Ohio buckeye? ›

They do best in long-lasting, direct light ☀️ and should be less than 1 foot from a window. Ohio Buckeye likes soil that is well draining. Your plant shouldn't need added fertilizers if you repot each time it doubles in size. Ohio Buckeye belongs to the Aesculus genus, and is native to the southern United States.

What are Ohio buckeye trees good for? ›

Ornamental: The tree is an attractive ornamental, best in open, natural settings or parks because of its broad crown. It also is sometimes cultivated as an ornamental shrub. Other: Buckeye seeds have sometimes been carried as good-luck charms and to prevent rheumatism.

How often should I water a Buckeye Tree? ›

Watering sessions should occur about twice a week, with deeper watering focusing on long and slow dripping rather than short and fast spraying. Additionally it is important to be able to identify signs of drought stress to ensure adequate water access for the Buckeye Tree, such as leaf rolling or wilting.

Can you eat buckeyes from a Buckeye Tree? ›

Removing the shell and roasting the nut neutralizes its harmful tannic acid content and makes for a protein-packed snack. If not prepared properly though, buckeye nuts are toxic to humans, causing symptoms including weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, paralysis, and death.

How fast do Ohio buckeye trees grow? ›

Although a mature Ohio buckeye tree is are often found in full sun locations, it grows best in partial to full shade. It's growth rate is moderate averaging 1-1.5' per year. In 3-5 years, a 3 year seedling will grow to about 10'.

Why do people plant buckeye trees? ›

As well as the belief in the good fortune of its storied seed, the buckeye has been held to cure rheumatism and other, more minor ailments. Pioneering farm families also made soap from the kernels of buckeye seeds, and many a child's cradle was carved from the wood of this tree.

Are buckeye trees hard to grow? ›

The process of growing California buckeye trees is relatively simple, as they require little maintenance once established. However, it will be imperative that conditions for growth are met. Trees will require a well-draining planting location that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day.

What eats Ohio buckeye? ›

Squirrels are said to be the only animal to eat buckeyes without ill effect. All parts of the tree are toxic — leaves, bark and nuts — because of compounds that cause muscle weakness, paralysis, intestinal distress and vomiting. But squirrels somehow bypass the results felt by cattle, horses and other animals.

Are Ohio Buckeyes poisonous to bees? ›

The tree is sometimes planted as an ornamental. Some wildlife species eat the seeds, but raw they are poisonous to humans and most domestic livestock. A variety of native bees visits the flowers, but the pollen and nectar are poisonous to honeybees.

Are Ohio buckeye trees messy? ›

Ohio Buckeye is usually not planted in residential settings as they are quite messy (nuts). Flowers, bark, and stems have a somewhat unpleasant odor when crushed.

How to start a buckeye tree? ›

Seeds should be planted in loose, well-worked soil about 6 inches apart, and at a depth twice the diameter of the seed. It won't hurt to plant more Buckeyes than you want, since only half are likely to germinate. To help hold the soil in place, put 2 to 3 inches of mulch, straw or well-rotted sawdust over the planting.

How long before a buckeye tree produces nuts? ›

Depending on growing conditions, Ohio buckeye trees will begin producing nuts in 5 to 10 years. If you are in a hurry to harvest nuts from your own Ohio buckeye tree, you might consider skipping the seed-planting process and head straight to a local garden center. Fall is a great time to plant a tree.

What does the Ohio buckeye tree symbolize? ›

His supporters wore buckeye-shaped wooden tokens as a sign of their allegiance, and the nickname stuck. Some even believed that carrying a buckeye nut could bring good luck similar to a rabbit's foot or a four-leaf clover. The buckeye continued to resonate with Ohioans and became the state tree in 1953.

Can you start a Buckeye Tree from a buckeye? ›

You can grow your very own Ohio Buckeye tree from the “eye of the buck” itself! Right now, the branches of most Buckeye trees are laden with seeds or nuts encased inside a greenish-gold, leathery husk. From early September to late October the husks drop to the ground and split open, revealing their hidden treasures.

How tall do Ohio buckeye trees get? ›

A native of the Midwestern and Great Plains states, trees found in the open may reach 60 feet tall by 30 feet wide, but as a native understory it is often half that size.

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