In winter, the first signs of life of the new growing season can often be seen in hedgerows, when the catkins of hazel nut trees begin to appear.
The male catkins shed their yellow pollen into the wind. The female flowers, which, like the catkins, also appear on last year’s wood, are much smaller and reddish in colour. Cross fertilisation is essential in order to achieve fruit set. If you have a few hazels in your garden – cultivated hazelnuts are also called cobnuts or filberts – it is therefore very important not to start pruning too early, so that you give time for the male catkins to do their job. March is therefore the best month for pruning. The objective of pruning is to achieve a general thinning of those branches that are too close one to another, and the removal of very strong surplus shoots.
If you would like to plant new cobnuts, the best time is February. You should plant at least 2 different varieties. Trees should be spaced anything from 7 to 10 feet apart, depending on soil depth and quality. Cobnuts are usually ready to harvest around St. Philibert’s Day, which is the 20th of August (and this is the reason why hazel nuts are sometimes called filberts).
Regarding the site, good drainage and a sunny aspect are a real help. Rich soil should be avoided, as this tends to produce excessive growth. As flowering takes place during February, some shelter from north and north-east winds is a help to achieve regular fruit set.