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How to Grow: Horse Chestnut
full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
Mid to late spring with flower colors of white, pink, yellow and red
Mature Height x Spread
40 to 60 feet x 30 to 40 feet with some dwarf versions
attracts beneficials, drought tolerant, deer resistant
The name of this large, deciduous tree is actually a bit of a misnomer. The horse chestnut is only distantly related to the European or American chestnut and doesn’t produce edible nuts. And horses don’t really like eating them. However, this tree does have noteworthy large, colorful flowers in mid to late spring. Because of its size, vertical growing shape and flowering characteristics, horse chestnuts make good shade trees in parks, college campuses, large lawn areas and open spaces. The flowers are by far the showiest part of this tree. The erect clusters can reach up to 12 inches long and make a beautiful statement when the whole tree is in bloom.
When, Where and How to Plant
Horse chestnuts are hardy throughout New England depending on the selection. Purchase trees from a local garden center and plant from spring to early fall in full to part sun in moist, well-drained fertile soil. They are adaptable to many soil types. Space trees 20 to 30 feet apart, closer for dwarf versions.
Keep trees well watered, especially when young. Older trees are drought tolerant. Create a mulch ring around trees planted in lawns to keep the soil evenly moist and protect the trunk from damage due to mowers and string trimmers. Fertilize in spring with tree plant food.
Regional Advice and Care
Horse chestnuts are commonly used as street trees and in parks. Although they have beautiful flowers and generally are a tough tree, they can get a number of leaf diseases. Most selections will get some form of leaf scorch during the summer making the leaves dry up prematurely. Plant trees in protected areas and avoid hot, dry locations. Horse chestnuts should only be pruned to remove dead, diseased or broken branches. The seeds can be messy when they drop. Look for seedless selections.
Companion Planting and Design
Horse chestnuts grow best in a large open area. Consider planting them at the edge of your property or in an open meadow that is mowed periodically. Avoid planting them in small spaces where they may be stressed and have more problems with diseases.
The red horse chestnut (A. carnea) grows 30 to 40 feet tall and wide and produces beautiful red flowers. ‘Briotti’ is a good selection that has less leaf diseases and has good drought tolerance. ‘Baumannii’ is a European horse chestnut (A. hippocastanum) that grows more than 50 feet tall and wide with seedless, double, white flowers. The Ohio buckeye (A. glabra) is a hardy, large tree with greenish-yellow flowers, but can be messy with twig and seeds dropping to the ground. The bottlebrush buckeye (A. parviflora) stands only 12 feet tall, grows well part shade or on a slope, and has showy white flowers.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.