Black Walnut - Tree Plantation Wood and Veneer

Fast growing Black Walnut trees are prized for their dark colored heartwood and are valuable as timber wood and veneer used for gunstocks, fine furniture and flooring. Black Walnut tree seedlings were introduced from Europe to Eastern North America in the 1600's. Today, Black Walnut tree seedlings are cultivated across North America in tree plantations for its valuable wood. Black Walnut is highly prized for its dark colored heartwood and because of its value, forestry officials often are called on to track down Black Walnut poachers; in 2004, DNA testing was used to solve one such poaching case, involving a 95-foot tree worth US $28,500. In another case, a helicopter was used to lift Black Walnut trees out of private forests.

A Black Walnut tree plantation earns between $75,000 and $150,000 per acre. Thinned Walnut tree seedlings trees are sold as wood pellets.

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Black Walnut Wood

Black Walnut Wood is heavy and strong, yet easily split and worked. Black Walnut wood has historically been used for gunstocks, furniture, flooring, paddles, coffins, and a variety of other woodworking products.

Growing Black Walnut For Timber Production

Growing Black Walnut for timber production requires at minimum 100 acres of land, good soil and proper seedling selection. Growing Black Walnut tree seedlings for timber also requires more tree seedlings planted per acre than other types of trees. High-density tree stands create more dark colored heartwood, increasing wood value. Dense tree stands encourage trees to grow faster and straighter as well. Young Black Walnut tree seedlings can be thinned when they achieve an 8 to 10 inch caliper allowing the remaining trees to grow much larger.

A mixed tree plantation is the preferred method for growing Black Walnut tree seedlings for timber. Mono cultured tree stands are susceptible to disease and temperature fluctuations; an unusually cold winter may damage or kill off many Black Walnut tree seedlings growing in a pure stand. Growing Black Walnut tree seedlings with White Pine for example will help control competing weeds and small shrubs, control pests and offer protection from an unusually harsh winter. Growing veneer quality White Pine tree seedlings will be almost as valuable as Black Walnut tree seedlings as a clear grained knot free wood. Two Pines are typically planted for every Black Walnut tree seedlings. The graphic below illustrates a suggested mixed planting pattern for Black Walnut and White Pine.

planting black walnut

Black Walnut Tree Seedlings

Fast growing black walnut tree seedlings and harvest marketable timber much sooner. The University of Purdue has developed a commercial variety of Black Walnut tree seedling that has been genetically engineered to grow much faster and straighter than typical Black Walnut tree seedlings. Researchers at the university have created Black Walnut tree seedlings from the best cultivars that displayed rapid terminal bud growth, straightness, minimal branching and diameter growth for faster timber production.

Tree caliper diameters are at minimum 1” to ensure transplant survivability. Black Walnut tree seedlings range from an average height of 15 feet depending on the number of years grown in the nursery. Seedlings are shipped clear of branches; easily transplanted using a PTO driven posthole auger.

Creating a plantation of tall, knot-free clear-grained Black Walnut tree seedlings is advantageous for timber investors:

Black Walnut tree seedlings continue to grow fast in the field after transplant

Tall Black Walnut tree seedlings produce superior quality veneer sawlogs

Black Walnut tree seedlings improves land holdings and creates monetary value

Black Walnut timber asset can be sold or leveraged and used as collateral

Tall Black Walnut tree seedlings shorten time to harvest

walnut tree stand

Black Walnut Plantations

Black walnut is one of the most valuable trees for plantations. In the right growing conditions, Black walnut can grow quickly and attain significant diameter in a reliably short period of time.

Plantation Costs

Initially, Black Walnut nuts or transplants should be planted and thinned. Black Locust plantation costs average between $1,000 and $3,000 per acre depending on nuts or transplants – transplants cost more than nuts. An average of 800 trees per acre is common. A thinning program should be initiated during year 10 of the plantation cutting every second tree so the remaining trees will size up. On average, the thinned trees will increase two times diameter compared to a plantation with no thinning. An open, sunny spot is essential for maximum growth and yield. Growing Black walnut on bottomland or along a watershed is ideal.

Calculate the number of trees per acre and spacing between Black Walnut trees

Note* It is important to transplant seedlings that are at least 3 years old and 3 feet tall so they will survive the first and second winters. It is also advisable to use tree shelters or security fencing to protect young locust tree seedlings from grazing dear. Starting a Black Walnut plantation with tall tree seedlings 10 or 12 feet tall will eliminate the need for shelters and fencing.

Note* Spring is the best time to transplant Black Walnut seedlings. Plant seedlings at the same depth as they grew in the nursery – a line around the stem should distinguish the darker stem from the lighter root.

Growing Black Walnut With White Pine

Co-mingling Christmas tree softwoods such as White pine, Scotch pine and Red pine will generate annual income beginning in year 5 or 6. Co-mingling tree species will also fix atmospheric nitrogen to tree roots increasing Black Walnut tree growth. The best interplanting softwood species is White Pine because of its potential for secondary income. The best interplanting hardwood species is European black alder. European black alder has an upright growth habit, fixes nitrogen, grows rapidly, and provides side branch competition for the walnut. It should be planted between each walnut within the row. That is if walnuts will be spaced at 12 x 12 feet, then one direction will still provide a 12-foot passage and in the other direction trees will be 6 feet apart. Alder is usually killed by the walnut toxin, juglone, exuded from the walnut roots in about 12 to 15 years. That is about the time alder must be removed because of crowding anyway. The alder may provide some fast-burning firewood but otherwise has no economic value.

How to Prune Black Walnut

Selective pruning will increase the future value of a Black walnut sawlog. Begin once the tree reaches a height of 10 feet or when the base caliper is between 1.5 and 2 inches.

Black Walnut North American Growing Zones

Black Walnut native growing areas are concentrated in Eastern Canada and the United States, with the highest concentration in the Southern States. Although native to Eastern North America, Black Walnut may also be grown in microclimate areas of the Western States and Canada, principally the central interior province of British Columbia and Washington State.

black walnut north american plant zones

Pruning Black Walnut Trees

Pruning Black Walnut trees yields veneer quality knot free sawlogs increasing wood value 10 times. Clear stem pruning can begin when the tree is quite young (2 or 3 years of age) during the dormant season 6 weeks before the tree leafs. Never apply any types of sealant to cut stems.

Valuable Dark Black Walnut Wood

The following comments where collected from a national wood products discussion forum using Black Walnut Wood in the United States.

Comment from contributor A:

Recognized as one of the most lovely and finest hardwoods, these days Black Walnut Wood is in short supply. As a result, the wood is often cut into veneers and used to cover less-expensive woods in furniture making. A large diameter tree with a tall straight trunk can be worth tens of thousands of dollars and can produce enough veneer to cover three acres. And yes, there are Walnut tree rustlers.

Comment from contributor B:

The big money comes from veneer grade Black Walnut trees. They will be in the saw log class at 14 inches in diameter. Veneer grade trees will be 21 inches in diameter. The price per log triples from saw log to veneer. Get in touch with your service forester or private forestry consultant. Anyone with Black Walnut trees has a gold mine that is worth investing the time with.

Comment from contributor C:

If you have one or two or even a dozen trees in your yard and think you are sitting on a fortune in valuable wood, think again. The most valuable Walnut trees are straight and tall with even grain and diameter over 16 inches at breast height. Yard trees rarely have these characteristics. In addition, many yard trees have had nails, fence wire, horseshoes, and other metal objects attached that then grow into the wood. This ruins the most valuable part of the tree from a veneer perspective and drastically reduces its value for sawlogs. Very rarely will a timber buyer mess around with yard trees.

Comment from contributor D:

If your Black Walnut tree has a damaged or crooked trunk and you want to get a nice straight tree that is much more valuable later on, you can cut down smaller Black Walnut trees with an established root system to the ground and they will send up a shoot that grows straighter and faster than the original.

Comment from contributor E:

Several key characteristics determine the value of Black Walnut trees for timber or veneer, including trunk diameter, merchantable height, and how free the trunk is from defects such as knots and lightning damage. Quality lumber and veneer trees generally have diameters of 18 inches or greater.

Comment from contributor F:

The length of tree trunk that can be used for lumber or veneer is called its merchantable height. In Black Walnut and other hardwoods, merchantable height is usually the trunk height to major branches or forking. Minimum merchantable height for lumber and veneer Black Walnut trees is eight to 10 feet. Quality lumber and veneer trees will have merchantable heights that are several times this height. The quality of a hardwood tree is measured by how free its trunk is from defects such as crookedness, limbs, knots, scars, swellings, bumps, cracks, holes, insect or disease damage, and wounds. Other factors being equal, the fewer the defects, the more valuable the tree. High-value Walnut lumber and veneer trees have few visible defects. On the other hand, Walnut trees with numerous defects are of little economic value. In general, the larger the Walnut's diameter and merchantable height and the more free the trunk is from defects, the greater its economic value for lumber or veneer.

Comment from contributor G:

With all these positive attributes Black Walnut still accounts for less than 1% of the hardwood production in the US. The wood is expensive; generally the highest priced domestic hardwood. Most logs are short; special grading rules allow for 6’ being included in FAS, the top grade. Lengthier logs would be worth considerably more.

Invest In A Black Walnut Tree Plantation

Depending on market conditions, Black Walnut earns gross revenue between $75,000 and $150,000 per acre in year 40 and double that in year 60. In year 10, thinned trees may be sold and/or converted into high BTU value wood pellets.

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