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September 2022: American Hazelnut

Homegrown Habitat starts with a plant that is at its best in autumn — the American hazelnut (Corylus americana). Email with questions and comments. Scroll to the end to see questions and answers about deer, pruning and planting conditions.

Also known as American filbert, this hazelnut is a native shrub that produces nutritious nuts similar in flavor to its cousin the European filbert. But it’s often grown to serve birds and other wildlife.

It provides cover, nest sites, pollen and nectar, and food for birds, insects, caterpillars and mammals. It may attract jays, cardinals, chickadees, grosbeaks, finches, mockingbirds, nuthatches, orioles, sparrows, titmice, thrashers, thrushes, vireos, waxwings, wood warblers, woodpeckers, and wrens.

American hazelnut is also a larval host plant for the spectacular Saturniidae moths — Luna, Secropia, Polyphemus, and Io.

Hazlenut is a deciduous, rounded, multi stemmed shrub that grows 8 to 16 feet tall and 8 to 13 feet wide in full sun to part shade.

In early spring, male and female flowers (catkins) appear on the same shrub. The 2-3”-long male catkins are showy and yellowish brown. Female catkins are reddish and small.

They produce half-inch nuts that mature in late summer and early fall. These nuts are encased in leafy, helmet-like bracts.  Fall foliage is variable, but can range from bright yellow to orange and claret. 

American hazelnut suckers and thus can make an effective hedge or shrub thicket, another highly attractive feature to songbirds. But the home gardener can tame this instinct if desired by pruning offshoots.

Regardless, plant this shrub where it will have plenty of space: a wide border or the edge of a woodland or meadow. It tolerates clay and dry soils but grows best with a medium amount of water.

This young American hazelnut is growing next to an inkberry, both of which offer many benefits to birds and insects.. Photos by Jim Arrigoni.

Consider creating a new bed in the lawn (any replacement of lawn in favor of native plantings will help birds and pollinators because most lawns are food deserts) to feature the hazlenut, and underplant it with native perennials or grasses such as Pennsylvania sedge or purple love grass.

Check with your local nursery – even if they don’t have it now, they may be able to get it for you. Nurseries and garden centers need to know that demand for native plants is growing. 

Questions? Email

References: Rick Darcke and Douglas Tallamy, The Living Landscape, Timber Press, 2014;; native plants database,

Question: Will the plant/shrub needs to be protected from deer?
Sarah says: Deer are said to browse twigs and leaves of the hazelnut but also typically not do a great deal of damage, given that the shrub grows so vigorously and thickly. Once the hazelnut has reached its mature height, deer will not be able to reach its upper branches.

If you live in an area with heavy deer pressure, I would try growing hazelnut with a cage around it during its first couple of years, then see if it is ok without the cage or spraying after that. While deer repellent sprays are often effective, they may also repel other animals and birds (this is a guess — I do not know this as a fact). So see if an established hazelnut can withstand a little browsing and, if it seems to be losing the battle, then resort to sprays or other deer repelling options. 

There are so many factors in dealing with deer, such as what else is available to them nearby and what is planted next to a plant that they might like, etc. A possible way of making the hazelnut less attractive to deer might be planting ferns or native grasses underneath and around the shrub, neither of which deer like.  Planting anything in the mint family under and around the hazelnut will help repel deer. Consider bee balm, Monarda fistulosa, a wonderful native plant that not only repels deer but attracts hummingbirds and many other pollinators. 

Question: Can Hazelnuts be successfully pruned to manage size?
Sarah says: Yes, hazelnut can be managed with pruning. If you don’t want a thicket to form, you will need to remove suckers from the base of the plant each year. You can also prune the crown to shape it or thin it out. Pruning can be done at any time of year.







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