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We moved two Moab two years ago. My husband wants to grow a nut tree on the southwest side of our house that is just bare dirt and gravel now. We also want a shade tree (no fruits or nuts) in our front yard that faces South/Southeast to give our house shade. I am originally from Utah County and I miss my trees! Is there anything comparable that would grow here in the clay?
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Utahns are very fortunate to have an excellent resource to help them select trees that will grow well in their environment. The resource is titled "Selecting and Planting Landscape Trees", and it is downloadable from the USU Extension website. (http://extension.usu.edu/forestry/HomeTown/Select_SelectionandPlanting.htm)
One of the most common and limiting factor to tree growth is soil compaction. Studies show that tree feeder roots grow outward from the trunk, reaching at least three times the distance of the drip line. Roots establish faster and are then able to support vigorous growth when the soil around the tree has good structure, or is at least loose enough to provide pore spaces. So, the wider the hole you dig for your new trees, the faster your trees will grow during their early years.
Selecting the right tree is critical. The booklet I mentioned above lists trees and their characteristics, such as whether they are tolerant of wet soil, salty soil, high pH; how tall they grow, how fast they grow, and much more. I highly recommend that you either download the booklet or purchase a printed one at your USU Extension office in Moab.
Another important step is a soil test. To know your soil limitations, have it tested. You can learn how to take a representative soil sample, pack it and send it to the USU Analytical Lab, at the website www.usual.usu.edu.
Once you get your soil test results, select a tree that will perform well in that soil. You can also get a good idea by walking around Moab and seeing which trees are performing well in similar circumstances.
Fall is a good time to plant trees, so that the root system will be better established before the heat of summer adds stress. I wouldn't recommend planting a tree in early summer, like it is now.
Carpathian walnut grows and produces well in Utah. Pecan trees will survive, but nut production would be "iffy" because they need a long season (although there are some northern varieties with shorter season needs). Chinese chestnut is a smaller tree that is very beautiful, having dark green glossy leaves and dense foliage. Black walnut is also dependable for nut crops in Utah, although many people don't like them because the nut husks can stain sidewalks or patios.
Hazlenut (filbert), Butternut, heartnut, and hickories are more choices. There are also some hybrid type nut trees, such as the "hican", which is a cross between hickory and pecan. And the buartnut, a cross between butternut and heartnut. In Moab, you can probably even grow almonds, although those trees prefer a light, sandy soil. Pine nuts will grow there, too. Perhaps even pistachio.
Here are some sources for nut trees (not all-inclusive):
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