Of all nuts, the hazel is the easiest to grow and the most neglected in Australia. They grow well wherever apples are grown. Most of our hazel nuts are imported and the few plantations of hazels we do have are poorly maintained. It is only recently that modern commercially viable varieties have been imported. The hazel nuts on one new 2 Ha plantation in Tasmania turned out to be all seedlings. The supplier of the "named" varieties had long since disappeared when the discovery was made.
Even where the nursery is reputable, obtaining suitable varieties is problematic. The hazel is generally propagated by making a stool bed. That is, the stems are nicked at the base and covered over with damp sawdust. The nicks sprout roots and the stems are then removed with their roots in winter. The best varieties to make lots of shoots are the varieties that sucker readily, but these are the varieties most troublesome to the grower. Suckers must be removed to prevent the ground from becoming cluttered, making harvesting difficult, if not impossible. Commercially, the suckers are sprayed with a desiccant herbicide such as paraquat or diquat. Both of these herbicides are banned in most parts of the world.
Hazels can also be grown from cuttings, but this necessitates the use of hormone rooting powder. Patch budding onto seedlings is also practised. Whip and tongue grafting in winter in a heated greenhouse is also possible.
Hazels are shallow rooted and need plenty of moisture to perform well. Heavy applications of compost covered with a thick mulch and irrigation are essential for high yields. Yields are between 3-400 kg per 0.1 Ha (quarter acre) overseas.
The trees should start to bear after 3-5 years old, reaching a maximum after 15-20. In southern Tasmania, many backyard growers report trees as old as 7 years not bearing. This is probably due to unsuitable varieties having been selected for cross-pollination. The tables showing this information are all based on French and German literature, and consequently may not be reliable. To add to the confusion, some overseas experts tell us that our older named varieties are not true to type.
Hazels are pruned to a short leg to ensure ease of harvest. Allowed to grow into a thicket, as they so often are, makes removal of nuts from the centre impossible. The trees should be planted about 3-5 m apart in rows 5 m apart. At least 10% should be of a cross pollinating variety. Prune them to an open vase. Pruning is best done shortly after flowering is completed, as this allows plenty of light onto next year's fruit buds and increases yield.
Harvest is in late summer and autumn. The nuts fall to the ground, where they are picked up. The first nuts to fall are those that are blind (empty). Some fall free of the husk, other varieties need de-husking before drying in the sun. Fresh, undried nuts do not keep very long.
Hazel sticks (withes) had a multitude of uses prior to the industrial revolution. They are supple and strong and were used for basketry, pegging down thatch, and holding down hedges that were laid. As well, they were woven between chestnut uprights to make hurdles, which were used to confine sheep.