Unlike many gardeners, I invite squirrels into my yard. I know there are plenty of gardeners out there who spend a lot of time and money to keep these furry fiends out of their vegetable gardens, but squirrels are a part of the scenery around here. And they’re just so darn entertaining.
I know that squirrels like to dig up freshly-planted spring bulbs, they take damaging bites from otherwise picture-perfect tomatoes and they feast on the birdseed I set out for my feathered friends.
But thanks to one industrious squirrel, I have a beautiful black walnut tree growing in the backyard.
It started when that forgetful squirrel planted a black walnut in a flowerpot about 15 years ago.
Research shows that squirrels forget where they bury the nuts the hide almost 75% of the time. That means about 25% of buried nuts have the potential to grow into trees. That’s what happened to my walnut tree.
While buried in the flowerpot, that walnut started to grow. Half of the walnut shell popped off and the walnut sprig showed up as a short green stick, about six inches tall. I carefully transplanted into the yard and protected it by surrounding it with a little white picket fence.
Over the years, that little black walnut tree grew very slowly and every few years it would grow another branch.
Now, 15 years later, the black walnut is over 25 feet tall and its leafy branches provide shade for about half of the backyard.
You’ve probably heard the downsides to planting under black walnut trees because they contain a chemical called jugalone which can be harmful to other plants. However, in my backyard plantings of yarrow, juniper, serviceberry and assorted perennials seem to thrive there.
Last summer this little squirrel-planted tree produced a crop of walnuts, but at first I didn’t know what they were. The nuts looked more like bright green limes scattered throughout the branches than walnuts.
By the end of the season, I was able to harvest a few dozen from the tree. The green hulls had to be removed (wearing heavy rubber gloves to prevent staining my fingers), then the shells had to dry before I could crack any open.
Of course, I left a few walnuts on the tree for the squirrels. Hopefully, there’s another beautiful black walnut tree that’s growing somewhere else right now.