Grow Almonds in the Desert

Celebrate “National Almond Day” – February 16!

Plant Almond Trees

Yes, almonds grow well in the Southwest.  They tolerate alkaline souls, low humidity, and even (most) of the heat of summer.  Almonds join a number of other plants from the warmer areas of the eastern Mediterranean that grow well in our Southwest gardens.

There are many trees you can plant in your Southwest yard, but if you are going to the effort of planting and watering a tree, why not make it one that will also provide a nutritious and tasty snack – like almonds.

Not a fan of almonds?  Check out my list of fruit and nut trees that you can grow in the Southwest.

gardening-with-soule-almond-fruit

Almond Tree Care

These lovely trees are living beings, so they will need some care, but they will need only minimal care.    They tolerate our alkaline soils, need fertilizer three times a year, and will need water in dry months.    The dwarf varieties have a short and compact form, thus they fit well in smaller yards, or in the corner of an already planted yard.    The incredibly fragrant flowers grace the trees in early spring and provide ample nectar and pollen for bees and other pollinators.

Light

Almond trees require full sun, but appreciate some afternoon shade in summer in Low and Middle Desert locations.    Avoid a spot where they will be exposed to reflected heat and light, like near a swimming pool.

Soil

Almonds grow well in our alkaline soils, not needing extensive soil amendments and constant monitoring like citrus trees.    One exception is clay soils.    Almonds require well-drained soils.    If you live in an area of clay soils, plants can easily drown if you over-water them.    Amend clay soils before planting with ample sand, pea gravel, and compost.

gardening-with-soule-almond-flower

Water

Almond trees are fairly drought tolerant but if you give them a good soak once a week when they have leaves, they will fruit better.

Fertilizer

Almonds are easy to fertilize.  Just remember to fertilize with the major holidays.  Easter, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.    Twice early in the year, and once early in the fall.

Pests

One bonus of almonds is that the pesky birds can’t peck into the fruits, destroying your harvest. Squirrels and packrats are a different issue.    You may need to apply a metal collar around the trunk to keep these pests out of your trees.

gardening-with-soule-almond-nuts

Almond Harvest

It takes 2 to 4 years after planting for the trees to start bearing.    Related to apricots, the edible almond seed develops inside a fuzzy apricot-like fruit or “hull” that is discarded after harvest.    The taste of homegrown almonds is far far far better than store bought.    Milky and sweet!    Almonds are a nutritious, heart-healthy snack that can be eaten raw, roasted, or made into a non-dairy almond “milk.”

Select The Correct Almond Variety

The key to growing fruit and nut trees in the Southwest is to match their required chill hours with your area.    Almonds are one of the nuts that also require a pollinizer plant if they are the standard size.  The dwarf and semi dwarf forms do not need pollinizers.

Chill hours are the number of hours below 45 degrees in a winter and are an essential requirement for many fruit trees, like apples, plums, and almonds.

gardening-with-soule-almond-flower
Many almond varieties are self sterile, meaning they will need another almond – but a different variety – nearby to provide pollen for the pollinators to pollinate it with. No pollination -= no nuts.

Pollinizer plants are same species a different variety so that they can provide different pollen for each other.    (The term “self-sterile” means they need a pollinizer plant.)    Pollinator animals do the pollination work for you.    Almond example: the variety ‘Texas’ needs ‘Thompson’ or ‘All in One’ as a pollinizer.  Contact your local County Cooperative Extension Office for the best variety for precisely where you live.

Harvest Window

One final thing to consider when selecting variety is the harvest window.    Almonds ripen early (August) or late (October).    Think about when you want to be outdoors harvesting.    Luckily, nuts don’t have to be processed all at once – like tomatoes do.  After harvest handling is the topic for another post.

Enjoy!

Need Southwest Fruit Tree Help?

May I recommend my book – from me?  The Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Guide offers not just growing guides but some of the latest varieties – including ones specifically for raised bed and container growing. Price is what you would pay on Amazon – only when you buy from me you get a signed copy!soule-books-buy

From the review:

In this updated 2nd edition of Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening, you’ll find much-needed advice and practical tips on growing an edible garden, no matter which part of the southwestern US you call home.

Growing in the Southwest isn’t easy. It’s either too hot or too cold and often very dry. The region hosts a range of soils and climate conditions that can be difficult for a gardener to navigate. That’s why this region-specific garden guide is a must-have for every Southwestern gardener!

Botanist Dr. Jacqueline Soule simplifies the ins and outs of gardening in the Southwest and serves as your guide to success. Regardless of whether you’re tending an in-ground plot, a small container garden, or a series of raised beds, Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening is an invaluable resource.”

Profits from the sale of this book go to the Arizona-based Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.

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