WOOSTER, Ohio — Spring’s a great time for Buckeye nuts to plant their own source of buckeye nuts.
Experts at The Ohio State University say the Ohio buckeye makes a good yard tree, though with caveats, and does best when put in before summer’s heat. Fall planting, too, is an option.
The Ohio buckeye is Ohio State’s symbol and is also Ohio’s state tree.
Paul Snyder, program assistant at the university’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, said the tree’s virtues include greenish-yellow spring flowers, pumpkin-orange fall leaves and eventually buckets of rich-brown nuts. The nuts are toxic and can’t be eaten but find good uses in crafts, especially for fans of the Scarlet and Gray.
“Ohio buckeye is native and is well-adapted to our soils and climate,” Snyder said. “But it’s not well-suited to small yards as it tends to get quite large with age.” The tree can grow 50 feet high.
Ohio buckeye leaves and flowers (Julie Makin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)
“You have to know its limitations,” said Kathy Smith, Extension forestry program director in the university’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. The school, like the arboretum, is part of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Here are the Ohio buckeye’s scarlet — er, red — flags to watch for.
1. Moist a must
It needs deep, well-drained, moist — but not wet — soil. The soil also can’t be too dry. In the wild, Ohio buckeyes tend to grow near streams and rivers, Snyder said.
2. Cool and green and (partly) shady
Eastern tiger swallowtail butterfly on Ohio buckeye flowers (Brenda K. Loveless, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center)
It also needs sun to partial shade. “In its native habitat, it grows almost as an understory tree, meaning it has protection,” Smith said.
3. Blotch on its record
Its bane is a disease called leaf blotch. Leaf blotch doesn’t kill the tree, but starting in late summer, “the leaves take on an almost scorched appearance, and the tree usually ends up completely defoliated,” Smith said.
4. Best on the side
For that reason, don’t use an Ohio buckeye as a focal point in your landscape, Snyder said. Instead, tuck it in your backyard or side yard.
“At home, I have one growing at the edge of my woods,” Smith said. “It’s actually growing quite well. It gets early morning light and some protection from the hotter afternoon sun.”
5. Grass goes
The Ohio buckeye’s dense leaf canopy makes it hard to grow grass underneath. But that has some benefits, too, Snyder said: Shade, less mowing and easier gathering of the nuts.
6. Totally toxic
Not just the nuts but all parts of the Ohio buckeye tree, including its leaves and bark, are highly toxic when taken internally, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture fact sheet. That goes for both people and livestock.
7. Oo, that smell
Its leaves also smell bad when crushed. That’s why the Ohio buckeye has such unflattering old names as “fetid buckeye” and “stinking buckeye.”
Still, Snyder, like Smith, is a fan.
“Ohio buckeye is a nice addition to the arboretum and has grown well here over the years,” he said.
Ohio buckeye leaves (H. Zell (own work) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Several of those buckeye trees fell when a 2010 tornado hit part of the arboretum, which covers about 115 acres at the college’s research arm, the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.
“Since then, we’ve planted about a half dozen new ones throughout the grounds,” Snyder said. “There are still some nice buckeyes in the older part of the arboretum as well as near the bottom of the slide in the children’s area.
“Every Ohio State fan should have an Ohio buckeye tree if they have room.”
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