‘Every Ohio State Fan Should Have One’

‘Every Ohio State Fan Should Have One’
CFAES experts share their tips for growing an Ohio buckeye tree.

By Kurt Knebusch

Spring’s a great time for Buckeye nuts to plant their own source of buckeye nuts.

Experts in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) say the Ohio buckeye makes a good yard tree, although with caveats, and does best when planted before summer’s heat. Fall planting, too, is an option.

The Ohio buckeye, of course, is Ohio State’s symbol. And also Ohio’s state tree.

Borne in spring, the greenish-yellow flowers of the Ohio buckeye are always a hit with hummingbirds. (Photo: Julie Makin, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.)

right at home, colorful, BIG

Paul Snyder, program coordinator with CFAES’s Secrest Arboretum in Wooster, said the tree’s virtues include greenish-yellow spring flowers. Pumpkin-orange fall leaves. And eventually buckets of dark-brown nuts.

The nuts are toxic, can’t be eaten, but find good uses in crafts.

Especially by fans of the Scarlet and Gray.

“Ohio buckeye is native and is well-adapted to our soils and climate,” Snyder said. But it “tends to get quite large with age,” up to 50 feet tall, “so is not well-suited to small yards.”

“You have to know its limitations,” said Kathy Smith, forestry program director in CFAES’s School of Environment and Natural Resources.

With that in mind, here are seven of the tree’s scarlet — er, red — flags to watch for.

1. Moist is a must

The Ohio buckeye 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.

Distinctively, the leaf of the Ohio buckeye is actually made up of five separate leaflets. (Photo: H. Zell (own work) licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.)

2. Cool and green and (partly) shady

The Ohio buckeye 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

The buckeye’s 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 to the side 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.”

Ohio buckeye flowers attract lots of butterflies, too, such as this eastern tiger swallowtail. (Photo: Brenda K. Loveless, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.)

5. Grass goes

The Ohio buckeye’s dense leaf canopy makes it hard to grow grass down below. 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 an Ohio buckeye tree, including the 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.

buckeyes make GOOD NEIGHBORS

“Ohio buckeye is a nice addition to the arboretum and has grown well here over the years,” Snyder said.

Several of those buckeye trees fell when a 2010 tornado hit part of the arboretum, which covers about 115 acres at CFAES’s Wooster campus.

“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.”