Black Walnut

by Scott Smith

I’ve decided to give up on trying to force a spot that does not want to be a traditional vegetable garden a traditional vegetable garden. For three seasons I’ve struggled to make a spot work that doesn’t want to do the work I’m asking of it. Each season I blame myself for not enough time to weed, not enough attention to irrigation, just generally not enough commitment to the garden. But I’ve neglected other gardens and been rewarded with abundance none the less.

This evening I’ve been thinking about the patch of black walnuts not far from the top of the bed (the garden is on a slope). I started thinking about them because while I’m giving up on the traditional vegetable patch in that spot I’m not giving up on that particular spot providing me with some food. I want to plant a fruit tree at the top of the bed and maybe some berries below that. Knowing that not everything will grow amongst the juglone producing roots of the black walnut I made a mental note to look up the varieties with which I might be successful. When I did my google search I had that “aha” moment.

Turns out, the plants that do poorly in the root zone of black walnuts are pretty much all of the plants I’ve been asking to grow in that area. Tomatoes are particularly susceptible. The most success I’ve had with tomatoes here have been the ones planted furthest away from the walnut trees. My asparagus does beautifully, but is also planted well outside the drip line of the trees. While I knew vaguely about the juglone, I wasn’t considering how large the root systems of those trees might be. So next year, the traditional tomatoes, zucchini, peas, and eggplant will have to find a new home (maybe I will mix some among the perennials like I’ve considered doing in the past and keep a small patch right outside the back door).

My plan for the edges of the black walnut patch is to plant a cherry tree – two if I decide on dwarf or semi-dwarf varieties and some transplanted black raspberries. If I have the space I’d like to fit in a serviceberry as well. I don’t want to rid my property of mature trees, so I’m stuck with at least a few [black walnuts] up near the house but I may also go ahead and thin out a couple of the smaller trees to reduce the amount of juglone in the soil.

Black Walnut: The Killer Tree
The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook