Black Walnut Society Officially Unveiled

Do you garden under a Black Walnut tree?  Have you searched the internet seeking lists of species that grow under Black Walnuts only to discover that the lists are sometimes contradictory, or that (even worse) they are waaaaay too short to satisfy your jonesing for plants?

Is your Black Walnut tree interfering with your gardening pleasure, making you irritable, or adversely affecting your overall life enjoyment quotient?

Have you cut down a Black Walnut tree or had thoughts of cutting one down?

I’m here to help.  Click on the “Black Walnut Society” link in my menu bar and you will see that I have started compiling a list of plants that I am personally growing under the Black Walnuts in my yard.  Yes, it is just one garden, but I have taken it on as a mission to try growing as many different kinds of plants under my BWs as possible, and then report the results to you.  I have even listed some plants which I have personally watched die slow, excruciating deaths under the boughs of my Black Walnuts, so that maybe I can save you a tiny bit of heartbreak. 

Now, I would also love for this page to act as a sort of Black Walnut Support Group, so if you have a plant growing under your Juglans nigra that you can mention in the Comments Section, I will send you an official Black Walnut Society t-shirt (on the back: “Nobody’s jugloning this nigra”). 

No, I don’t really have t-shirts, but leave a plant suggestion anyway!  The lists out on the internet are pretty good for trees, but are sorely lacking on cool perennials that live under Black Walnuts, and I know there are many more than what I have that can live.  Sure, you could always go over to GardenWeb for some of this info, but my site is just much cooler!

So read about what I have growing under my Black Walnuts and add your own suggestions, my fellow Juglonites!

26 thoughts on “Black Walnut Society Officially Unveiled

  1. Mary, We moved into a house with several black walnuts on the property, one of which has since died. However, under the other two we have a good variety of plants growing, including some we’d prefer not to have as well as some we enjoy. On the latter list include Aster novae-angliae (New England Aster), Crinum “lily” (not sure which species/cultivar), Arum italicum, Paeonia hybrids, lilac shrub and Fothergilla gardenii. The main biggie on the undesirables list is Vinca major, large-growing periwinkle, but also a vining Euonymous as well as one of the native Clematis, virginiana maybe. Actually we also have Hemerocallis hybrids (daylilies) as well as some Lantana (just planted in as an annual) that do fine. What I have found is that black walnut does not seem to inhibit nearly as much as one is initially led to believe.
    btw Mary, really enjoyed your last piece on the gradual development of your garden areas – well done!

    • Do you know which Euonymus it is that died under your tree? Very interesting because I have about a million E. kaiutchikovis (sp?) that are happy as clams. And another blogger said that some hydrangea are killed by juglone but that H. arborescence is fine. So weird that there are different levels of tolerance within a specific genus.

      I am psyched that you report healthy arum, asters, and crinum lilies…I’ve been wanting to try all of those. Woo-hoo!

  2. Just wanted to leave a note in support of walnuts. According to Dr Douglas Talamay, in his book, Bringing Nature Home, walnuts are among the top ten trees in value to wildlife. 200 different kinds of moth and butterfly larvae feed on it, many of which become food for birds. Their nuts are winter forage for racoons, squirrels, mice, and ducks. And, they are the host plant for the harmless 5″ hickory horned devil, which becomes the Royal Walnut Moth. These moths are being eliminated because of their strong attraction to artificial light. They stay with the light instead of mating.

    • Did not know that about the Royal Walnut Moth. I am going to keep my eyes peeled for it. Luckily, we have no outdoor lighting out back so we are not interfering with the moths’ potential courtships. Thanks for the info!

  3. There are four massive black walnuts in my yard (six when we moved in nine years ago, but we had to remove two over the driveway after walnuts broke our windshield). The worst casualty in the walnut wars (other than the windshield) was two Higan cherry trees that I planted our first year, only to watch them die as the juglones entered their space. But other plants seem happy in the dappled shade provided by these trees, including some old English boxwoods, bearded iris, Japanese forest grass, viburnums, hostas, nandina, heucheras, etc. I have very mixed feelings about the walnut trees. They are last to leaf out in spring and first to drop leaves in fall. Neighbors constantly ask if our trees have died. And the dropping walnuts are treacherous — hard, messy and loud. But they provide beautiful shade in summer and the leaves rustle in the breeze, and they look old fashioned, which suits our c. 1902 farmhouse. So I hope they survive as long as I live here.

    I’ll be interested to read what others have to say about these challenging trees.

    • I know, Lynley, they really do try your patience. Can’t believe the nuts broke your windshield! I actually have a cherry growing under my Black Walnuts….I think it’s some weird cross from a Yoshino or something…I didn’t plant it, but it’s fine. I’m encouraged by your mention of English boxwoods as I’ve been thinking of trying some box out closer to my trees, but have been hesitant. And the Japanese forest grass…always wanted to try that, too. My heucheras, so far, have all faltered.

  4. Having been the first to reply I’m presuming the right to add on (really just hoping that no one minds). When I first realized what kind of trees these were in this what was then our new house/home, I was transported back to my childhood where a huge black walnut grew on the back edge of our back yard. The outer husk of the fruit smells bad and stains seriously – I remembered that and it hasn’t changed, although now it’s more me and less my mother who is annoyed by this fact mixing with my clothing – but it happens less often too. What else I’ve noted over the past ten years is that they’re messy trees – branches die or die back, but too far up to deal with easily, and the tent caterpillars apparently don’t mind the taste because the trees seem to be a favorite. Not being tremendously drawn towards eating everything I can from my yard, I prefer that the fruits fall as small un-pollinated would have been nuts but for….rather than growing large and then bombing both me and the deck in late summer/early fall. All that aside, I’m glad to have them in my yard, because they help bring all this to mind – plants can be such wonderful devices of memory. I do wish that the branches didn’t die back so much though.

    • Very interesting, Jonathan. I guess I’m lucky because I haven’t had the branch die-back problem or the tent caterpillars. But the staining drives me nuts, too. Gets all over the patio and the smallest little bit of nut can fall into the pool and stain the bottom for days. Then the squirrels sit there and take the nuts apart and spread the mess all over the place. On the other hand, sometimes I think it’s only because I have all those tasty nuts around that squirrels don’t mess with my other stuff, including the bird feeders. So it’s a pro/con thing.

  5. We have an enormous black walnut twenty feet from the house. It is a fact, and one that offers shade during the truncated season it has leaves, so I don’t regret it, but I’d never plant one that close to the house on purpose. Walnut barrage is always interesting; I used to urge the kids to put on helmets. Things I have successfully growing underneath (mostly out towards the dripline edge): spicebush (Lindera benzoin), pawpaw, lilac, maple-leaf viburnum, shade perennials including hosta, bleeding heart, tiarella, toad lilies, celandine poppy, and twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). I’ve had columbines die under there, but last year had a bunch come up from seed (soil moved from another spot) that are doing fine.

    • Thanks, Erica. I am going to make a note of all those plants you mentioned, as I’ve been wanting to try many of them but haven’t been sure of their immunity. I’ve only been beamed on the head once with a walnut….no concussion, but dang did it hurt. What I HAVE done many times is turned my ankle on the little suckers while walking through the grass. It’s like walking through a field full of tennis balls.

  6. I have black walnuts in three neighboring yards. I am fortunate that the largest (and closest) one is well maintained by my neighbor, who has it trimmed so it won’t drop fruit on our roof and driveway (especially after reading they can break windshields!). His is the oldest and grandest of the trees, and it provides perfect shade for our patio (and I love that it leafs out late, creating a winter/spring warm spot as well as a boon to the winter garden). Because the tree is trimmed back a good bit, I am not sure how much of my plantings are in its actual drip line, but its leaves and stems (also sources of juglone) certainly end up in the closest planting bed even if the roots do not, so to be safe, using the local cooperative extension BW-safe list, I planned a native shade garden that is thriving, with serviceberry, dogwood, Itea, Clethra, oak leaved Hydrangea, and more.
    Lucky for me, my sunny patch of yard is far opposite this behemoth, as I was most concerned about the effects on the tomato family and other edibles. I now worry more about the other two trees, as I am planning on being in this house forever and growing food here. One day, those other two trees’ drip lines will likely encompass my vegetable garden if the owners do not take them down. I obviously have mixed feelings about this. In my area, we have wonderful old trees, but I have heard that as they die they are often not replaced, with homeowners wanting sunny yards or smaller trees I guess. It’s a tough situation. For now, we are coexisting.
    My only three real complaints:
    1) they are too difficult to eat for being so tasty.
    2) the squirrels bury them all over
    3) when you try to open them or even pull on them/dig them up, they stain your hands
    When the fruits start dropping and inevitably make their way to our driveway, my neighbor entertains himself by putting them into the street.

    • Thank you, Val. It sounds like you’re having great success with your garden despite the black walnuts. As much trouble as they are, I love to look up into their canopies in the summer and admire their branching structure, and they cast beautiful shade. The nuts are a nightmare, but it’s kind of fun watching the squirrels find hiding places for them in the fall.

  7. Too bad I’m not in the valley, or then I might have Arizona Walnut…would have to make my own shirt and saying, though.

  8. Love that you’ve started this blog on BW’s – we have two in our backyard where I am planting a mostly native woodland-ish area, with river birch, fothergilla, pagoda dogwoods, oakleaf hydrangeas, itea, juniper ‘Grey owl’, redbuds, thuja ‘Green Giant’, yarrow, catmint, butterfly bush, rugosa rose, butterfly weed, liatris, Russian sage, ilex ‘Nellie Stevens’….running dry on who else is out there. Sorry can’t remember all the cultivar names but could come up with them if it would help you with your list!

    • What an awesome list, Katie. Yes, I would love for you to add as many species as you can think of that live beneath the canopy of your BWs! I am jealous that you’re able to grow Oakleaf hydrangeas. It is one of my favorite plants and so far I’ve not had any success with them.

  9. I am just now thinking of planting in our very small condominium yard. However in this area there are black walnuts everywhere. How do nandinas tolerate juglone?

    • Susan,

      I tried planting nandina only once. It looked terrible after a hard winter so I pulled it out. It may have bounced back; it is hard to say whether the black walnuts affected it. Sorry my answer isn’t very definitive. I’d say they are worth a shot if you like nandina!

      • I truly love nandina, but I have not found it on any tolerant lists. The area behind us is woodsy and has many black walnuts so I fear our ground is saturated with juglone. I am going to attempt with fear and trembling to plant 3 Hydrangea arborescens that are a new variety called Invincibelle I. They are a beautiful shade of pink and were developed to honor breast cancer victims. Part of the proceeds go to breast cancer awareness. My mother died of breast cancer in 2011, so I’d love to have these where I can see them outside my kitchen window. Praying they will tolerate the juglone!

  10. Korean Spice or ‘Spice Girl’ viburnum sounds like an attractive shrub that will grow near a black walnut and in zone 4, but it looks rather sparse in most of the photos I see on-line and none of the local nurseries in SE MN have it. Is it a nice shrub? Can anyone describe it to me?

  11. I LOVE mine because the flowers smell glorious. I have had other viburnums struggle but my Judd Viburnum (which is a cultivar of V. carlesii) is doing pretty well so far. Give them adequate sun so they will flower. They also have a rather nice maroon fall color.

  12. I’m back again with spring fever and eager to tend our tine garden. An interesting thing happened last year under the shade of 2 black walnuts. We planted 3 yellow twig dogwoods only about 3 feet apart. Two did very well and one died. Any explanations?
    I want to plant daffodil bulbs this fall. Has anyone had luck either good or bad with those?

  13. Very hard to explain. My yellow twig dogwood did great for several years and now seems to be petering out. I wonder if they are just short-lived? I also attempted a couple of times to transplant layered cuttings from my yellow twig dogwood but they never took.

  14. It started dying within a week of our planting it! I’m going to replace it with a giant hosta. I don’t want to risk losing something else.

  15. Late to the party, but I wanted to list a few plants I’ve had success with that I have not seen in my (literally) hundreds of hours of research on juglone.
    -Salvia, may night
    -Salvia, unnamed – clearance find from Lowe’s
    -Nepeta, Walkers low – the ones closest to the BW actually grow faster and bloom more profusely than those planted further away!
    -Asiatic lillies – I’ve seen them on the intolerant list
    -Iberis candytuft
    -Limelight panicle hydrangea
    -Limetta hydrangeas- arborescens
    – Pieris Japonica – only 1 year in so we’ll see but a rhododendron boule de neige planted right next to it at the same time began dying within 3 months. I’ve never seen Pieris specifically listed but assumed it would be the same as a rhody or mountain laurel
    -Little Lime hydrangeas- panicle (they were only heeled in for approximately 2 months while I worked on clearing a different bed for them, but showed no ill effects)
    -Hellebores, Lenten rose
    -Dwarf blue spruce
    -Blue Fescue
    -Hens & chicks
    -Lavender – i’ve not seen lavender on any university or extension list, but most anecdotal information I’ve seen indicates they should not be tolerant. Mine appeared to be doing just fine.
    -Multiple types of daffodils- information I see on these varies by the source
    -Rose, unknown, came with the house and was planted in the back corner of our yard. We transplanted it June of last year and is currently maybe a foot outside of the drip line
    -Scabiosa, blue pincushion butterfly plant

    What hasn’t worked:
    -Rhododendron, boule de neige – my most heartbreaking loss, planted and died while I was still ignorant of the havoc BW’s can wreak. The specimen was even planted in a raised bed garden – ~8” higher than the surrounding ground level – on a mound approximately 6 inches higher than all other plantings and soil below had been trenched out and replaced with fresh top soil, coarse sand, coarse perlite, peat moss, and shredded pine bark.
    – Dianthus, blue – died within a month
    -Blueberries, blue ray, duke – never flowered, no fruit, minimal growth, foliage was red throughout the growing season and new leaves are stunted/misshapen
    -Hydrangea, Everlasting Noblesse, macrophylla – this one is right next to my porch, approximately 20 to 30’ outside the dripline. Not dead yet but zero blooms and seems especially prone to mite damage and black spot fungus; it’s partner on the opposite side (further from BW) of my porch is flourishing.
    -Hydrangea, Endless Summer original – purchased healthy but blooms turned mushy and brown within 2 weeks of planting. It has been transplanted and showed new growth immediately.
    -Red raspberries, heritage & everbearing type. Exact cultivar unknown but *extremely* minimal growth, no flowers, no fruit, foliage that did grow appeared yellow despite appropriate pH & iron foliar feedings. Black raspberries doing just fine, though.
    -Hydrangea, Tardiva, panicle. Heeled in bareroot while amending a new bed for ~2-3 months. No growth, I thought it was dead until transplanted. Leafed out in 1-2 weeks

    • Thank you so much for this great list! I was interested to see that you have several acid-loving plants on your fail list, such as rhododendron and blueberry, etc. I have had the EXACT same experience where I lost acid loving plants in an amazingly short span of time. Pieris, aucuba, and camellia seemed like they started dying as soon as they were planted when they were close to BW. (I refuse to give up on camellia, though. I have planted them as far away from the BW as possible and a few are doing well)

  16. I planted a hedge of ‘pink princess’ escallonia beneath our massive black walnut tree before knowing about the juglone effect of BWs, and lucked out as the hedge is thriving! (We live in Zone 8 on Vancouver Island in BC, Canada.)

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