Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

Aesculus hippocastanum flowers are white

The horse chestnut is a huge tree. With its 30 meters in height, it is a plant that is widely used as an isolated specimen. Although it can also be seen in pots, due to its size it is recommended to plant it in the ground as soon as possible.

Although its growth rate is slow in general, that does not have to make us believe that it needs little space. And it is that when it is young it has a fairly thin trunk, its root system develops a lot and quickly. For this reason, it is important that we know how to take care of it at all times.

What is the Aesculus hippocastanum?

The Aesculus hippocastanum is a large tree

It is a tree whose scientific name is Aesculus hippocastanum, known as horse chestnut or false chestnut, since the fruits have a certain resemblance to those produced by trees of the Castanea genus. It is native to the forests of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and the former Yugoslavia, although today it can be found in many gardens and parks in temperate regions of the world.

It has a straight trunk which branches a few meters high. The crown measures about 5 meters in basal circumference and is made up of numerous branches from which palmate leaves sprout., composed of 5 or 7 green leaflets. It blooms in spring. The flowers are white and are grouped in panicles with a pyramidal shape.

How is the fruit of the horse chestnut?

The fruit, called horse chestnut, it is a capsule that opens in three parts to release the seeds. These measure about 5 centimeters, and have brown skin. It is not possible to consume it directly since it contains esculin, which is a toxic substance for us; but there are some animals that can eat it without problems.

What is horse chestnut used for?

El Aesculus hippocastanum has several uses:

  • Ornamental: is the most widespread and the most important. It is a large tree, with a majestic bearing, which also provides a lot of shade. It is not recommended to use it as a hedge, unless it is tall and the specimens are placed about 4 meters apart, but it looks great as an isolated specimen.
  • Medicinal: We have said that the fruits cannot be eaten directly, but for some time we have seen natural horse chestnut medicines, such as lotions, creams and capsules. These are used to improve blood circulation, since it increases the natural pressure of the vein and, in addition, prevents the appearance of varicose veins.

What are the care of the Aesculus hippocastanum?

The leaves of Aesculus hippocastanum are lobed.

The horse chestnut is a very beautiful plant, but the place where it is going to be kept must be chosen very carefully so that its ornamental value is maintained or even increased. For this reason, below we are going to talk about the care you need:

Location

It is important to keep it outside, in full sun. Not only because it gets very tall, but also and above all because it needs to feel the rain, the wind, the heat of the sun's rays, and the frost. But where exactly to put it?

During its youth it can be grown in a pot, but there will come a time (more or less when it measures 1 meter) when we will have to plant it in the ground. When it arrives, it will be highly recommended to plant it at a distance of about five meters from walls and walls, and about ten meters from pipes.

Earth

  • Garden: The Aesculus hippocastanum it is not too demanding. It grows in both alkaline and slightly acidic soils. It does not have much problem if it is clay as long as the water drains well.
  • Flower pot: in a pot it can be grown with a universal substrate. Now, when the climate is temperate on the warm side, like the Mediterranean, I recommend growing it with sandy substrates such as akadama. In this way, you will see that it takes root much better, which will help it grow healthier the day you want to put it in the garden.

Irrigation

The horse chestnut tree wants a lot of water. It suffers a lot from the drought, so you have to water it frequently, especially during the summer. In this season, and depending on the weather conditions, it may be necessary to water at least three times a week, whether it is in a pot or in the ground.

During autumn and winter, if it rains regularly, watering can be spaced out, since the soil takes much longer to dry out, and since the tree does not grow in these months, its water needs decrease a little.

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While it is growing, it will be interesting and advisable to pay it. For this, it is necessary to use, whenever possible, organic fertilizers, since this will contribute to improving the properties of the land. Which ones to use? There are many that will be useful, for example: mulch, compost, humus, manure (dry).

The only thing is that if it is in a pot, it is preferable to use liquid fertilizers. This will prevent soil drainage from worsening.

Multiplication

The fruits of the horse chestnut are rounded

Image – Wikimedia/Solipsist

El Aesculus hippocastanum multiplies by seeds. These must be sown in winter, outdoors, as they need to be cold to germinate. We put one or two in a pot of seedling soil, and let nature take its course. Of course, to avoid infections, it is advisable to add a little powdered sulfur. So the fungi will not appear.

If they are viable, they will germinate in spring at a temperature of about 15-20ºC, only after being exposed to cold.

Transplant

You have to transplant it in springbefore its leaves sprout. It will be done only if the roots come out of the holes in the pot, or if it has already run out of space, since otherwise the root ball would fall apart and be a problem, since it would take more time for it to resume its growth.

If you want to plant it in the ground, it is advisable to wait until it measures at least 50 centimeters, since at that height it can be seen; that is, it is easy to distinguish it from other plants. I even waited longer, until it was 1 meter tall, because it is a much-loved plant, which I have been growing since 2008, and I wanted to make sure it would be fine.

Pruning

El Aesculus hippocastanum should not be pruned. He does not need it.

Pests

It can be affected by lepidoptera. Specific fascia pammene, Zeuzera Pyrina, Lymanthria dispar, and some Cydia, like the cydia splendana and Cydia fagiglandana. All of them cause damage to the leaves, leaving whitish zig-zag spots, galleries on the branches, and destroying the fruits.

When the environment is especially hot and dry it would not be surprising if it had some cochineal. But usually it is not a serious problem.

Management

Diseases have to worry us more than pests. There are three, and all three can cause the death of the specimen if not treated in time. These are:

  • Chestnut anthracnose: is caused by the fungus Mycosphaerella maculiformis, and turns the tips of the leaves brown. In adult specimens, they cause the appearance of bumps on the trunk. Both to prevent and to cure it must be treated with systemic fungicides. More information.
  • chestnut blight: is another fungus, the Cryphonectria parasitica, which produces openings in the bark of branches and trunk. It is an exotic and invasive species, it has also been listed as one of the 100 most harmful in the world. It is the cause of the death of many horse chestnut trees and chestnut trees in northern Spain.
  • Chestnut ink: it is caused by the fungus Phytopthora cinnamomi. It produces the yellowing of the leaves, the rotting of the roots and even the premature fall of the fruits.

Both to prevent and to cure, systemic fungicides must be used.

Rusticity

Aesculus hippocastanum turns yellow in autumn

Image - Flickr / jacinta lluch valero // Aesculus hippocastanum in autumn.

El Aesculus hippocastanum resists up to -20ºC. Nor do temperatures of up to 35ºC harm it if they are punctual and if it does not lack water. It can only live in areas where the seasons are well marked.

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