Hazelnuts are low-maintenance, cold-hardy shrubs that produce edible nuts. They grow to 10'-15' tall, and if left on their own will form their own multi-stemmed thickets (they don't spread far via root suckers; they stay fairly contained to their planting location).
Of all the nut trees, hazelnuts are the quickest to produce nuts - if well cared for, you can expect nuts by year 4. Hazelnuts are delicious, healthy, and easy to crack.
Depending on your location, the only challenge will be keeping grey squirrels from getting all your nuts.
Cold hardy to zone 3b.
Hazelnut thickets are excellent for coppicing - the cyclical practice of thinning out the tallest trunks/stems from the thicket for other uses (trellises, fencing, etc.), thereby exposing the smaller trunks to more sunlight.
Hazelnuts also have beautiful magenta flowers that brighten up late-winter days, although they are very easily overlooked due to their small size.
Parentage: Our seeds are sourced from Grimo Nut Nursery's open-pollinated orchard of selected Corylus heterophylla (Asian hazelnut) seedlings.
Pollination: Hazelnuts require cross-pollination, meaning you need more than one to get nuts. Like most nut trees, hazelnuts are wind-pollinated.
Image 2: Vlad Siaber.
Image 3: H. Zell.