I caught the end of a radio gardening show in the car last week, and heard the tree expert tell a caller that transplanting young oaks from the woods was a touchy business. First you must dig under it and cut the tap root. Then leave it in place for a year of two to grow the kind of secondary root system that we see when we buy trees at the nursery. Even then, it may not take well.
He suggested it might be quicker to start with an acorn.
I love oaks, and I am thinking of doing just that.
The time to collect acorns for planting can begin as early as August and stretch to December. It depends on the species and the weather that year. I may have missed my opportunity already this year because the best time to collect acorns is when they are just beginning to fall, or even to pick them from the tree. Most of my oaks seem to have already had acorn drop.
An acorn is ready when it is fully filled out, and the cap comes off easily — and aren’t those caps just the cutest little things in the world? How many of us put them on our fingers as kids? How many still do — raise your hands. I thought so — all of us.
Some oaks (white and bur) should be planted immediately, but red oak acorns should be planted next spring. As much as I love the vivid color of red oaks in the fall, I’m not going to plant those. They are going down like dominoes on our land as oak wilt spreads through the grove by root graft. The whites are supposed to have a better chance surviving wilt.The DNR advises that if I want to plant the acorns I find, I should put them in a dish of water and toss any that float. To keep the critters from partying down on my baby trees I need to fence in the plot where I am starting them, plant them 2-3 inches deep and weed out all grasses by hand.According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, foresters are starting to plant oaks directly from seed, but newly germinated seeds are very susceptible to a wide variety of stress. They can’t get too dry or too wet, and they are a very inviting package of nutrition to many animals including acorn weevils. They say that white oaks have not been very successfully grown from seed put in the ground.
I am thinking of starting them in pots to keep them from being someone’s snack. Evidently, wildlife seek out acorns more than any other food. Acorns are an energy-rich score for deer, bears, gray and fox squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, while turkey, grouse, wood ducks and quail.
On a related subject, I have observed that the twigs of young oaks we are already growing on our land seem to be preferred browse. For years, they were eating our young oaks almost back down to the ground. Then somehow a couple of years ago, most of the young trees planted by the former owner made it past deer browse level, and have shot up above my head in a very satisfactory manner. Those trees were all started from little sticks with roots.
It seems like with the excess deer population in our area, it’s getting harder and harder for an acorn to become a seedling, and a seedling to become a tree.
I hope I can help a few acorns make it through the gauntlet and grow up to produce more acorns. I would like to nudge that process just a bit if I can.