GREAT OAKS FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW–SOMETIMES

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.

...An oak woods you can hold in your hand. (photo credit http://www.flickr.com/photos/bitzcelt/3036348795/ )

New project!

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.

All that is left after the squirrels descend.

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.

...A young bur oak now safe from deer.

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.

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4 replies

    • Hey, thanks, Monique! I do care. That’s for sure. Some of the reading I was doing for this post was talking about how oaks, a slow growing tree, are both very valuable to the forest community, and yet not holding up so well in the the modern environment. They are such gentle giants.
      They leaf out late, making that whole spring ephemeral thing possible, and they provide a feast with their acorns. And they offer a fine wood to us humans.
      I’ll feel glad if I can look and see some young trees thriving because I helped them get past those harrowing first few years.

      Denise

  1. Have you read Oak:The Frame of Civilization by Wm. Bryant Logan? Logan combines science, philosophy, sprituality and history to show how oaks have been for centuries such an integral part of European civilization, at the root of almost everything we do. Fascinating book from W.W.Norton and Co.

    I’m tuning in for the first time in nearly 3 weeks. We went to Italy for a couple of weeks. Loved it. A generous people, beautiful landscapes and ancient hilltop towns in Umbria and Tuscany. They also drive like maniacs over there, but I finally got used to it. Stayed on a couple of farms, saw their vineyards and olive groves. Can’t get my mind around living with 3000 years worth of history – from before the Etruscans and Umbri all the way to modern Italy. Marvelous museums as well as ancient churches and great art. Whew!!! It will take a while to digest the experience.

    • Hi Dennis,
      I just put Oak: The Frame of Civilization on my library’s request list. Looking forward to reading it.
      Italy, yes. I was fortunate enough to visit there once and have very fond memories of Tuscany especially. From an American frame of reference it is mind boggling to see such ancient structures still in use. Talk about sustainable. I loved the pace of life and the food! Oh my. I had a white bean soup there that I’ll never forget.
      Thanks for the book tip.
      Denise

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