Tips For Collecting And Planting Acorns
Yes, you can grow mighty oaks by planting acorns. The oaks may not necessarily become mighty in your lifetime, but if you plant the acorns when you're young enough they can still reach a decent size. If you live in an area of the country where oak trees grow, which is in most places, you've no doubt picked up an acorn or two on the ground. Many, if not most of them have lost their cap, and finding an intact acorn is always something of a prize. Sometimes an even greater prize can be finding an intact acorn that doesn't have a hole in it. The hole means a grub has beaten you to the punch. Many collect the intact acorns for ornamental or decorative purposes. But you're collecting them with oak trees in mind.
Planting acorns can involve several steps. You can't just take them home and stick them in the ground. You can, but the results at best will be mixed. If it's just a single tree you want you can bury a whole bunch of seeds and at least one will possibly reward you with a sprout, but maybe not. It's a little more fun though, as well as educational, to follow a few simple steps which will give you a fairly high chance of success.
Start Looking - Let's begin with collecting the acorns. The best time to find quality acorns is at the time they begin falling from the tree. This usually happens during the month of October, sometimes a week earlier, sometimes a week later. The exact time for best collecting can vary depending upon the particular species of oak tree, where you live, and the climate. The local climate can cause a change in the date from year to year for a given tree, but usually not more than a few days at most. If you don't know when you should start looking, just ask the locals, and you should get a pretty good idea of when it is time to start collecting. The most difficult trees to collect acorns from are those growing in the woods, where the ground is covered by fallen leaves or mulch, and the acorns still on the tree are out of reach. The best bet is either a tree with low hanging branches, or one that adjoins a paved street, sidewalk or parking lot, where the fallen acorns are easy pickings.
Know What You've Collected - If you know the species of oak tree you've been gathering from, fine. If not, note which tree it was and then ask around until you find someone who knows, or go to the library and get a book that gives you that information. When planting acorns it's important to know the species of oak tree you're getting. Even if you don't care about the species, the acorns do. Different species should be planted at different times, and if you get it wrong you may not get your oak trees. So, note the tree or trees you've gathered from and find out the species of oak they are. Once you've gathered some acorns you want to select those that are ripe. If the caps come off easily, that's a sure sign. If they've fallen from the tree they are most likely ripe. If you've picked them from the tree, and they haven't started falling yet, they may not be ripe, and acorns that are not ripe won't do you much good.
Keep Your Trophies Cool - Another thing to be aware of is it is best to pick fallen acorns that have fallen in a shady spot. If they fall on asphalt on a hot day, the nut inside can quickly dry out. If that happens, it won't germinate. So, when you're busy collecting, don't set the acorns aside in the hot sun. Keep them in the shade, or in your pocket. Cool is best. When you take them home, put them in the refrigerator, but not in the freezing compartment, until you're ready for the next step.
If the species you've collected are white oak acorns, they are ready for planting as they don't go through a dormancy period and will sprout soon after planting. However you'll have to wait until spring before planting acorns from a red oak tree as they require a period of dormancy. That's why it’s important to know the species.
Keepers Can't Swim - Before storing your acorns, you might as well eliminate any that have no chance of sprouting. Larger acorns usually have a higher percentage of germination, but another test is to put all of your acorns in a pail of water. Let them sit for a day, and keep those that have sunk to the bottom, discarding the floaters. If you have red oak acorns, put the selected acorns in a polyester bag and store in the refrigerator, or anywhere the temperature will remain about 40 degrees F, until spring. The white oak acorns you can plant right away.
Planting Instructions -You might choose to plant the seeds out of doors, in the yard or in a field, but unless placed in a protective device such as a wire cage or a can (with drain holes) they can very easily fall victim to any number of critters - gophers for example. It might be easier, and more fun, to start them in pots, and transplant them later. Successfully planting acorns involves removing the cap from the acorn and removing the seed or nut. Prepare some good planting soil, making certain you have good drainage if not in a pot or container, an place the nuts, either on there sides or tips down, in the dirt, covering with soil to a depth equal to about the width of the nut. Keep the soil moist but not soaked, don't allow the pot to freeze, and you're off to a good start. Plant several nuts in a pot, as all of them are unlikely to germinate and you can thin out to the best looking one or two sprouts later.
Transplant Quickly - Unlike many plants, your young oak tree will be ready to plant as soon as the first leaves have opened. That may seem to be a little too soon, but the oak develops a root system rapidly, including a long tap root. The earlier you can get the seedling and its root system into its permanent location the better. While you may have become quite fond of your little sprout or sprouts, the permanent home should not be to close to yours. Remember, mighty oaks can become quite large.