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arnbev959's avatar

What is the most effective way to plant oak trees (and other questions?)

Asked by arnbev959 (10888points) January 13th, 2010

My grandfather has two large oaks in his backyard. This autumn he raked a whole bunch of them up and placed them in bags. He has about 20 bags, probably around 100,000 acorns. He asked me to bring them to his property upstate and plant them for him.

I’ve been keeping them dry, but outside. I want as many acorns as possible to turn into full grown trees. I can plant them any time. I have a lot of questions, but any tips, suggestions, or any information at all will be appreciated.


What percentage of acorns that fall from a tree in the wild will grow into mature trees? I’m guessing that the reason trees produce so many acorns is that a low percentage of the will actually become adult trees.

What percentage of acorns started in pots will grow into mature trees, assuming I transplant them once they are a few months old? What about if I transplant them when they are a year old? Two years?

Will planting several thousand acorns over 60 acres of woods make any significant difference in the diversity of the forest? Will more than a dozen or so trees actually grow? Is it worth it to plant them in the first place? (Would it make any sense to cut down a few hemlocks in areas where I’m planting the acorns in order to let more light in for the baby oaks?)

What is the best way to plant acorns in the wild so that the largest percentage possible will germinate? Should I try to stamp them into the ground? Will animals eat more of them if they are uncovered? Is there a recommended planting depth? Is it not worth it to put in any more effort than to just scatter them around the woods and not worrying about the ones that don’t roll into a crevice or some other disable place?

When is the best time to plant them? Would it be better to push them into the snow now, or wait until spring to throw them around? (I’m thinking that the spring would be better, since animals would have a greater food supply and would be less likely to eat them then, but I don’t know if germination will be effected by the time they are planted.)

Related question: Are acorns edible? (I know they are very bitter, as I have eaten them before, but I’m wondering if it’s safe to.)

This question is dedicated to johnpowell.

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12 Answers

phil196662's avatar

Uncover some ground and push them in several inches, then they will take care of themselves in the spring. put them someplace so you can monitor them in case you want to move them.

gailcalled's avatar

I have dozens of accidental small oaks, thanks to the squirrels and rodents. Oaks love and need acidic soil; their leaves provide acid mulch for certain plantings.

The rodents shove them into the ground only an inch or so. If you want to plant a grove, you will have to fence and net, which is a real pain. If you are willing to take pot luck, pretend you are a chipmunk preparing for winter (which you have to do in the fall.)

But, hey, you have 100,000 acorns. That gives you wiggle room to experiment. And you will have 100,000 more next fall.

Re; eating; it is food for desperate times. During WWII, the nut was ground into meal and was used for flour but not very satisfactorily, if I remember correctly. People also ground the roots of chicory (which grows here so profusely that I named my little road Chicory Lane) and made ersatz coffee.

njnyjobs's avatar

Oaks, walnuts, and hickories produce seeds high in nutrients (acorns and nuts). Squirrels, chipmunks, and mice store these for their winter survival. Some are buried, forgotten, and left to sprout. Oak trees often do not produce acorns every year, but have a very large acorn crop when they do. This strategy may have evolved so that some seeds will be left uneaten. Many seeds will float and can be carried for miles in streams and rivers.

Check this out for details:

Darwin's avatar

“What percentage of acorns that fall from a tree in the wild will grow into mature trees?”

According to this site:

“The chances of one acorn making it to become an oak tree are very slim—less than 1/10,000. That means that for every 10,000 acorns, only one will become a tree!...Up to 90% of the acorns in a region can be destroyed by the larvae of the weevils.”

This site and this one
give some information about planting acorns, either in pots for transplantation or in the ground. Young oak trees will do best if planted in clearings that measure ½ an acre. so you really don’t want to plant them under the hemlocks.

And this site says:

“After controlling understory competition, plant acorns in openings at least ½ acre in size. Plant acorns 1 to 2 inches deep. Plant at least 6 or 8 acorns for every tree you want. Plant white oak acorns in the fall, as soon as possible after collecting them. Plant red oak acorns in the fall or the following spring.”

Finally, as to the edibility of acorns by humans: Yes, acorns are edible but they taste very, very bitter unless you leach the tannic acid out of them. Acorns are commonly used in Korean cooking, and the native peoples of California relied on acorns as a source of flour. This booklet will tell you all about how to prepare and cook acorns. As the booklet says, they make a good food because “Acorns provide a complete vegetable protein, up to seven percent by weight in some varieties. In some species, more than half of the acorn’s weight is carbohydrates, which provide a good source of energy.”

ekans's avatar

I learned at a museum that acorns have a chemical in them called tannin, which makes them unsafe to eat in large quantities without proper preparation. I am not sure what proper preparation means, but to the ancient hunter gatherer communities in what is now north america, they dried the nuts while in the shell, then they took off the shells and crushed them into a flour. After that, they put the flower in a strainer and ran water over it. Once it had dried, it was safe to eat however much they wanted.

Hooray for the Field Museum!

Garebo's avatar

I would cold harden them first, then germinate them indoors. I like red oaks because they grow so rapidly. I also recommend checking out the company Tree Essentials and buy their tree tubes. I guarantee you will be astonished how fast they will grow in this micro climate. I had 6 feet of growth in one year from a foot in a tree tube; they seem to work well with certain tree genus.

gailcalled's avatar

@Garebo: What zone are you?

Garebo's avatar

peter, I forgot, I used a matting that’s essential together with the tube. I would not had the results if i just dropped the tube over the tree and let the sod steal the moisture and nutrients. The synthetic mulch can be bought anywhere, but is critical to get great results from what I observed.
Lastly, as Emerill would say to “kick it up a notch” and it’s very young transplanted tree, get that mycorihizall fungi fertilizer, however you spell it,-that too, is dynamite for trees, and vegies.

WestRiverrat's avatar

To the second part of your question.

There is a lot of tannic acid in acorns. The more of this you remove the less bitter they will be. This site gives a good description of how to prepare acorns for human use.

SmartAZ's avatar

The Mother Earth News once ran a story about a French guy who planted a forest of oaks. He had a sharp stick with a pedal and a bag of acorns. He pushed the stick into the ground with his foot and dropped an acorn into the hole. In some number of years he planted a forest which still stands, or did in the 70s when I saw the story. Alas, the archives do not go back that far, but TMEN has a lot of nice information anyway.

TMEN also told me that acorns have too much tannic acid for people to tolerate, but you can soak them in ware to leach it out. You’ll know what I mean if you taste the stuff.

Zaku's avatar

I wonder how the sapplings are doing…

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