submitted by Roy Major
Growing oaks from acorns is easy. The method requires very little money, no great physical strength, simple tools and only a little know how. It does require proper timing, attention to detail and patience.
Prepare the planting sites in the late summer before the acorns are to be planted. Advance preparation saves a huge amount of labor and greatly increases the survival and growth of young trees. Kill an area of grass at least three feet in diameter with an herbicide, by clean cultivating the soil, or by smothering the grass with a heavy layer of mulch.
Acorns drop in mid September. Gather them as soon as they fall. Collect more than you think you need; they are not all viable and each planting site will be planted with several nuts. Each kind of acorn should be stored separately.
Oaks fall into two categories: the white oak group, with acorns which germinate as soon as they fall, provided they are planted in moist soil; and the red oak group, the acorns of which must be kept moist and cool over the winter and then planted in early spring. In Indiana the white oak group includes white, chestnut, chinquapin, post, bur, overcup, swamp white and swamp chestnut oaks. The red oak group includes red, black, scarlet, pin, Shumard, willow, shingle, jack, cherry bark and southern red oaks.
Put the acorns in a container of water. Those which sink are viable and should be kept. Those which float are sterile and should be discarded.
Do not store acorns in dry, warm conditions. They dry out and lose viability quickly. Members of the white oak group should be planted immediately where they are to grow. Members of the red oak group can be stored in an open plastic storage bag mixed with moist peat moss or leaf mold, in a refrigerator, or outdoors, in a rodent proof, wen drained container in a cool shady place, covered with organic mulch. Check the moisture once a week during the winter to make sure the mulch is moist but not wet. Don't let them freeze. If you are not sure if they are white oaks or red oaks, examine them in storage occasionally. If they sprout, they are white oaks and should be planted outdoors immediately.
In the fall for white oaks, or early in March for red oaks, plant six to ten acorns in each planting site, placing each nut with the cap end just at the soil surface. Pull the mulch back from the planting area. If the acorns have germinated, place the root tip downward making sure not to break the root. Not all the acorns will sprout. If deer or squirrels are a threat, the planting site can be covered with a two foot square of half inch hardware cloth or a metal colander and treated with a deer repellent. Be sure to remove this screen in April or early May, just as the tiny seedlings appear.
Keep weeds away from the seedlings. Roundup can be used to kill the grass. Cover the seedlings with a bucket or can while spraying to prevent the herbicide from touching them. Hand weeding should be done close to the seedlings. Keep the mulch less than one inch deep around the stems of young seedlings. Keep the young trees weed free by any means necessary. After the first growing season, thin to the three strongest seedlings, then to the strongest sapling at the beginning of the third spring. Don't attempt to transplant seedlings; oaks transplant poorly. Newly planted acorns will outgrow transplants. Keep grass and lawn mowers away from the base of the young trees. Composted grass clippings and leaf mold make the best mulch.