7 Easy Steps To Grow Your Own Oak Trees

Oak Tree Forest
Лес в октябре. October-forest-by-Tatters-✾-is-licensed-under-CC-BY-SA-2.0.

Who wouldn’t want a magnificent oak tree in their backyard? But not everyone is familiar with all that you have to do to grow your own oak. Here are some simple steps to follow to grow your own oaks at home.

When will your oak tree mature?

If you are planning on planting an oak tree in your garden then one of the first questions you will ask yourself is when the oak tree will start to mature.

Of course, without sufficient knowledge regarding when you may expect the tree to start flowering, or how tall it will grow, or when you can expect the acorns to start coming, it’s difficult to make an informed decision on when and how you would like to plant your oak tree.

But to answer that question, first off, it is important to understand that there are several types of oak trees, and that each species of oak has its own growth rate, and its own timeline for coming into flower and producing fruit. Furthermore, each species will also have its own maximum height to which it will grow as well as the age to which it can be expected to live.

One very obvious example of this are the oaks that are found in Africa and which differ significantly from the oak trees found in the USA. In spite of that however, oak trees are more synonymous with Northern America since over half of the 600 oak species existing in the world are also found there.

Choosing your oak tree

So with so many choices before you, how will you know which is the best oak tree for your garden? Well, this is no hallelujah moment, but if you take a stroll around your neighborhood, you will easily be able to see which oak trees are growing there, and that’s what will help you decide the best oak for your garden.

There are two broad categories to choose from: red oaks and white oaks. And there are more than 90 different types of oak trees in the North American region alone that belong to both these species.

Based on the zone that your location falls in, you will be able to ascertain which oak tree to grow. Asking your arborist could be another way of finding out which tree will grow best in your locality. 

Finding the best tree for you

Finding a tree that suits is important because if the ideal conditions for growth are not provided to the oak tree then it could either have stunted growth or will not survive the adverse conditions.

1. Choosing the best acorns from your neighborhood oak

Single Oak Tree
Single Oak Tree

The best time to go deciding which oak would grow best in your garden is when the fall season commences. That’s when all the acorns fall off. Pick up an acorn, or a few extras for good luck.

Selecting the right acorn is a tricky business. Picking them straight from the tree is not enough as these will not be ready to start germinating.

However, when picking up acorns from the ground, try and ensure that you pick them within 3 to 4 days after they have dropped. More than that and the acorns will have dried out and the seeds will no longer be able to germinate.

Identifying your acorns

Here is what you will be looking for when you are choosing acorns:

  • A brown base color that is slightly tinged with green
  • An acorn without its “cap.” The widest part of the acorn, it must be firm when pressed between your fingers. Discard the cap if there is one.
  • Choose an acorn without any holes. A hole will indicate that some has already spoilt the seed.
  • Look for a mold-free acorn. Additionally if your acorn starts getting moldy, wash off the mold immediately.
  • Now put all your acorns into a bowl of water. Acorns that float may be discarded while the ones that sink are good for planting.
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2. Fall planting

Bunch of Acorns

Here is where you will come across a slightly tricky part: white and red oaks’ acorns must be handled differently.

Growing white oak acorns

However, the difference is more with how soon the acorn will start to sprout. White oak’s acorns may be planted immediately and it’s okay for you to start hoping that they will sprout within a week or two of planting.

The planting of the seeds may be done directly in the garden soil where you wish your tree to grow or in any other gardening pot. In case of the latter, make sure to transplant your oak seedling within the first year of planting as you can transplant the sapling at this stage without any extra hassle.

Here are some precautions you need to take within the first 30 days of planting the acorn. Before planting, remember to till the soil.

When planting the acorn, don’t push them more than one inch deep into the soil. Also, it is okay to plant up to five acorns in every square foot of soil.

Here is where all those extra, healthy acorns you picked up can be put to good use. When they sprout, you may easily choose the healthiest saplings to transplant.

Make sure that the soil where you have planted your acorn is receiving plenty of sunshine. If the acorn has already started sprouting, plant the seed roots-down. Otherwise, plant it sideways.

Within two weeks,if it was a white oak acorn you planted, you will see the stems and leaves begin to appear above the soil. Here is where you may discern which seedlings look the healthiest and remove the weaker, slower growing ones to give the healthy saplings a better chance at survival.

Here are some more precautions you must take:

  • Growing grass and weeds can stunt the growth of your oak sapling at this stage so remember to keep the area where you have planted the seeds clear at all times.
  • It would also be a great idea to place some chicken wire fence or a hardware cloth around the area where you have planted the seeds. This keeps them safe from squirrels and other digging creatures.
  • Do remove the safety coverings within five days of planting your white oak seed.

A month down the line, your white oak saplings will be big enough to help you decide which of them is growing the fastest.

Discard the other saplings or at least move them to different locations so that each sapling gets the maximum amount of sunshine and soil nutrients that are so essential in helping it to grow.

Growing red oak acorns

Red oaks’ acorns however, need to maintain a period of dormancy. That’s why, even though you will plant these seeds immediately, you must wait until spring to see the sprouts appear. This is also the main difference between the two types of acorns.

Once the red oak acorns have been planted, the rest of the precautionary steps are nearly the same as those followed for white oak acorns. Ensure you have planted your red oak tree seeds about an inch deep.

Like with white oaks, these can also be transferred without any hassle within a year so you may initially use pots to plant your acorns. Instead of the one month period you waited to see the white oak seedlings sprout, you’ll wait a couple of months while the red oaks sprout.

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Once the stems start developing you should place the plants where you want the tree to grow. Further displacement of the plant at a later date would be ill advised.

Also, once the plant has started to sprout, you have to be careful of the many critters and other small animals. This is because these small animals often collect acorns to store for the winters.

One of the ways critters can be kept away from your oak seedlings is by putting up a chicken fence or a wire fence. Basically any enclosement that prevents small animals from getting to the young sprouting acorns. This is particularly true for red oaks’ acorns because they take longer to sprout.

Again, here are some important precautions you must take:

  • Late fall and winter are prime seasons for all small critters to try and dig out your carefully planted acorns, and hoard these for themselves.
  • This is especially important if you have planted a red oak acorn as this will still be in its germination phase.
  • Place chicken wire or hardware cloth near the site of planting but remember to remove it at the start of spring so your red oak seedling may sprout.

4. Spring sowing

Oak Tree Leaf
Oak Tree Leaf

Sowing your oak seeds in spring sounds like a fairly great idea, especially if you have a red oak seed you will be planting. The real task then is to keep the seed safe through fall and winter.

One way to store oak seeds is by placing it in the refrigerator. This works for both red and white oaks. Red oak acorns may be stored in a plastic bag, and kept, partially open, in the fridge.

Seeds stored in this way in the fridge need to be monitored to prevent the growth of mold on the seeds. Should you detect any mld, wash the seed immediately and change its plastic bag to avoid further mold growth.

Two months later, the red oak seeds are ready for planting in either garden soil or in a pot full of the same. Meanwhile, white oak seeds may be kept in some moist sand, inside a refrigerator, for a maximum of four months. After this time, it is essential to plant the seed in a pot of garden soil.

4. Keeping safe the first year

Oak Tree Seedling
Oak Tree Seedling

Between 6 months to within the first few years of its life, the oak seedling will have germinated from a seed to a seedling and finally reached the sapling stage. Be warned however, the first year alone is very hectic!

This is when the seedling is vulnerable to attacks from ‘browsing’ animals e.g deer. Continue monitoring the seedlings as they grow, removing weeds and provide a slow-growing fertilizer to allow the plant to grow more easily.

By the time the seedling is around 3 feet in height, it will be considered a sapling! Until then, whether it is your red oak seed or white oak seed, use a mixture of potting soil and local topsoil to grow your acorn seeds.

5. Sapling life!

Young Oak Tree
Young Oak Tree in the Hills of Central California by Wild About Travel is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

You may bring your potted seedlings outside once Spring arrives and the birds begin to chirp. If temperatures do drop below freezing again, then do not worry. Oak trees can withstand the harsh cold.

Place your potted seedling in a partially shaded spot. We don’t want to expose the tree to direct sunlight just yet. Allow your seedling to acclimatize to outside life over the following month or two. Water it if it hasn’t rained in more than a week.

After a month, you may transplant your seedling to full sunlight! Protect your delicate seedling from browsing animals by following the practices detailed earlier. Your seedling should develop rapidly over the following few months to years. Just as previously, when it reaches 3 feet in height, it is considered a sapling!

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6. Rising Saplings

Acorn hanging off Oak Tree
Acorn hanging off Oak Tree

You may have to wait many years for your oak tree to actually reach the sapling stage, depending on the variety of oak tree you planted. Some types of oak trees may reach this stage in less than a year also.

However, the great thing about saplings is that they require far less effort than our small acorns. The main issues at this period are browsing, pests, and disease. Since our oak saplings are still young and tiny, they are more vulnerable to these threats than a fully mature oak tree.

Another major concern is transplanting. If your little but strong oak hasn’t found a permanent home yet, it’s time to consider where you’ll plant it. Find a location that will receive full sun, and be sure to consider how big your oak will grow and how much room it will require.

Transplanting oak trees within the first year should not be a problem. The sooner you can transplant, the better. The longer you wait, the longer it will take for your oak tree to adapt to its new surroundings, perhaps stunting its development.

Transplanting Your Young Oak Tree Sapling

  1. Dig out a reasonably sized hole
  2. Straighten out any spiraling roots or trim them.
  3. Put the sapling inside the hole and cover it with the earlier removed dirt
  4. To protect against digging critters, and to trap additional moisture you may add some mulch around your transplanted sapling. This is completely optional and not necessary

You’ll need to be cautious when searching over the next five years. Deer can be deterred by using tree guards or wraps. You may also employ odors and fragrances that deer and squirrels detest to keep them away from your sapling.

7. Fully Grown Adult Oak Tree

Oak Tree Flowers
Oak Tree Flowers

Oak trees are one of the longest living trees. They can literally go on living for centuries. Usually in such a case one would expect that the tree would mature at a great age as well. However, oak trees usually mature in a few decades.

Once your oak tree has crossed 5 years of age, you can breathe a sigh of relief. At this point most of the hard work is done. Now all you have to do is sit back and patiently watch as your tree grows on its own. Just watering it routinely is probably all you’ll need to do.

At around 30 years of age an oak tree is said to mature. This, however, is just an average age and the actual age at which your oak tree matures really depends on the subspecies of oak that you are growing and an array of other external factors.

Generally if you’re concerned about finding out whether your oak tree has matured or not, you should look for acorns on the tree in the summer. It is only a mature oak tree that produces fruit. Therefore once your oak tree begins to bear fruit, it has fully matured.

While some oak trees will stop growing further after maturity, some may continue to grow for years to come. There are even certain types of oak trees that end up continuing to grow for centuries after reaching maturity.

A Gift to Future Generations

While statistically it is highly likely that the oak tree you planted will not reach maturity in your life, it will still be there for many future generations to come. The tree will bear fruit and provide shade to sons and grandsons. Living for centuries as new generations come and go.

An oak tree in that sense is like a small gift to the future generations. It will be there all their lives and will bring them blessings all their lives. It will end up being your legacy eventually.

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