What to do with all these acorns

We are fortunate to have an abundant acorn crop in Frederick County this fall. In particular the chestnut oak, red oak and black oak production was fair to excellent depending on location. Some white oaks also produced acorns. The squirrels, deer, turkeys and birds are now feasting on all this bounty, but there will be a lot left over. You might be asking, what should I do with all these extra acorns?


An interesting article appeared recently in the Penn State Extension Department online newsletter by David R. Jackson, Forestry Educator entitled “Planting acorns to grow oak trees. “ This article talks about the decline of oaks in the understory of our forests (due mostly to selective feeding by deer and competition by invasive plants), and how planting acorns or young oak trees can help enrich the number of oaks in the forest.

Developing this “advanced regeneration” in the understory will help ensure the future of oak trees in the canopy. Mr. Jackson describes the difference in the white and red oak families. The major difference is that white oaks germinate soon after falling so they can be planted immediately, while red oaks require a period of cold stratification to break down the seed coat.

The author recommends planting the red oak acorns in March or April following cold stratification. There are some good photos in this article that illustrate how to tell the difference between white and red oak acorns. Basically white oak acorns are more elliptical or egg shaped, while acorns in the red oak family are more rounded.

Mr. Jackson recommends placing the acorns you collect in a bucket of water for a few hours to see which acorns sink or float. The acorns that sink have a fully developed embryo and are more likely to germinate. The floaters should be discarded. In addition, when you collect the acorns, discard any that have holes, display mold, or look old and dried up. It is very important that you do not let the acorns heat up by putting them in plastic bags; do not leave them in your car trunk etc.

You can plant the white oak group (elliptical looking acorns) immediately after collecting and testing them for viability. The red oak acorns should be placed in cold storage until spring. Mr. Jackson recommends growing acorns in a seed bed or pots for one or two seasons, then transplanting the saplings into the forest after they enter dormancy. You need to protect the seedbed or pots from deer while they are growing.

Another option is to plant the acorn in the forest and cover it with a tree shelter. You will need a stake to support this shelter. It would also be a good idea to cover the newly planted saplings with tree shelters as well. It is best to shelter the young tree until it is about 8 feet tall and its caliper (thickness) is about the size of a half dollar. The Maryland Forest Service sometimes has used tree shelters that they provide to landowners free of charge at various locations.

To inquire about tree shelters in Frederick County you can phone the Maryland Forest Service at 301-473-8417. When planting the young oak tree or acorns you should look for an area that has partial to full sunshine since oak trees do not grow well in dense shade. Oak trees grow best in well drained soils with an acidic pH. If you have a moderately wet site a pin oak or swamp white oak would be your best bet. It your planting site has a higher pH then you should plant white or burr oak. Planting these young trees in the understory of the woods or in a field is one way to help ensure that oaks will continue to be present in the forests of the future.

Article by FCFCDB member

Nature Note for 11/9/14