Landowners can improve habitat with oaks by starting acorns now

Posted on October 14, 2013

Chris JenninsRain this past week prevented me from an evening bow hunt I had planned. Fortunately there is no shortage of tasks to complete if you are a habitat fanatic like I am. I put the evening to good use planting acorns.
 
These particular acorns are from a rare native that provides great cover and good annual crops of acorns in as few as three years. Because these oaks can be nearly impossible to find as seedlings,  I’ve deemed them worth the effort required to start them from acorns. And what an effort! They need to be vernalized - exposed to cold conditions - before they will fully germinate and begin top growth. Because of moisture balance and chances for rot, this vernalization process can be dicey in a refrigerator. It can also be a challenge outdoors; they’ll need to be buried. Here they’ll need to be sheltered from temperature extremes and sufficient moisture, even when frozen. They’ll also need serious protection from mice and squirrels that would be more than happy to eat each and every one. Next spring after I hand plant them, they will require wire tree tubes for protection from mice, squirrels, rabbits, and later deer and bears, for several years.
 
It certainly does not have to be this hard – bare root oak seedlings can be purchased for a few dollars each. Buy in larger quantities and you should be able get them for less than a buck apiece. If you’d like to buy large quantities, the DNR nurseries are a good source; they have three locations statewide and trees and shrubs for the 2014 season went on sale Sept. 27. Log on to the DNR website and search “tree planting” (link- http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/TreePlanting/ ). The minimum purchase from the DNR is a 300 trees and shrubs in a “packet,” or 500 shrubs of a single species or 1,000 trees of a single species. If you are interested in lower quantities and a wider variety, find a private nursery in your region. You can find a partial list through the DNR website (link-  http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/TreePlanting/nurseries.html)
 
Acorns can be planted in a potting soil mix in peat pots, then buried over winter. Photo by Chris JenningsIt’s not too early to think about tree planting, and hunting season is a great time to do your planning, especially after leaf drop. Take note of areas that lack good cover and estimate how many trees or shrubs it will take to fill the area in. If you have an area that lacks some kind of draw, consider hard and soft mast options that might be a good fit. How about an oak that drops acorns at a different time of year, or hickory nuts or chestnuts? How about a soft mast option like hawthorn, cherry, viburnum, wild plum or wild pear? Take good notes on the area and what you’d like to accomplish and consult your area nursery. Before you ask; I have nothing against apples – they can be a great choice if you are willing to invest the effort.
 
Speaking of “effort”… on this rainy evening, I carefully nestled a single acorn into a potting mix, in each of 300 peat pots. The pots were placed in flats, the flats were stacked and then gift wrapped in ¼-inch galvanized mesh. The entire package was then buried in a shallow grave, beneath the leaf composter in a nice shady spot in my yard. Time will tell if my efforts bear fruit, and I will certainly keep you posted.

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