It's the Plants, Darling, Ministry of Controversy, Science Says

My Tiny Oak Forest

The overcup oak, Quercus lyrata.

Bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa.


The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’m not giving into global warming or to Donald Trump. I’m planting acorns. I won’t live to see my oaks grow into a thick forest canopy, but time’s a wasting.

Regardless of the president-elect’s head-in-the-sand claim that he doesn’t believe in the overwhelming scientific evidence of global warming, there is little doubt that the earth is heating up. The president-elect has described the science as “bullshit” and a “hoax.”

I’d be happy to show the president-elect how to sow acorns, even though he’s busy with plans to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency and ease restrictions on coal powered plants. Even Kentucky’s Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who has criticized President Obama for his attempt to curb fossil fuel emissions, doesn’t think Kentucky’s coal production is going to pick up anytime soon. Simple economics: natural gas is cheaper.

Shingle oak, Quercus imbricaria.

Shingle oak, Quercus imbricaria.

I once heard the architect William McDonough tease a nursery management audience about their collective lack of imagination.

The sun, sitting 93 million miles away, wirelessly delivers all of America’s energy needs to earth in eight minutes. McDonough said we have the capacity to harvest this potential with a solar array that measured a 100-mile square grid.

Powered up in Salvisa, Kentucky.

Powered up in Salvisa, Kentucky.

The conference audience sat stunned. The nursery and greenhouse growers looked at one another with astonishment. Had they just found a chest of gold bars, hidden under an oak tree in the back yard?

There was a slight hitch. McDonough explained that the huge, hypothetical solar collection station, sitting in the Nevada desert, would run headlong into the sobering reality that you lose power transmitting alternating current from the Nevada desert to Trump Tower in New York.

Ok, so this idea needs a little more work.

In the meantime, I’m going back to what I know better than electrical engineering.

Oak trees.

Seedlings of white oak, Quercus alba.

Seedlings of white oak, Quercus alba.

I’ve been planting oaks for 40 years. My current crop of tiny oaks will one day cool the earth and absorb carbon dioxide. And they’ll provide a shady spot for a hammock.

Here’s how you and the president-elect can produce oak trees in seven easy steps:

  1. Scout a good oak tree in your neighborhood, meadow or forest.
  2. Keep your eyes pealed when the acorns start to drop. You want to be ahead of the squirrels. October is prime acorn season in Kentucky.
  3. Prepare a nurse bed and plant the acorns as soon as possible. Many oak species send down a taproot their first autumn.
  4. Cover the nurse bed with hardware cloth and weigh the acorns down with stones. In addition, you might put some mothballs in a plastic yogurt container to ward off the squirrels. Drill holes in the sides of the container for aeration.
  5. Once germination begins in the spring, remove the hardware cloth. Cover your little seedlings with a small tent and drape netting over them. Alternatively, if you have only a small number, you can use a large, five-gallon nursery container. It’s important to protect the little oak seedlings from squirrels the first year, since each acorn is still attached to the seedling.
  6. Line out the seedlings the next late winter or early spring of the 2nd year, in a garden row, before the leaves emerge. Space 18” apart.
  7. Plant in a permanent home the 3rd—4th year. 

May the forest canopy be with you long after the president-elect is but a dark chapter in history.

Posted by on November 16, 2016 at 7:20 am, in the category It's the Plants, Darling, Ministry of Controversy, Science Says.
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9 responses to “My Tiny Oak Forest”

  1. Eileen says:

    I’m with you 100%, but please don’t use mothballs—they are highly toxic and dangerous petroleum-based fumigants that don’t belong in the garden (or homes!).

  2. Juice Box says:

    A couple of weeks after we moved into our previous house, I went out to pull weeds in the hellstrip. I had my hand on one seedling when I realized that the two seed leaves and two true leaves belonged to a California live oak. I left it there, growing as a bush to hide its true nature, but then the city forester found it. I thought that it was doomed, but he pulled out his pruning shears and promptly turned it into a single trunk tree. It had its first crop of acorns the fall that we moved to current house.

    We have a green strip behind our house that we aren’t supposed to plant. Weirdly, that first winter, a California live oak sprouted. Since there are no nearby oaks, I suspect that it was planted by a really big “squirrel” and certainly not by me. The landscape guys have kindly ignored it at my request.

  3. Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

    Chris, the little seedlings (I presume they are 12″ -36″ tall?) can be dug in late winter before the foliage emerges. Dig gingerly around the seedling. You should be able to ease them out with little trouble. Plant them to the same depth. And the same would hold true in 3rd or 4th year. Lift them bare root in late winter and and you’ll be able to easily tell the proper planting depth.

  4. Chris - PEC says:

    Thanks for this info! A load of wood chips was delivered to my driveway last summer (2015) (free from the utility company clearing limbs from around hydro wires). The pile was under some very large oak trees. This past spring I used the chips to mulch several beds. Up popped dozens of oak seedlings. Everywhere!

    I should be transplanting to a proper nursery bed early spring 2017? How deep should I try to get the root ball so that I don’t kill the seedling? And also when transplanting again to the permanent home in 3rd or 4th year, how deep?

    Stupid question – sorry – just would like them to survive my efforts!

  5. Susan says:

    Thanks for this inspiration. I need much these days to keep from being depressed about the current state of things. Squirrels plant many of the baby oak trees I find on my property. I am trying to get rid of as much of the invasive stuff that wants to take over and therefore let the natives come back.

  6. […] My Tiny Oak Forest originally appeared on Garden Rant on November 16, 2016. […]

  7. Allen Bush Allen Bush says:

    That’s a safe bet, Joe!

  8. Joe Schmitt says:

    A case for nuts vs. a nutcase. My money ‘s on the nuts.

  9. Laura Munoz says:

    Would love to plant the acorns from my post oak, which is ancient. Thanks for this post. Very informative!