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The Acorn to Oak Test: Soil or Fridge?

Red Oak Acorns in a Bucket of WaterOutside the house where I live in Maine is a big, tall red oak tree that has been producing acorns in such great number that as squirrels run about the branches they come down like rain — or hail, perhaps. The last person to live in this house seemed to think it important to maintain a lawn with green grass, but I like trees. I like big trees, and so I’ve decided to grow some more oaks.

I’ve already transplanted a year-old oak sapling from a dark wooded corner to an untreed location, but transplanting oaks isn’t well-advised because the roots of oaks go very far down very quickly, and the little trees suffer from transplant shock. We’ll see how my transplant effort went. In the meantime, I’ve decided to plant oaks directly from abundant acorns.

Acorns in the refrigeratorI’ve read advice on growing oaks from acorns, and some advice is consistent. Go for the green acorns, not the wholly brown ones, and if you can, take them from the tree or when they’ve fallen a bit later in the season. Put the acorns in water and use only the ones that don’t float, since floating acorns are less viable.

Acorns being planted in a pot of soilSuggestions for what to do next differ. Most sources I’ve read suggest putting acorns in a refrigerator with moist paper towels or sawdust until they begin to sprout, then planting them. I’ve also read that it’s fine to put them directly in the soil, or temporarily into a pot until they’re planted in their final destination, preferably before they turn a year old.

Because I’ve got so many acorns to work with, even after the squirrels have scampered away with their share, I’ve decided to try out both, testing the direct planting method against the fridge-then-soil method. I’ve put about thirty acorns in the fridge and whipped up four pots of good soil with two acorns planted in each one. If I only get one or two oak saplings out of the venture, then hey, I’ve got one or two oak trees to grow. If I get “too many,” then I suppose I’ll have to give some baby oaks away for others to plant. Unless no oaks grow at all, this will be a happy experiment. I’ll let you know what happens.

3 thoughts on “The Acorn to Oak Test: Soil or Fridge?”

  1. Jim says:

    An update, one year later. The acorns I put in the fridge were overrun by a fungus. The acorns I planted in soil sprouted, but the little sprouts were bent and broken by excited young humans. That year-old sapling I transplanted, on the other hand, is doing just fine. And as I sit by my window, squirrels are running through the mature oaks, gathering some acorns for winter and knocking others to the ground in the process. Nature’s cycle takes another turn.

  2. J. Clifford says:

    Can I come by next spring and grab a few saplings from you? Oaks are the most ecologically rich native tree we’ve got – they sponsor huge numbers of organisms when mature.

  3. Shelly Knaub says:

    Without the little human hands do you think you would have had any luck with the soil planted acorns? I’ve planted 6 green acorns with their hats on in gardening planters. What is a good internet site to use? Sick of bogus searches and all the contradiction. From west NE. Thank you!

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