How To Turn Acorns Into Oak Trees

acorn from an oak tree

acorn from an oak tree

As daylight hours are reduced in the last days of December, gardening may be the last thing on your mind. But with the help of some Styrofoam cups and a little soil mix, you can start many plants indoors, or on a covered patio or balcony. By the time spring arrives, or even before, you will have many flourishing plants ready to be transplanted into larger containers or into your garden.
One of the best places for a winter nursery is the kitchen window sill. Whether in the yard or in the house, those plants we see most often will get the lion’s share of our horticultural attention. Plants situated on the window sill just above the kitchen sink will be noticed a dozen times a day or more; it will be difficult to deny them the minimal care they require.
Small cups (6-ounce size) are among the best containers for starting plants from seeds and cuttings, especially at this time of year. In winter, water is slow to evaporate from the soil; it’s minimally absorbed by roots and slowly transpired through leaf surfaces. In large containers, there is considerable risk of plants rotting from excess soil moisture, and baby plants are particularly at risk in this respect. Small plants are thus most comfortable in small pots.
A basic soil mix for growing seeds in small pots would consist of two parts top soil, one part peat moss, and one part sand. Each of these ingredients should be available by the bag at a well-stocked nursery or home-improvement center. To root cuttings from shrubs, ground covers, perennial herbs, succulents or indoor plants, utilize a mix consisting of one part sand and one part peat moss.
Seeds should be lightly pressed into the soil mix or just sprinkled over the top and lightly covered with no more than 1/8 inch of the mix. Where cuttings are concerned, three should be inserted in triangular fashion around the center of each pot. In this way, when the cuttings root out, they will form a substantial, compact, highly visible plant that is ready to assume its own identity in a larger container or in the garden. The terminal 4 to 6 inches of a plant’s shoots referred to as shoot-tip cuttings generally make the best cuttings for propagation.
Deciduous plants should not be overlooked as subjects for propagation. Cuttings from leafless fig and pomegranate trees, for example, will root in the spring if they are taken at this time of year. When winter-pruning rose bushes, take shoot-tip cuttings and root them either outside in your garden soil as long as it drains well or in small pots.
If you use Styrofoam cups as your propagation containers, punch a single hole with a pencil in the bottom of each cup for drainage. Check the soil daily for moisture. For seed germination, you will want the soil to be constantly moist but not soggy. Where the rooting of cuttings is concerned, the moisture level of the soil can be allowed to fluctuate a bit.
Your greatest initial concern for seeds is that they might dry out before they can germinate; after germination, your concern is that you might overwater, causing the just-emerged seedlings to die from a fungal disease. With cuttings, the order of your concerns is reversed. Initially, you want to make sure you do not water so much that the stem of the cutting rots before roots can form. Later on, you want to make sure that the newly rooted plant gets enough water to keep on growing.
This fall Nancy Buge’s fourth-grade students at Encino Elementary School successfully germinated acorns of Valley oak trees, which grow in a park adjacent to the school. Valley oak (Quercus lobata) acorns are distinguished by their capacity to germinate immediately after they fall from the tree. In fact, the smallest tip of a root can be visible at one end of a Valley oak acorn soon after it falls to the ground.
Acorns collected by the students were placed in soil-filled Styrofoam cups. Upon planting, only the root tips of the acorns were submerged in soil; the top half of each acorn was fully exposed to the air. In about 10 days, the first leaves of the seedlings emerged and today those seedlings are well on their way to becoming noble oak tree specimens. Congratulations to Buge and her fourth-graders.

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