Oaks from Acorns

Discussion in 'Habitat Forum' started by StrmChzr, Oct 18, 2015.

  1. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    Since this is a family forum, I renamed this thread... Here's my attempt to outline and describe my methods growing oaks from acorns. To preface, these are not my original ideas, they should be appropriately credited to Dr Carl Whitcomb, Dr Michael Dirr, and others that have validated this system using the scientific process. I will not be appropriately citing references to substantiate these methods, however, I can reply to direct questions or challenges to methods if anyone doesn't "buy what I'm selling"... I hope this prevents the thread from becoming a rambling essay of concepts and keeps the processes simple and reproducible.

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    Guys, the end result implementing the root pruned container system after the first growing season for most species of oaks is a +3' tall seedling that, more importantly, can be transplanted to your property without the usual stalled top growth that occurs post-transplant during year 2 (and sometimes year 3) when transplanting bareroots and traditional round "smoothie" containers who roots are circling. It's not as simple though as just using the right containers.....

    Pic taken July 1st of various oaks started in early spring from acorns.
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    Conversely, here's the lackluster midsummer results of acorns direct seeded onsite in April w/ no additional upkeep post-planting....
    [​IMG]


    But (briefly) I'd like to address why anyone would spend the time, money, and energies growing oak seedlings at home before transplanting onsite. You've got to be a little _____ _____ (see last sentence of my final post in this thread) to do this and it seems to require an individual who enjoys this tree growing process.... My primary reason is superior genetics that I've identified in the parent tree which i will then collect and propagate their acorns. My objectives when selecting a superior tree are: abundant mast producers, delayed mast drop times, fast vegetative growth, and trees which begin producing acorns at young age.

    In my "perfect world" of timber duck hunting, my properties will have thousands of phenotypically superior young oaks of various species thriving in an appropriate flood schedule environment. I subscribe wholeheartedly to selecting acorns with local provenance (google what this means).... My strategic goal are multiple species of oaks beginning to drop buckets of acorns within a decade of starting from them from seed.
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2015
  2. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    So now that we've got our "hands on our nuts", I float test them so I don't waste space on losers that float. The sinkers get 10 minute dunk in 5% bleach solution before being placed in gallon freezer Baggie and stored in garage fridge. Cold storage is required to stratify red oak family acorns and helps delay radicle emergence in white oak fam. The first is critical and the latter is more for convenience when handling acorns prior to germination.

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    Beginning after the New Year, I'll begin pulling a couple bags of acorns out of cold storage every couple weeks to initiate germination. Acorn germination occurs when the seed radicle emerges from the tip of acorn which requires a warm moist environment. Simplest way of doing this is to place a sopping wet paper towel at the bottom of Tupperware container and lay acorns side by side to create 1 layer of acorns. Place another sopping wet paper towel on top of the acorns so that bottom layer is covered and repeat process until all acorns are "sandwiched" between paper towels. Create an air tight environment by snapping the Tupperware lid on and place container a few inches above a heat vent/register in your home.

    These are germinating Kentucky CoffeeTree seeds I started last spring after picking pods during turkey season.
    [​IMG]

    Once radicle emerges from acorn, you are ready to plant that acorn in starter root pruning container. Take care to not disturb the other acorns that haven't germinated in Tupperware as once a radicle orients itself up/down, that's can't be changed... Sounds ridiculous, but if you flip an acorn that's beginning to germinate, the radicle will corkscrew and this in turn will become the shape of taproot. I'll skip why this will come back and bite you in the butt later in trees life but suffice to say it's not going to help your tree grow big and strong....

    These Swamp Chestnut acorns from State Champ tree had begun germinating while in cold storage. All 3 are acceptable (ie no corkscrew or U turn radicles) but note they all have established downward direction of radicle and beginning to show signs of top growth (ie green portion where radicle emerges from acorn). It's imperative to plant them properly oriented in container (green up and white roots going down)...[​IMG]
     
  3. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    So why not buy gross of white styrofoam coffee cups and poke hole in bottom then fill with potting mix to use as starter containers?

    Answer: Within a few days, the acorns radicle will extend a few inches to the bottom of cup and begin to circle as it tries to "find it's way through".....

    Nature selected the taproot as means of ensuring oaks survival but we can dramatically affect the root structure and tree growth characteristics by not allowing all acorns energy be focused on taproot. The taproot ensures survival in nature but hinders nutrient and even h20 uptake in containers. We don't want one long taproot to maximize seedling potential, we want to create a fibrous root structure w/ dozens of secondary fine white roots created which will be capable of maximizing nutrient and H20 uptake.

    I'm not even skimming the surface of the importance of root pruned seedling, so here's some links to provide more details about this critical procedure:
    http://www.rootmaker.com/rootmaker-system
    http://www.rootmaker.com/steps-1-4-process
     
  4. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    I use a product called Pioneer Pots (PPs) to air root Prune my seedlings the first 90-120 days after germination/planting. PPs are 2.5" wide and 6.5 deep containers that air prune roots trying to grow down and out of container. One tray holds 32 PPs and helps keep PP containers upright and organized so I can place them in SW facing spare room at my house beginning in Feb/March. [​IMG]
    Here's a little spring break vacation I gave seedlings from spare room in early March during a few days warm spell...
    [​IMG]See the white fine root hairs emerging from side and bottom of PPs. May not look beautiful to you, but from tree perspective, that's a great pair of legs! Those white root hairs will enhance top growth tremendously versus just a taproot and are going to result in dramatic growth potential being realized in the first 60 days of seedlings life. [​IMG][​IMG]Stay tuned, ain't over yet....
     
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2015
  5. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    I'm partial to PP's b/c that's what I've used past few years..... Despite the fact that I've done more marketing for PPs than they recognize (google PPs and see what top 5 hits get ya), they don't comp me anything, so might try other good root pruning containers available such as Rootmaker Express 18's, TreePots, Plant Bands, etc.... It truly doesn't matter which brand you use as long as your seedlings are having bottom and lateral (side) roots pruned. Here's link to company that ships every root prune tree container to your door... Always check shipping charges -typically shipping is 40% of overall cost which sucks bad.......

    https://www.stuewe.com

    So you've ordered fancy smancy air prune root containers to give your golden acorns best chance starting out in life, now what do you put in container? Dirt, potting soil, hydroponic dope growing rocks???? Don't skimp on your potting medium or you'll have the best looking roots on a 6" seedling at end of summer instead of 3' seedling....

    Miracle Grow (MG) is unacceptable!!! MG has too much super fine peat moss (PM) that'll cause dampening off issues the first 60 days. Look for specific tree potting mix such as Pro-Mix, Fafards, or Metro-Mix 852 at your local nurseries or nursery wholesalers.

    I actually make my own potting mix using a modified version of an internet recipe by a container plant genius who goes by Tapla... Tapla 5:1:1 potting mix consists of 5 parts pine bark fines (1/16"-1/8" size is optimal), 1 part peat moss (I substitute fully aged compost for PM b/c of environmental issues w/ PM and cost), 1 part perlite improves drainage and aeration.

    Tapla's 5:1:1 mix instructions w/ Q&A:
    http://forums2.gardenweb.com/discussions/1378483/taplas-5-1-1-container-mix-in-more-detail

    I also add two more critical components to my potting mix:
    1.) Controlled Release Fertilizer (CRF): I use Osmocote Plus 18-6-9 which contains micronutrients as well. I add something like 9 lbs of Osmocote Plus per cu ton of potting mix. This can get a bit expensive so buy in bulk when possible and don't screw yourself by skipping this step! CRF are almost idiot proof in that it's almost impossible to kill plants w/ CRF overdose and it's almost assured that you will burn/kill if using traditional chemical fertilizer...
    2.) Dolomitic Lime (DL) to sweeten the pH a point or two more towards neutral... Remember Pine Bark and PM are fairly acidic so I add cup of DL for each cu ft of potting mix I make..... However, if there's one thing I'm willing to skimp on it would be this. I'm not sure research is conclusive that slightly acidic soil needs amending.. I do add DL b/c my property soils are more neutral to slightly alkaline, so I'm trying to match potting mix pH as closely as I can to my sites pH - maybe just b/c it makes intuitive sense to me and nothing else.

    So there you have it, the almost perfect growing environment for oak seedlings to grow like weeds! What I've described so far should get you 12"-18" tall oak seedlings in about 90 days if started in late winter (Feb-March) when light is weak...

    As they say, the proof is in the puddin'..... Two "biggins" that have outgrown the PPs by July 1st.
    [​IMG]
    Pair of White oaks (Q. Alba I believe) at day 75 in PPs. Dr Whitcomb recommends upshifting (transplant) to larger container sooner as opposed to later. My experiences confirm his recommendation.
    [​IMG]
    Pic sucks but you get point... those roots are going gonzo from being air pruned! This creates a superior root structure capable of maximizing nutrient uptake which directly affects top growth. Humid conditions in May allowed roots to grow outside PPs briefly but once temps increased, these roots growing outside PPs dried up which forced seedling roots to branch out from root tips and created a more fibrous root structure ready to really blow the top growth up once upshifted to larger container w/ additional nutrients combined w/ long intense sunlight we experience from June to September in Midwest. [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2015
  6. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    The 2 thriving (>18" tall) oak seedlings at top of previous post were doing very well July 1st last summer...

    And within 2 days, they were goners b/c I delayed watering by 12 hours.... Moral of story, upshift to larger containers sooner than later not just to maintain growth momentum, but to prevent disaster from striking specific to seedlings H20 uptake in heat of summer. I tried upshifting this pair still from PPs to larger crappy smoothie container immediately, however, neither tree made it...
    [​IMG]

    Compare root structure of 120 day seedling (left), 90 day (middle), and 75 day seedling (right).... Now here's the shocker, all three have almost identical top growth! Translation: Upshift oak seedlings on or before 75 day in PP to maintain growth momentum the second half of summer.
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    Here's the top growth of same 3 seedlings from pic above..... Notice growing season was over as evidence by changing colors and all 3 are about equal in size (lackluster 12"-16")! Also, despite more developed root structure on seedlings started earlier, the top growth doesn't reflect different seedling start times (age) throughout the summer...
    [​IMG]

    Same scenario where entire tray of oak seedlings are maxed out top growth by July 1st in PPs and literally do not have another flush of leaves during the 2nd half of summer (next 75 days)[​IMG]
    Inevitably this is what happens to seedlings left in PPs past 90 day mark during the dog days of July and August. The top growth becomes so demanding on water uptake that a skipped day watering can be catastrophic to seedling...unfortunately this pic was from this summer when we went on vaca and my water buddy dropped ball first couple days.. Torched maybe 15-20% of seedling that I hadn't upshifted yet from PP.
    [​IMG]
     
  7. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    I began upshifting seedlings started in PPs around the 75 day mark to a different type of root pruning container called a fabric grow bag. Specifically, these are 3 gallon Root Pouches (RPs) that are the 12 mo longevity version I upshifted from PPs the beginning of May. Pic was taken last week of July. You can see most of the seedlings are considerably larger before August than they were in previous post pic of PP tray that was taken end of last summer.

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    I tried 3 gallon RPs (12 mo version) and 5 gallon RPs (36 mo version) this summer and really liked the 5 gallon RPs durability (and handles), not so much for the 3 gallon version that I experienced some fabric tearing when rough handling fabric bags moving them around.

    Here a close up of the 5 gallon (36 month longevity) RPs w/ handles so you can see difference between fabric bags. I used the 5 gallon (36 month longevity) RPs. They have worked great so far, are most inexpensive option available, and also provide root pruning features to enhance root structure by entrapping root tips which prunes them similar to air pruning pots.
    [​IMG]


    I use the same "formula" potting mix as described previously with one exception. Potting mix stays same, however, 30 days after transplanting from PPs to RP's, I top dress the RPs with 1 cup of milorganite. Milorganite is, well, Milwaukee's human waste (ie poo) thats been digested by microbes at that city's waste water plant. Milorganite is organic fertilizer containing 5-2-0 NPK while also adding Organic Matter to potting mix structure. No I wouldn't put it on my garden plants that I consume, but if you want perfect lawn fertilizer or safe tree fertilizer, it's my "GO to" product to safely get another mid-late summer flush of leaves before I let seedlings begin hardening up for winter.

    Here's few hundred oak seedlings in RPs that started 2015 as acorns. 55 gallon drum in middle of tree pile is 36" tall for reference.
    [​IMG]

    Doubtful anybody's still reading thread at this point, but to sum everything up and to restate the original thread title, growing oaks from acorns is NUCKIN' FUTZ!
     
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2015
    smashdn and da fowl slayer like this.
  8. da fowl slayer

    da fowl slayer Elite Refuge Member

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    Or
    Deez nuts!!!!


    Dude that some serious thought
    And sweet info to

    I am pretty inpatient and it's worse than watching paint dry for me

    I have a project that is 13 yrs old and this yr we found some very small acorns

    I was exhausted waiting to see some
     
  9. Clayton

    Clayton Moderator Moderator

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    Just now getting the time to skim through this post. Excellent job! We need to get this made a STICKY. I will be collecting acorns soon. At least with willow oaks I have found that the acorns that drop off early are almost always floaters. In fact I have gotten where if collecting in Oct. I only collect ones still attached to the tree.
     
  10. StrmChzr

    StrmChzr Senior Refuge Member

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    LOL - patience isn't my virtue either but something about trees does it for me... Enjoy the challenge of speeding up the tree growth process even if that's relative to an organism that lives for centuries...

    Kick in the pants is oaks really don't hit their prime for acorn production until their 50th b-day so if you got the money honey buy land w/ trees in their prime... I guess the consolation prize for what I'm trying to do are studies that show 1/3 of
     

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