Oaks, and Fall, and Propagation: Oh My!

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  {This bygl-alert is from Paul Snyder, horticulturist at OSU’s Secrest Arboretum at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, with a small assist from Jim Chatfield.}

  Note: The image above is of Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) acorns.  Members of the white oak group, like chestnut oak, should be planted immediately after collecting. The radicle (the first part of the plant embryo to emerge from the seed) comes out in the fall.

  Fall is here and that means trees are releasing their fruits produced over the summer. For squirrels and other wildlife, this is a busy time. It is also a busy time for us here at Secrest too. Our staff and volunteers have been out collecting and cleaning various tree fruits to sow in the spring.

  Each year we receive questions on how to grow oaks, or buckeyes, or other trees from seed. Usually when someone plants an acorn or a buckeye it doesn't grow simply because it didn't receive the right conditions needed to germinate. As a general rule, all woody plant seeds produced in the fall require or benefit from a cold period, called stratification. 

  One of the easiest ways to stratify something is to mimic nature. Collect seeds, clean them if needed, then sow in containers outdoors (cover them if you don't want the chipmunks to find them). Allow the seeds to cycle naturally over the winter. Or, you can place the seed in a ziplock bag with moist (not wet, this is critical) peat moss (1:1 ratio of seed to peat moss by volume.). Place the bag in the refrigerator for a minimum of three months before sowing in a container or outdoors. 

  3 helpful tips for success. 

  1. Never allow the seeds to dry out. As soon as they are collected and cleaned they should be sown or planted outside. 
  2. Members of the white oak group must be planted immediately because the taproot emerges in the fall. Allow these seed to cycle outdoors. Species include white oak, bur oak, swamp white oak, and chestnut oak. 
  3. Use a calendar to remind you to plant seeds placed in a refrigerator. 


  Note: The image below is of Red Oak acorns (Quercus rubra), a member of the red or black oak group, ready for stratification.


preparation for red oak acorn layering


Let us know what you've tried to grow and if you had success. We'd love to hear from you! Check out the secrest.osu.edu website and…

Joe Cochran: Cochran.58@osu.edu

Paul Snyder: snyder.1062@osu.edu

Matt Shultzman: shultzman.2@osu.edu





Our final images are of acorns that blew down along with mighty oaks during the Wooster Tornado of September 16, 2010.  Secrest Arboretum lost over 1500 large trees in that storm, but many more trees are now growing there, including many oaks. Parvis e glandibus quercus. Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.


acorns fallen from 130 mile tornadic winds


Mighty oaks from little acorns grow