From tiny acorns... you can grow a mighty tree

Oak and beech appear to be having a mast year - producing a bumper crop - and collecting the seed and planting them this side of Christmas will ensure new saplings, says Olive Ryan
From tiny acorns... you can grow a mighty tree

Oak and beech appear to be having a mast year - producing a bumper crop of acorns and nuts

AS we move into November, it remains mild for now, but the ground is really saturated and it is difficult to get a window for working outside.

Even when it is dry, the water is draining through the soil and is not suitable for working as you can do a lot of damage to the structure of soil when it is this wet.

Compaction is one of the worst consequences of working wet soil and it can take a long time for the soil to recover, so do not be tempted to forge ahead regardless.

Seasonal jobs like weeding and planting bulbs need to wait until drier and colder weather. Having good access in the garden in the form of gravel or paved paths really comes into its own when we get wet spells of weather in autumn, as they allow access for wheelbarrows and foot traffic so that some clearing and composting can continue.

For now, we must confine our activities to work adjacent to hard landscaped paths and planning for next year’s growing and activities in the glasshouse and protected growing environments like the potting shed.

There is always plenty to do and our weather ensures that we remain adaptable!

It was a bumper year for fruit of all descriptions with apples and pears aplenty as well as soft fruit throughout the summer months. The prolonged dry spell had a lot to do with this surge in seed production, as plants came under threat from lack of water, and the response was to survive by producing the next generation in numbers.

The instinct for survival in nature is strong. Oak and beech appear to be having a mast year - producing a bumper crop - and collecting the seed and planting them this side of Christmas will ensure new saplings which can be planted out after one or two years of growing in a pot, to get them to a stage where they are not so vulnerable to pests once they are planted out into the ground.

 Last year’s oak seedlings grown in a pot
Last year’s oak seedlings grown in a pot

It has never been more important to plant trees, and the value that particularly an oak will provide is quite astounding.

It is believed that an oak tree has the ability to support 284 different insect species, 384 lichens and can live for up to 1,000 years (Native Irish Trees Guide, National Biodiversity Data Center). That is playing a big role in the food chain, and while not everybody has room for an oak tree, some people do and might consider planting one of these most noble of trees this autumn/winter.

From seed, oaks are one of the easiest trees to grow, and with the current mild weather, they are beginning to germinate on the ground under the parent trees all over the country.

The conditions needed for a seed to emerge are moisture, oxygen and the right temperature. Some seeds also germinate better given light and some seeds do better in darkness.

Acorns are currently receiving ample moisture, the temperatures are mild and oxygen is available. Naturally, they are starting to grow, with the radicle emerging first, going on to form the root before the plumule or eventual shoot appears from the top.

If they germinate very close to the parent plant, however, their fate will be sealed as it will be too shaded and the competition for water and nutrients from the parent plant will be too much for the seedling to make it in most cases.

But we can give a helping hand. Collect a number of acorns and before planting put them into a bucket of water, the non-viable acorns will float to the top, these may have become cracked, nibbled or damaged in some way and most likely will not germinate. Those that sink to the bottom have a better chance at success.

Acorns should be placed sideways in a reasonably deep pot, filled to within 10cm of the top with compost and covered to within 5cm of the top, to allow for watering, with compost.

 The autumnal hues of Quercus rubra are spectacular. See Plant of the Week
The autumnal hues of Quercus rubra are spectacular. See Plant of the Week

The acorns are a delicacy for mice so it’s best to raise them off of the ground to avoid consumption or protect the surface with some chicken manure wire and leave outside in the elements until leaves emerge - this may happen in a few weeks or next spring, depending on the weather.

A most satisfying endeavour this wet autumn, and a job that can be done in the potting shed without damaging the precious soil!

Happy Autumn Gardening!

Plant of the Week

Quercus rubra, which is native to southern Canada and north-east America, is a fast growing tree that gets to about 20 metres tall and wide when it is fully grown, developing a rounded crown.

This tree (right) is deciduous, producing amazing autumn colour with shades of yellow, red, orange and brown leaf colour, and is one of the typical maples that Canada is so famous for in the autumn. It has large lobed leaves and attractive grey bark.

It prefers a free-draining, lime-free soil, will tolerate some exposure, and will do best in full sun or partial shade.

With its considerable height and spread, this tree is not suitable for a small suburban garden and will require a large space to get to its potential height and spread.

It could be argued that perhaps this tree provides more ornamental value than wildlife value, as it is non-native, however it does support some pollinators with its catkins earlier in the year and nesting birds will avail of its potential also.

A worthy tree for the larger garden.

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