The mighty oak tree has been a symbol of strength for centuries. If you think about the process an unassuming acorn takes to become a proud, strong, towering oak tree, it’s pretty impressive! You may just want to be planting one for yourself.
Here’s how to grow an oak tree from an acorn:
- Gather your acorns
- Plant them about an inch deep in soil
- Keep the soil moist
- Keep the acorns protected
- Transfer seedling to a larger area
- Prepare and plant in a permanent spot
Most oak trees will live between 100-150 years.
Below are the simple steps to get your acorns growing into big oak trees. Continue reading to see detailed instructions!
Can I Even Grow An Oak Tree From An Acorn?
Believe it or not, you can grow a tree from an acorn. Getting acorns to grow into oak trees is not very difficult. Get ready, because we are going to explain how you can grow an oak tree from an acorn.
Have you seen the acorns that have little roots protruding from the shell or noticed a tiny oak seedling in your mulch bed or while on a hike? Ever wonder what it takes to grow a mighty oak tree from that tiny little acorn?
How To Grow An Oak Tree From An Acorn
Growing an oak tree from an acorn is a lot easier than you might think. If you have ever marveled at towering oak trees and wanted to grow your own, this step-by-step article will guide you on your way.
If you would rather grow your tree from a sapling, you can learn more about the process here: Oak Tree Sapling: How To Grow Plus Where To Buy.
1. Gather Acorns And Prepare Your Oak Tree
If you have oak trees on your property, gathering acorns will be as simple as going out and picking a handful from the ground underneath your oak tree. If you do not have any nearby, you should be able to find some in a neighboring park or while out hiking.
Make sure you gather your acorns in the area you will grow them. You want acorns from trees native to your area. It’s not wise to pick them up while on vacation in a far away area and bring them home, because they may not do well in a foreign environment.
Start looking for acorns in mid-autumn. Most times, you can find acorns on the ground all around the oak tree, but if the critters have been wiping them out before you can gather enough good ones, it’s okay to pick them directly from the tree.
Be sure if you pick them from the tree, they pull free from the caps with relative ease. If you have to struggle, or the cap comes with the acorn, then it is not mature enough to plant yet.
Do not wait too long to gather your oak acorns though because as autumn winds down and the days get closer to winter, you will compete with deer, squirrels, and other animals that eat acorns. Also, acorns dry out once they drop from the tree, so you will want the plump, fresh ones.
If you see acorns with tiny holes in them, avoid them because some insects like the acorn weevil drill into them and eat them, or lay eggs inside the acorn.
After you collect your acorns, check to see if they are viable by dropping them into a bucket of water. Scoop off and dispose of the floaters because they are no good, but the ones settled at the bottom are your viable acorns.
2. Store Your Acorns And Plan To Grow Your Oak Tree
You can store them for up to 4 months if kept properly, but you should plant them sooner rather than later. To store them, you need a moist, cool environment away from direct sunlight. If you cannot plant the acorns yet, the best place to keep them is in a container with a slightly damp potting mix, or a sealable storage bag in your refrigerator.
While you are storing the acorns, you will need to check on them every few days, because depending on the species, they could start sprouting in the bag. If this happens, you can plant them.
During storage, you will also need to remove the acorns and soak them about once a week so they do not get too dry.
3. Stratify Your Acorns
Stratification is the process of producing an artificial cold season. This means following the above instructions. If you have pin oak, red oak, or bur oak acorns, they will need the process of stratification to grow.
Place these acorns in a plastic container with damp soil, not dripping wet, and then place in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 days. You can also plant them outside and let winter take care of this process for you. Just protect them from hungry animals who make think you have put out a buffet for them. More on this later.
How Long Does it Take For An Acorn To Sprout?
Now that you are ready to plant the acorns, you want to know how long it will take to see results. It could take up to 4 to 6 weeks to see indications of your sprouting acorns.
4. Begin Growing Your Oak Tree In A Pot Or Soil
You can start your oak tree acorns off in pots or directly in the soil. First, we will start with pots as there are benefits to starting them in containers.
The pots will help protect the oak acorns from critters such as field mice or squirrels who love fresh acorns and other pests like caterpillars who can damage your oak tree. This also will keep the seedling from being accidentally mowed over if you plant them in your yard.
Start with a good quality potting mix or seed starting mix, and set in two oak acorns in a well-draining, pint-sized container in case one is a dud. Be sure to put the acorns on their sides, not up and down, and only set them about an inch deep in the soil.
Water the soil and do not let it dry out, but do not keep it drowning in water either. The roots need water, but they also need to breathe.
When the top of the soil looks dry, stick your finger in the soil at the edge of the pot about an inch down. If it is dry, then water the soil.
Move Your Planted Oak Tree Outside If Planted In A Pot
After a few weeks, you will see some seedlings coming up in your pots. If they are not getting any sun, move them to a sunny window or somewhere with plenty of sunlight. Once the threat of frost is over and spring has set in, place your pots outside so the plants can get acclimated to the outdoors.
Moving your oak seedlings outside when the threat of frost is over is beneficial because they get more sun than sitting on a windowsill, and the changes in night and day help to strengthen the plant.
Again, keep them protected from animals.
What About Planting Oak Acorns Directly Outdoors?
Plant the acorns on their sides about an inch under the soil, water them, and protect them from mice and squirrels by covering the newly planted acorns with chicken wire or hardware cloth.
Newly turned soil often attracts squirrels. Squirrels, deer, and mice will search for all sources of food during the fall months, and especially in the winter months when food becomes scarce.
To prevent squirrels and other animals from digging up and eating fall-planted acorns, cover your oak tree with chicken wire or hardware cloth fencing after planting. Promptly remove the fencing material in spring when the acorns germinate.
Be patient though, as you may not see anything growing until spring if you sow your acorns outside. During the first few months of being planted outside, oak acorns work on growing a deep taproot in the ground. Do not get discouraged, though.
If you follow all these steps, you should have plenty of oak seedlings in time. With proper steps and care, acorns germinate pretty readily.
In the spring, when you first see your acorns have germinated, remove the protective mesh or chicken wire. This will keep the metal from becoming entangled in the trunks and leaves of your newly growing oak seedlings.
5. Repot Your Oak Tree When It’s 6 Inches Tall
When your seedlings reach a height of about six inches, you will need to repot them so they can continue to grow without getting cramped.
You will need some two-quart pots and a good mixture of potting mix and garden soil. A half and half mix of both potting mix and garden soil is a suitable medium for repotting your new oak seedlings.
If the potting mix and garden soil mixture does not have any premixed fertilizer, add one teaspoon of slow-release fertilizer such as the Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food Plus Outdoor & Indoor fertilizer.
For about 3 years, keep your sapling protected while in the pot. Deer will still make a quick meal of the sapling so protect it with a tree mesh cover or screen. Also, make sure you water it when needed, and follow directions for the fertilizer you use.
One example of a protective mesh is this Voglund Nursery Mesh Tree Bark Protector. It comes in sizes ranging from 12 to 48 inches and includes zip ties for installation.
If roots start coming out of the 2-quart pot before the 3 year time is up, it’s time to plant the oak in its permanent home. Plant during a dormant phase of early spring or autumn.
6. Plant Your Oak Tree In A Permanent Area
Once you have picked the spot your tiny oak sapling will make its permanent home and grow into the big, mighty oak tree, dig a hole 3 times as big as the container.
If the soil is of poor quality or has drainage issues like heavy clay soil, add some organic matter, compost, and/or garden soil. Plant the sapling in the hole keeping the soil from the root ball at the same level as the ground, and water your tree well.
Once you tamp down the soil and water it well, mulch around the tree to help keep the water around the roots. Mulch around the tree about 2 feet wide and 2-3 inches deep, but leave a 2-inch perimeter around the trunk of the sapling. This prevents the trunk from rotting.
Now your little acorns have grown into saplings and are in their new permanent home, be sure to water them about once a week if you are not getting regular rainfall. Check the soil around the root ball of the tree. It should be damp but not soggy.
During the winter months, watering is unnecessary, as this is a dormant time, and nature will take care of the watering for you during that time.
After 2 years in its forever home, your oak tree will require less and less watering from you. Start scaling back how much you water the tree, and eventually, you will not have to water it at all. In two years, they will have become acclimated to the weather and will have an established, deep-reaching root system.
Knowing when and how to water any plant can be daunting. Here are some tips and tricks for oak trees specifically! 10 Simple Tips For Watering Your Oak Tree (How-To Guide)
How Far Away From my House Should I Plant my Oak Tree?
Oak trees can grow tall and wide, and their roots can cause foundation problems, so do not plant your oak tree sapling close to your house. A good general rule is to plant your oak tree at least 15-20 feet away from your house. This will give the tree plenty of room to stretch out, and prevent falling limbs or creeping roots from growing into your foundation.
Also, do not plant oak trees near driveways, sidewalks, or walkways. The roots can crack and raise asphalt, concrete, and pavers.
For more information on oak trees and other species capable of destruction with their roots, read 9 Trees That Can Damage Your Foundation (& How To Fix).
How Long Does It Take An Oak Tree To Grow Acorns?
Here are some interesting and fun facts about oak trees. Did you know there are over 600 different varieties of oak trees and they all produce acorns? Most oak trees take a while to mature and do not start producing acorns until they are 20 to 30 years old, while some take up to 50 years to produce acorns.
Oak trees are old. They can grow to be over 1000 years old.
Oak trees are beneficial for animals and humans. Not only are they a food source for squirrels, but deer, blue jays, and mice eat acorns as well. Some uses for oak wood include furniture, tools, flooring, and wine and whiskey barrels.
You can find more information on squirrels and their love for acorns in this article, 4 Reasons Why Squirrels Eat Acorns (& Their Favorite Type).
That’s A Wrap!
There you have it, how to grow your own oak tree from a simple acorn. With a little patience and a bit of work, you too can enjoy oak trees on your property.
Gather up your acorns, make sure they are viable, and most of all, keep them protected from the little critters out there. Protecting them from little nibblers will be the hardest part of growing oak trees.
If you’d like, check out our guide: How Long Does It Take to Grow an Oak Tree? Full Timeline
Yard and Garden: Handling, Germinating and Planting Acorns. (n.d.). News. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/yard-and-garden-handling-germinating-and-planting-acorns
Wittwer, R., Barden, C., & Anderson, S. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://forestry.ok.gov/sites/g/files/gmc801/f/documents/2020/growing_oak_trees_from_seed.pdf
Live Oaks From Seed | HortUpdate – Nov/Dec 2010 | Aggie Horticulture. (n.d.). Aggie-Horticulture.tamu.edu. Retrieved January 26, 2022, from https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/newsletters/hortupdate/2010/nov_dec/acorns.html
Woodall, C. W., Morin, R. S., Steinman, J. R., & Perry, C. H. (2008). Status of oak seedlings and saplings in the northern United States: implications for sustainability of oak forests. In In: Jacobs, Douglass F.; Michler, Charles H., eds. 2008. Proceedings, 16th Central Hardwood Forest Conference; 2008 April 8-9; West Lafayette, IN. Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-P-24. Newtown Square, PA: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station: 535-542. (Vol. 24).