From Little Acorns Do Mighty Oaks and Future Conservationists Grow…

Forty (ahem) something years ago, my father and I used an old lemonade bottle to propagate an acorn I had sown. The acorn germinated and became a thriving sapling before being planted in our local woods. A fondly remembered childhood event, which greatly influenced my career choices and parenting approach.

How times change. From the scourge of single use plastics through to climate change, science and the multi media age have combined to make us better informed than ever about the damage done to the environment and our obligation to act.  

There are many ways we can all do our bit but for me there is still something magical about collecting acorns and growing them. The environmental benefits and need for more tree planting are well known, but this is also a brilliant way to get children interested and active in caring for the environment. Who knows, it may even inspire their future career choices too!

The ‘Right’ Acorns

There are many different species of oak and in the Tamar Valley there are many non native varieties courtesy of the parks and gardens. However, if you take the time to locate English Oak acorns, you will be growing one of our most important native trees. 

The tree you grow could shape the landscape for centuries to come and mature English oaks are described as eco systems in their own right. One mature specimen alone can support thousands of different flora and fauna species, more than any other type of tree!

Identifying English Oak (Quercus robur)

The tree leaves have the classic lobes many will instantly identify as oak but you really need to check the stalk. English Oak has very short, almost non existent, stalk to the leaves. Conversely, the acorn cups have long stalks to them which really helps to confirm the identification. 

In autumn and early winter, the acorns can be found scattered on the ground around the trees and they have a rich chocolate brown colour. If you’re lucky you might even find acorns starting to germinate, don’t be afraid to pick these up and plant them. After all, that way you know for certain you are starting with a viable seed! 

Propagation Preparation and Purpose

Keep a plastic bottle back from the recycling to make the propagator by cutting the bottom off and placing the top half over a planted acorn. If you have a large plastic bottle, simply drill a couple of drainage holes in the bottom plus some small holes in the lid. Feed the soil, acorns and some leaf mulch through the opening before replacing the lid. 

Using a propagator creates a favourable micro climate and stops the acorns being pinched by rodents should you be leaving the propagator in a greenhouse or outdoors.

A simple soil and compost mixture will suffice and putting well rotted, leaves on top will provide a mulch to retain moisture and check competing weed seeds. Keep the soil moist and watch the sapling always has space to grow.  

When the last winter frosts have passed and the sapling is starting to outgrow the propagator, plant on into a bigger pot and put the bottle in for recycling. When potting on for the summer months, line the planter/pot with cardboard to help retain moisture and prevent drying out. 

Planting Out

Hopefully by Christmas the following year, you will have a healthy oak sapling ready to plant out but its important to think and plan ahead. The tree will need plenty of space well away from any buildings and has a better chance of flourishing in a tree shelter (plastic tube) to protect it from damage and competing weeds. 

Why not approach local landowners or authorities and see if you could donate or plant it as part of their work? Trees make meaningful memorials and this could be a fitting gift or gesture of remembrance. 

If all else fails, you could always take the same ‘guerrilla gardening’ route my Dad and I did in those long ago days of the late 1970’s.

Just don’t get caught…!