Q. Dear Twig: Can I grow an oak tree from an acorn?
A. Oh, sure. And you can try very soon. Acorns ripen and fall in autumn. Squirrels know that and you will too if you spend time under an oak tree. And both main kinds of acorns — ones from oaks in the white oak group and ones from oaks in the red oak group — do well, maybe best, if you plant them then.
White-oak-group acorns "will start to germinate ("jur-muh-nayt"; sprout and start to grow) almost as soon as they hit the ground," says Ohio State University forestry specialist Kathy Smith. Get them into that ground right away and you'll keep them safe, moist and growing. (You can store them, too, until spring but it's trickier.)
Red-oak-group acorns need cold first. The cold keeps them dormant — still and inactive. They need that before they can sprout. Plant them in fall, they'll stay cold all winter, and then they'll sprout and grow in spring. Or store them in a safe, cold place — in your garage, say, or your refrigerator — then plant them come springtime.
The Web has lots of instructions on this. I found Mississippi State's "Growing Your Own Oak Seedlings" especially clear and helpful.
P.S. Oak trees make good shade trees, and they give good food — acorns, that is — to wildlife.
Oaks in the white-oak group include bur oak, white oak and swamp white oak. Oaks in the red-oak group include pin oak, scarlet oak and northern red oak.
Kathy Smith works for Ohio State University Extension and leads the Ohio Woodland Stewards Program (http://woodlandstewards.osu.edu/) as part of that. The program will give a class called "Forest Food for Wildlife: Enhancing Mast Production" on Oct. 16 in northeast Ohio (http://woodlandstewards.osu.edu/classes/index.php?article_id=77). (Scientists call the nuts, seeds and berries that trees produce "mast.")
Find Mississippi State's "Growing Your Own Oak Seedlings" at http://msucares.com/pubs/publications/p2421.pdf.
"Smart Stuff with Twig Walkingstick" is a weekly feature for children (ages 9+; 4th grade reading level) about science, nature, farming and the environment. Online at http://extension.osu.edu/~news/archive.php?series=science.
Brought to you by your scientific friends at The Ohio State University — specifically, at the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) (http://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu) and with Ohio State University Extension (http://extension.osu.edu). OARDC and OSU Extension are the research and outreach arms, respectively, of Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Written by Kurt Knebusch of OARDC and OSU Extension. For details, to ask Twig a question, and/or to receive the column free by mail or e-mail, contact Kurt at CommTech, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691; firstname.lastname@example.org; (330) 263-3776.