Oaks are notoriously difficult to transplant. Look at the length of this oak's tap-root, before it's sent any growth upward! Growing them in the ground and then moving them inevitably results in a broken tap-root, which seriously damages the seedling's chances to grow well in its new location. This is our experimental way to start a white oak seedling so that it won't need to be dug up and will have a tap-root ready to go for Spring transplant.
Step 1: Materials
- Thick-walled cardboard tube--mailing tubes can be okay, carpet rolls are even better
- Duct-tape--good quality so it will form a waterproof seal
- Plastic bag--I use the bag from English muffins, just the right diameter and fairly long
- Perlite or vermiculite aeration material
- DIRT (not shown)--this should be somewhat similar in chemistry to the soil beneath oak trees in your area. Don't dig up your wild oak's dirt for this seedling, but you may want to find a healthy tree and transplant a handful of that dirt, to inoculate your seedling with positive soil-fungi specific to oaks.
Step 2: Seal One End of Cardboard Tube
Use the duct-tape to seal the end of the cardboard tube. I prefer to run a piece of tape in a single layer around the rim of the tube; then create X-patterns with strips of tape over the hole. This becomes the bottom of your planter, holding in dirt and retaining water.
Next, take a push-pin or tack and poke a few very small holes in the bottom of the tube, allowing water to drain--but not large enough for particles to escape.
Step 3: Fill Tube With Perlite/vermiculite, Then With Soil
Place two to four inches of Perlite or vermiculite in the bottom of the tube to provide a fluid reservoir. These are natural materials that can be buried outdoors without adding anything harmful to the soil. Do NOT use aeration beads or any other artificial or plastic aeration materials.
See next step--water as you go.
Again, use soil similar to the soil that oaks grow in in your area. This tends to be rich soil with a lot of organic material. To provide fungus that help seedlings grow faster and healthier, add a small handful of soil from beneath a robustly healthy oak tree of a similar species.
Step 4: Water
Water the dirt in the tube. I should have done this as I added the dirt--one third of the dirt, then water, then another third dirt, then water, then dirt to just a bit below the top of the tube, and water the last third. Instead I think I've probably created dry pockets by watering the whole tube from the top. (After the soil is all moistened, it will wick water downward more readily--I was using a dry soil-mix which wanted to float instead of absorb.)
Step 5: Bag Bottom of Tube
Place the tube in the plastic bag. This is just to keep the tube from leaking water--it may not need this step if you're raising your oak in a greenhouse.
Step 6: Plant Acorn
Plant your acorn so that it's laying on its side, just beneath the soil surface.
Step 7: Grow!
Oak seedlings that are growing in an artificial environment need a lot of light to make up for the lack of connections to other, larger trees. Use grow-lights if oaks are growing indoors--even if oaks receive sunlight through windows. You'll know that they're not getting enough light if they grow tall and thin, rather than forming a good set of leaves and adding height more slowly. Keep soil damp, never soggy.