By Lea Sloan, Vice President of Communications
In April 2015, I posted about my experiment growing acorns in my office. Here is the update.
If you were offered a baby oak to adopt and plant in your yard, how would you respond? I quote from the email I sent to neighbors in fall 2015, when the baby oaks I had raised from acorns were ready to be taken out of their cribs and planted in the soil of their new permanent homes.
I have six baby oak trees that I grew from acorns that I am putting up for adoption, to try to restore some of the shade on our island. They were planted in pots in the spring, so are now about seven months old, about two feet tall. Now until early November is the perfect time to plant them in the spot where you want to one day have a big tree to shade your house or yard.
In order to be eligible to adopt a Sloan Oak, you must VOW to water the baby tree at least two to three times a week in the hot, dry months, for a minimum of its first two summers under your care. But I can help. For a mere $25, I can acquire a water bag for you to put around its base, which you can fill with a hose once a week. If you would like, I can come to your house, advise as to what would be a good spot to plant the tree, and help plant it.
Well, exactly one neighbor agreed to these apparently egregious adoption conditions. I think the watering commitment was just too much for everyone else. Since this couple lives next door, I can keep an eye on the willow oak I picked out for them (and additionally benefit from the fact that hopefully we will be watching this tree grow from the master bedroom of our house for decades. I am an optimist). I take it upon myself to water it when things have been dry, just in case they haven’t.
Watering is such an important aspect of care that most people don’t realize — or want to sign themselves up for — when they plant a young tree. Even a good-sized, 3- or 4-inch-caliper newly planted tree highly benefits for the rest of its life from being watered faithfully through the dry periods of its first couple summers — and during spring and fall too, during stubborn droughts.
Baby bur oak with its dogsitter, Circe.
But let me back up to planting. We kept two oaks for our yard that fall: a northern red oak and a bur oak. They are sun lovers, as is the willow oak, and the only eligible spot in our yard for them was down at the south end. I wanted to keep them as far as I could from the shade of 100-foot-tall loblolly pines, to allow winter’s low southern sun to reach them, but not so far into the yard that they would block our view.
I finally chose their spots, about 100 feet apart from each other — in consideration of the fact that one day they each could have a canopy close to that size in diameter. For winter protection, I surrounded and covered them with wire fences (and will do the same each year until they’re at least 8 to 10 feet tall) so the deer won’t have access to their sweet young branches. In spring, summer and fall, the deer usually have better things to eat — my vegetable garden, for example — and will likely leave them alone.
This past winter, I checked on them regularly, and there were no signs of life. Maybe I could characterize them as being hunkered down, but even in March? Granted, it was a fluky winter in Maryland and in a lot of other places, with unexpectedly warm spring-like days in January and February, followed by steep drops into unusually harsh chills. But oaks are not early risers. These teenagers could just be sleeping in, I told myself.
I also wondered if I had made a mistake by planting too close to the shadows of the loblollies. Should I move them — if they hadn’t already died?
But then, in mid-April, I strolled out to the end of the yard, and to my surprise and delight, they had not only sprouted leaves, but had also grown at least a foot. I took pictures, elated to discover that they LIVED!
So, in their spots they will remain, hopefully to grow big and strong and one day rival or surpass the loblollies. These oaks will clean the air, hold the soil, offer a magnificent setting for nests and viewpoints from perching places, provide shade in summer and produce a bounty of acorns for all their occupants and visitors in the fall — making the neighborhood a happier and more harmonious place for creatures great and small. As trees do.