How to Grow a Garry Oak

Once upon a time two little girls collected some acorns and put them away in their sock drawer. The later result was quite a mess.

So, rule number one for oak seeds: Plant them!

When acorns ripen and fall between late August and November, collect a bunch. Drop them in a bucket of water and then throw out the floaters, which have likely been nibbled on by insects and are no longer viable. Put the rest in the ground one by one, either buried shallowly in the soil or just hidden under a good layer of leaf mulch – preferably in discreet locations to protect them from hungry foragers.

Starting the acorns in containers covered with hardware cloth protects them from rodents and other predators and keep the germination rate high (squirrels aside, about 75 per cent of those you plant will grow). Keep in mind that the seeds may germinate prematurely in warm, moist conditions. Whether planting acorns directly in the garden or in containers first, a sunny spot is a must – lots of light is one of the few things oaks really require. For all their virtues, Garry oaks don’t like shade or competition.

For gardeners who want to replace Garry oaks lost to development, or plant them simply for the sake of their year-round beauty and habitat, the trees are surprisingly easy to grow. They thrive in a range of conditions – from wet to dry, from good soil to poor – and acorns will sprout the first spring if they stay moist over the winter and there is enough rain to wash away the growth-inhibiting chemicals that cover the outer shell.

Claudia Copley of the Habitat Acquisition Trust says she’s found that Garry oaks often grow very slowly for the first four years and then startle her by shooting up quickly.

Each year, the stems may die back and resprout from a root collar below ground until eventually one of the stems becomes dominant and outgrows the rest. Mature Garry oaks may reach a height and diameter of about 10 m (30 ft.) and can live for several hundred years.

Some natural companions to plant once the oaks are about a metre tall are oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) or Indian-plum (Oemleria cerasiformis), Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) often forms a nice hedge around the trunk of oaks. Camas (Camassia quamash), sea blush (Plectritis congesta) and shooting stars (Dodecatheon pulchellum) make a lovely springtime show.