Growing cork oaks from seed

In 2013 I was given three cork oak (Quercus suber) acorns to try growing.

The first cork oak seedling after one year's growth
The first cork oak seedling after one year’s growth

At the time, I was in the middle of bulb planting and I popped the three acorns into individual 9cm pots without much thought. That was at the start of December.

I was amazed when about a month later the compost in the pots started to heave, indicating that things were stirring underneath. I was more amazed when I went out one morning and found a hole where one of the acorns had disappeared completely from the pot. I don’t know who stole it – possibly a magpie. My lesson learnt, I covered the two remaining pots with pea netting to stop further thefts.

I then started reading about how to grow cork oaks from acorns: obviously, I should have done the reading first:) I learnt that I should have simply laid the acorn on the soil/compost and sprinkled a little more over the top – replicating what would have happened naturally. I hadn’t done that: I’d dibbed a hole and pushed the acorns quite deep (I blame it on the bulb planting frame of mind). And I should have used tall pots to allow long tap roots to grow.

So, I decided to tip out my two acorns and replant them with more soil beneath – for their long tap root – and less above – to let them reach the light quickly and easily. In so doing, I damaged the roots of one of the seedlings and it never recovered. Happily, despite all my maltreatment, the other one grew and grew. When it was about four inches tall, I planted it into the garden. Now, at just over a year old, it is just under a foot tall.

Last December, I decided to try again and to do things more correctly this time. I laid four acorns in tall pots (the kind usually used for raspberry canes and the like) containing a mixture of coir, multipurpose compost and garden soil, and I sprinkled a little more of the mixture over the top.

Cork oak shoots - this is about four months after planting
Cork oak shoots – this is about four months after planting

Initially I kept these pots out of doors, but with a propagator lid over them to prevent thieving birds and also to stop them getting too wet in our long damp winter.  Once the acorns started “moving” (germinating) I covered the pots with pea netting and got rid of the lid.

So far, two of the acorns have germinated properly and have sturdy young growth. Another one started to germinate, but I think it might have failed as it is a while since anything happened. The other seems to still be progressing, but very slowly: there are signs of root growth, but no shoot yet.

Clearly I can’t really draw any conclusions from such a little experiment, but it would seem that cork oaks are pretty easy to grow from acorns. The main things to watch out for are: thieving birds and rodents; to make sure that the pot you choose has sufficient space to let the acorn “move”; and to choose deep pots to let the tap roots grow. It’s also important that the acorns you use are fresh – plump and shiney, not crinkled and dull.

Cork oaks are relatively hardy, they can survive temperatures down to around -10C (depending on whose description you read – it may be a bit lower or higher than this) and they make beautiful trees as they mature.

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4 thoughts on “Growing cork oaks from seed”

  1. Nice work with the cork oaks. Oaks are great trees.

    I had some black walnut seeds and planted these in the garden in 1998. Probably not a good idea from the start. So in 2000 I decided to transplant them. I knew walnuts made long taproots. First I dug a hole with a post hole digger for each small tree’s new spot. Then I did the same along the walnut seedlings being careful not to hit the taproot. The taproots on these 6 to 12 inch tall seedlings were deep! I had to dig a trench and stand in it to get down deep enough where the taproot ended. What huge project it all turned into. But all the trees were successfully transplanted, they are over 12 feet tall and last year one of them made a few nuts.

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