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Tips on Collecting Oak Seeds
Look for seed on open-grown trees if possible (cemeteries, parks, gold courses, fairgrounds, picnic areas, and the like). For species in the white oak group, the acorns mature in one year and will appear on the current year’s growth. It is advisable to use binoculars to scout for potential seed trees about 2-3 weeks prior to collection. The red and black oak acorns will be masked by this year’s foliage and therefore, more difficult to observe. In our experience, the majority of seed will be noticed in the upper crown on the south side of the tree.
Birds (especially blue jays) and also squirrels, will often prey on nearly ripe acorns. It often can become a race between the seed collectors and the wildlife for seeds on a particular tree. Under these circumstances, the wildlife is always the winner. Therefore, it is important to have a scouted several trees in different locations to avoid disappointment.
White oak acorns will fall before red and black acorns. Bad seeds (unfilled, diseased, or gall/insect infested) will always fall before the good seed on a particular tree, so wait until most or all of the seed on the tree has fallen to the ground. White oak group acorns need to be collected promptly. Acorns of these species will germinate as soon as they hit the ground, and if the radical (root) is broken, the seed will be useless. You can pick up white oak acorns that have a cracked seed coat and/or and emerging radical as long as it is short (less than ¼ inch).
Do not collect acorns that still have their caps attached (bur and overcup oaks are the exception), or do not slip off easily. These acorns are either immature or diseased. Do not collect acorns that have “pin holes” in the seed coat because they are infested with insects.
Please be aware that we will only purchase seeds on a “good seed” basis, and not by weight or volume. We will take several 25 seed samples from each seedlot and determine the percent on sound seed based on a cut test of these 25 seed samples. In addition, we will calculate the total number of seeds in the seedlot and multiply by the percent good seed to determine the total number of good seed in the seedlot. Collectors will be paid on this basis. Since this testing procedure is time consuming, the collector will not always be paid on the day the seed is delivered. A check is normally issued to the collector approximately 2-3 days following delivery to the nursery.
It is very important to deliver white oak acorns to the nurseries as soon as possible because they germinate in the fall. They need to be sown in the nursery within a couple of days after collection.
White oak acorns normally begin to fall in northern Indiana around September 25th. We have collected white oak seeds in southern Indiana up until October 25th. Red and black oak acorns will generally fall after these dates in these areas. Please note that if the fall season is dry, the seed can be expected to fall up to 2 weeks earlier than normal.
Please be very sure of the species identification. Oak species in Indiana are numerous and there is a great tendency for these species to hybridize. If you are not absolutely certain of the species identification, please include a branch with leaves and a few acorn caps with the seedlot. These items will assist us in species identification.
Store all acorns in an open container prior to delivery to the nursery. Onion-type bags are perfect for this purpose. Do not use closed plastic bags (the seeds will suffocate). Try to keep the seeds in a cool place (such as a basement). It is of paramount importance to label each seed container (bag) with the species name, your name, date collected, and location of the seed tree (town, county).
On the following page is a listing of all oak species we will be growing this coming year. Each species is designated as either a white oak or red oak group species. Most (but not all) white oaks germinate in the fall. Please note the season of germination on the list. We are most concerned about prompt delivery of all fall germinating species to the nurseries. All red oak species germinate in the spring.
We hope that these tips will be helpful to you this fall.
The official website for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.