Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Planting Acorns to Grow Oak Trees


I noticed we are having what looks to be a bumper crop of acorns here in central Pennsylvania. The red oaks are loaded and I even saw a white oak in my yard that appears to have a good acorn crop. I wanted to provide a few pointers about how to grow an oak from seed. It is easy and you can begin collecting acorns now, before the birds, squirrels, insects, and deer get them all. The number of acorns produced by both oak groups varies greatly from year to year. Scientists have been studying this for years but are unable to explain it.  But more than likely it has to do with the weather conditions, nutrient availability, and acorn-feeding insects.

There are lots of reasons to grow your own oak seedlings. Oak is one species that has a difficult time regenerating in the forest. Not only will deer and other wildlife species eat the acorns but deer also browse heavily on the twigs, leaves, and buds year round as it is one of the most preferred species. Once an acorn germinates in the forest it spends a lot of time and energy growing roots rather than stems. This means it may sit in the understory for years, maybe even decades growing roots. This gives oak a great advantage when the forest is disturbed by logging or fire. But, if there are no well-established oak seedlings, called advanced oak regeneration, present in the forest understory when a disturbance happens then species like black birch and red maple are quick to take over the site. These species will quickly outgrow and oak that is just starting from an acorn. Enrichment plantings are used to re-introduce oak in a forest that was recently logged or disturbed in another way, such as gypsy moth defoliation.

White Oak Leaf
It is important to be able to tell the difference between red and white oaks,
Red Oak Leaf
which are the two broad categories of oaks. They can easily be distinguished by examining the leaves. The lobes, which are the projections along the edge of the leaves, of white oak leaves are rounded without bristle-tips, while red oaks typically have bristle-tips on the lobes. Another important difference is that white oak acorns take just one year to develop on the tree and will germinate in the fall soon after hitting the ground. While red oak acorns take two years to develop on the tree and will not germinate until spring.

Guidelines for Successful Acorn Collection and Planting:
·         Time your acorn collection until the majority of acorns are falling. Ripening dates vary from year to year and from state to state by as much as three to four weeks, making it difficult to use actual dates to determine maturity. The acorn is perfect when green, plump, and the cap is easily removed.
·         Lawns, woods roads, field edges, or paved areas help in collecting acorns. Be sure to identify the species of tree and mark the bag or bucket so you know the species collected.
·         Collect two to three times as many acorns as the number of seedlings you want to plant.  This will allow you to remove bad ones and still ensure enough seedlings even with low germination rates.
·         Discard acorns that show any rot, mold, or small holes that may indicate insect damage.
·         It is critical that acorns are not allowed to dry out or heat up.  They can lose their ability to germinate very quickly.  Keep acorns shaded and spray with water to avoid moisture loss.  If not planting them right away place them in polyethylene plastic bags with damp peat moss or sawdust and put them in the refrigerator. Do not freeze acorns.
·         After collecting the acorns drop them into a bucket of water. If the acorn floats it is no good, as this is an indication that the embryo has not fully developed or is damaged and the seed is hollow. Soaking also provides moisture to any acorns that may have dried out some during collection.

Seed Dormancy and Stratification
Because of differences in seed dormancy between red and white oaks, the process of storage and sowing differs. White oaks germinate in the fall, and red oaks germinate in the spring.

Red Oak Acorns
Red oak, Treetopics.com
Red oak acorns must go through a process known as stratification before they will germinate in the spring. Stratification breaks down the heavy seed coat allowing the acorn to sprout. Red oak acorns need about 4-8 weeks of cold stratification. When storing, place moist acorns in plastic bags (4 to 10 mil thickness), which can either be sealed or partially left open, and put in a refrigerator. Do not place in airtight bags as that can kill acorns. Keep the acorns moist by adding peat moss or sawdust. Every 2 to 3 weeks visually examine acorns for fungus or mold growth and dry by opening the bag, which will also release any gas buildup. Because of the risk of seed predation it is not recommended to sow red oak acorns outdoors until spring, March or April.

White Oak Group Acorns
White oak, Ecoaddendum.org
White oak acorns have no seed dormancy. As a result, white oak acorns can be seen on the ground in the fall with the root protruding from the seed. They can be planted immediately or stored and planted in the spring. If sowing in the spring, they need to be stored by placing them in refrigeration at 34–40°F in moist sand. Do not store white oak acorns for more than 3 or 4 months.

Planting Acorns
Both white oak and red oak acorns can be planted outside in a seedbed, in containers/pots, or in the forest protected in tree shelters. An outdoor seedbed will produce large numbers of seedlings at once. Prepare the seedbed as you would a garden. Acorns can be planted at a density of 5 acorns per square foot and about an inch deep with the acorn on its side. Once emerged, remove the suppressed seedlings to allow more room for the other seedlings to grow and develop. Be sure to water and remove grass and other weed competition as needed. Seedlings should be left in beds until the following spring when they can be dug and planted when dormant as bare root seedlings. It may be necessary to place wire cages or fences over seedlings to protect them from deer browsing.

Acorns can also be planted in pots that are at least a foot deep (1 gallon size or deeper) to accommodate the tap root. Fill the container with a mixture of potting soil and top soil. Multiple acorns can be placed in each pot. Again, plant acorns an inch deep and oriented lengthwise. Once germination occurs weed out the smaller weaker seedlings leaving one tree in each pot. Place pots off ground in a sunny location and water as needed. By placing pots off the ground roots that emerge from drainage holes will be air pruned. Seedlings should be transplanted as soon as the first leaves open and become firm but before extensive root development occurs.  Be sure to protect from deer browsing with wire cages or fences.

Acorns can be planted directly in the forest but must be protected from small mammals and deer.  Plastic tree shelters or tubes are effective at protecting the acorn while allowing seedling growth. Lay acorn in its side an inch deep in the forest where you intend to plant it. Place a tree shelter over the acorn and gently tap it down until it sits approximately and inch or two in the soil. Stake the shelter in place. If deer browse pressure is not a concern then short tubes 16-18 inches are sufficient. However, if browsing is a concern a shelter 4-5 feet will be necessary to protect growing seedling.

Different species of oaks grow and different rates. Growth is dependent of a number of factors including soils, water, nutrient availability, and the amount of sunlight.  Once established it is not uncommon to see height growth of 1-2 feet per year or more. If growing oaks for wildlife and acorn production then planting them wide apart is preferred. A more open grown tree will begin to produce acorns at an earlier age. This can mean planting trees as much as 20-30 feet apart. For timber production plant trees closer together to force trees to self-prune lower limbs and grow straight and tall.

Reference:
Rousseau, R., A. B. Self, and D. Beliech. 2014. Growing Your Own Oak Seedlings, Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Penn State 2015 Private Forest Landowner Conference Announces Keynote Speakers


You may have already seen the announcement concerning the 2015 Forest Landowner Conference: The Future of Penn's Woods.  It will be held on March 20-21 at the Blair County Convention Center in Altoona, PA.  The Penn State Center for Private Forests and its partners just announced the keynote speakers for the event.  I have provided that information below.  This event will provide important information for landowners.  There will be pre-conference tours, a host of indoor presentations and sessions, numerous venders and agency folks displaying and providing information, along with plenty of time to connect with folks that can help guide your ownership objectives.  I hope you all plan to join us.

Dr. Jim Finley, Joseph E. Ibberson Chair in Forest Resources Management and Director of the Center for Private Forests at Penn State. Opening remarks, Friday, March 20th, 12:30pm

Jim’s research focuses on the human dimensions of natural resources. His studies include investigations into private forest owner attitudes and motivations, the effects of owner decisions on forest retention, forest sustainability, and peer-to-peer learning. He is also the Pennsylvania extension forester and in this capacity he focuses on outreach to private forest owners and stakeholders. Jim is the founding co-chair for Penn State’s Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and the Environment dual-title inter-college graduate degree program.

Chuck Fergus, Naturalist and Author, Closing remarks Saturday, March 21st, 3:15pm

Chuck Fergus has enjoyed writing about nature, wildlife, and the outdoors for his entire professional career. After growing up in State College, he graduated from Penn State’s Writing Option in 1973 and went to work for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. He wrote the popular column “Thornapples” in Pennsylvania Game News for 14 years, from 1978 through 1992, and has contributed to the “Crossings” column in that magazine since 2002. He has written for publications ranging from Highlights for Children to Audubon and the New York Times.

Chuck’s seventeen books include two collections of nature essays, The Wingless Crow and Thornapples: The Comings, Goings, and Outdoor Doings of a Naturalist, as well as the best-selling reference books Wildlife of Pennsylvania and the Northeast and Trees of Pennsylvania and the Northeast, both published by Stackpole Books. Chuck is now writing a series of mysteries set in back-country Pennsylvania during the iron-making era of the 1830s. Chuck works in wildlife communications for the Wildlife Management Institute. Since 2003, he has lived on a 120-acre farm in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, with his wife, the writer Nancy Marie Brown.
Chuck will speak on “Learning a New Land,” relating stories about moving from his and Nancy’s 30-acre property in Centre County to their new home in Vermont, and discussing how a love for a given place and its trees, wildlife, and weather grows and flourishes. After his talk, he will be autographing and selling copies of his books.

Dr. Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences and Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at The Pennsylvania State University. Banquet Keynote, Friday, March 20th, 7pm

Dr. Alley has traveled from Antarctica to Greenland to learn the history of Earth’s climate, and whether the great ice sheets will fall in the ocean and flood our coasts. With over 240 scientific publications, he has been asked to provide advice to the highest levels of government, and been recognized with numerous awards including election to the US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society. He hosted the recent PBS miniseries Earth: The Operators’ Manual, and has been compared to a cross between Woody Allen and Carl Sagan for his enthusiastic efforts to communicate the excitement and importance of the science to everyone.

To learn more about the conference, visit http://ecosystems.psu.edu/private-forest-conference/ or call 1-800-235-9473 (ask for Allyson Muth).

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Farm Bill Programs for Forestry and Conservation

2014 Farm Bill, University of Arkansas
Farm Bill programs are an important tool that forest landowners can take advantage of to secure funding assistance for numerous conservation practices.  When I worked as a Service Forester in the past it was uncommon for landowners to perform any kind of forest management practice such as tree planting, spraying competing plants, timber stand improvement, etc without being signed up in some sort of Farm Bill assistance program.  Karen Sykes from the US Forest Service, State and Private Forestry, wrote and excellent summary of the programs currently available.  I have also provided a link to the University of Arkansas site with the image to the left.  Hope this helps you better understand what programs are currently available.

2014 Farm Bill: Summary of Conservation, Forestry, and Energy Title Programs
by Karen Sykes, U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry

The Farm Bill establishes the policies and government support for U.S. agriculture, nutrition programs like food stamps, rural economic development programs, agricultural research, and much more. The bill is divided into sections, called “titles,” that cover specific program areas and generally last for about 5 years. The previous Farm Bill of 2008 had 15 titles that covered a range of forestry, food, and agricultural-related topics, including food stamps, rural development, trade, fruits, and vegetables.

As foresters, we are mainly interested in Title II–Conservation and Title VIII–Forestry, which have programs to assist nonindustrial private forest landowners. In this article, we’ll explain the major changes in the 2014 Farm Bill that pertain to forest landowners and State and Private Forestry programs. We’ll also touch on Title IX – Energy, especially regarding the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.

2014 Farm Bill Finally Passes
The 2014 Farm Bill (P.L. 113-79) was finally enacted and signed on February 7, 2014. Under the authority of the 2008 Farm Bill, there were about 23 conservation programs. The new Farm Bill streamlines these programs, and reduces and consolidates some of the conservation programs into 13 “new” programs. Many of the larger existing conservation programs—Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP)—were reauthorized, while smaller and similar programs got rolled into them, or “umbrella” programs were created to consolidate other programs.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA), Rural Development, and other agriculture agencies held “listening sessions” for several weeks this spring so that agriculture producers, forest landowners, and agency employees could become familiar with the changes.

Congress considered other forestry provisions that were not included in the final Farm Bill, but which could be debated later or enacted in other legislation. For example, protecting communities from wildfire and controlling invasive species are issues that were debated, but never made it to the final law. These and other issues could come up again in the future.

Title II: Conservation
To read the rest of the article click here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Forests and Bats: Why All the Fuss?

I saw this article written by our friends at the University of Minnesota Extension and thought I would share it with my readers.  It provides a great overview of the connection between bats and forests.  With the proposed listing of the northern long-eared bat as federally endangered this is timely information.

The Allegheny, New York, and New England units of the Society of American Foresters (SAF) provided comments to the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the proposed listing of the northern long-eared bat as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.  The organizations, as local units of SAF, represent over 2,300 professional foresters across the states of West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine.  To view and read the letter click here.

There is also a You-Tube video produced by Aitkin County Minnesota Land Department entitled "Bat-Friendly Forestry" that you may be interested in watching.  It provides some good insight into the kinds of things you can do when implementing a timber sale to protect bats and bat habitat.

The northern long-eared bat: why all the fuss?
By Jodie Provost, Minnesota DNR Private Land Habitat Coordinator

USFWS
You may have heard mention of the northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis) in the news lately. Last October, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to list it as an endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act due to a dramatic decline in its population.

Decline or loss of the northern long-eared bat is a concern. All native species have essential niches or jobs they fill in our ecosystems. For example, bats eat up to half their weight in insects each night. Recent studies estimate that bats deliver $6 billion in insect control services to agriculture, forest industries and the public each year!

Federal listing could potentially restrict summer forest management since removal of trees used as summer maternity roosts would be prohibited. Land development activities involving tree removal, such as development for transportation, utilities, mining, and parks, could also be restricted.

The recent population decline of northern long-eared bats is caused by an outbreak of white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease first observed in New York State in 2006 that has spread rapidly from eastern North America westward. The disease is expected to spread throughout the range of northern long-eared bats which includes much of eastern and north-central United States, and most of Canada. In Minnesota, long-eared bats occur in both summer and winter, have been found in many caves and mines, although typically in low numbers, and are currently designated as a species of special concern.

Biology
The northern long-eared bat is about three to four inches long with a nine to ten inch wing span. Its fur is medium to dark brown on the back and tawny to pale-brown on the underside. As its name suggests, it is distinguished by its long ears, relative to other bats in its genus, Myotis, which means mouse-eared. Winter is typically spent in cracks & crevices of caves and mines, called hibernacula, which have constant temperatures, high humidity and no air currents. In summer, the bats roost under bark and in crevices and cavities of live or dead trees. Males and non-reproductive females may also roost in cooler places, like caves and mines.

To read the rest of the article click here.