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Don Kinzler, Published September 20 2013

Fielding questions: Test acorns before planting them this fall

Q. In a recent article, you mentioned planting acorns. What is the right time and method to plant the ones produced on one of our trees?

– Gary Hoffman, Ashley N.D.

A. We are enjoying a beautiful tall oak tree that our daughter Sara planted from an acorn 20 years ago this fall. Collect the acorns now and place in a jar of water to test for good seeds, which will immediately sink, while bad seeds will float for a few minutes.

Choose a location in full sun and remove a circle of sod at least 2 feet in diameter. Acorns are best planted in the desired final location because their taproot makes transplanting difficult. Plant about six acorns 1 to 2 inches deep and 4 inches apart. Water the soil well after planting and until soil freezes.

Next spring when the oak seedlings emerge, cut out the extra seedlings, leaving the strongest one in place. This fall after planting, place a circle of wire mesh around the area to keep squirrels from digging up the acorns. The circular wire fence will also help keep rabbits from nibbling the emerging oak seedlings next spring.

Q. We planted a mock orange in May, but it is too deep and doesn’t drain right. It is about 3 feet tall. We should raise it up about 6 inches. Can we do this yet this fall or wait until spring? What is the best way to move it up?

– Merlin Kirschenman, Moorhead

A. Mock oranges are hardy shrubs of the Philadelphus genus. Their white flowers are similar to orange blossoms, hence the common name. Some varieties grow to about 3 feet, while others become large shrubs similar to small trees 8 feet high.

Your mock orange can be carefully dug and raised yet this fall, or early next spring before growth begins. Because it was just planted this spring, many of the roots will still be in the original soil ball, although new roots will have started growing outward.

Carefully dig up the root ball keeping as much soil intact as possible. Add soil underneath and replant immediately. Don’t give the roots a chance to even think about drying out in the open air. Even if the soil is moist, water immediately to bring soil back in contact with the roots and eliminate air pockets in the planting hole. The tops can also be pruned back by about half to compensate for root disturbance.

Q. I’m one of the guilty who unintentionally left tree wrap tubes on my young ash trees too long. I have removed them since reading your article on murdered trees (July 13). Is there something I should do before the upcoming winter to protect the trunks now that a bit of the bark is missing?

– Margie Rinas, Fargo

A. We used to think tree wrap tubes would expand as the trunk grew without causing problems, but time proved otherwise.

Tree bark and trunk cracks can heal, similar to the healing that occurs when human skin receives an injury. There isn’t much to be done other than giving the tree good care, which in fall means soaking the root area every week or two – less if it rains. The soil shouldn’t be kept constantly soggy.

Pruning paints have been controversial and generally not recommended. If the bark is torn or peeling, shave off any hanging bark to make a neater wound, which will heal better.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler at ForumGrowingTogether@hotmail.com. Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city, and state for appropriate advice.