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Local School Adopts Baby Oaks

I live next to a very tall Valley Oak that drops a lot of acorns in my yard. If those acorns sprout I usually pluck them, but one spring when I found a bunch of tiny oak trees happily growing in my outdoor pots, I couldn’t bring myself to yank out the seedlings and toss them in the yard waste bin.

And I was especially inspired to find a home for those trees at the time because I had just read a book called “The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees,” in which Douglas W. Tallamy urges those who can to plant oaks in their yards because they “support more forms of life and more fascinating interactions than any other tree genus in North America.”

So I asked my fellow tree lovers for ideas on who might be willing to adopt my oaks, and one pointed me to the staff at a local school program who happily agreed to plant them.

That was cool.

When I visited my seedlings at the Redwood Valley Outdoor Education Project in May of 2021 before they were planted, Erich Sommer showed me the spots he carefully picked out for the trees.

“We were trying to think about where they could get some full sun, but still get some protection as well,” he said while standing next to one of the holes he dug for the sprouted acorns, which he guessed had not planted themselves, but were actually put in the pots by my resident Scrub Jay.

I was disappointed that we couldn’t plant the trees while I was there, so Sommer said he could take pictures of them once they were put into the ground, “or you could come back and visit your babies.” (I loved that he called them my babies, because while I felt that way about them, I wasn’t going to be the first to say it!)

After some of the trees were planted, Maureen Taylor, education coordinator for RVOEP, sent me pictures as promised. She said I delivered far more seedlings than she had expected, but she enjoyed gently separating their roots in preparation for planting, though only a few were put into the ground before the weather got too hot.

“I’m taking the rest home to baby on my porch until after we get some rain,” she said, adding that the program’s staff was inspired to begin planting oaks after a crew from Cal Fire helped them clear tree limbs and other wildfire fuels from the property. “Then we looked at all the empty land and thought about what we wanted to put back.”

Knowing how much of the local wildlife depends on oaks — caterpillars who eat the leaves, the birds who eat the caterpillars, plus the deer, squirrels and, of course, acorn woodpeckers who depend on acorns for food — Taylor said they began an Oak Restoration Project, and happily folded my trees into the mix.

Amy Wolitzer, an outdoor educator who works with Sommer at the RVOEP, said the Valley Oaks were particularly welcome because the school site mostly has Blue Oaks, and “we’d like as much diversity of trees as possible to attract as much diversity of wildlife as possible,” explaining that Acorn woodpeckers want to see at least two varieties of oaks growing in an area before they move in.

“That’s so if one variety has a bad crop one year, there’s a good chance the other variety will have a good one,” said Wolitzer, who had invited me to visit the trees again this month while she tended to them.

“You need to water them the first year after they’re planted so they can take hold,” she said, explaining that while oaks usually grow best when planted as acorns, the seedlings they planted for me were thriving in their new home, though they still looked very tiny compared to the Valley Oak that towers over my house.

“Oak trees grow very slowly, so this is actually a great amount of growth,” said Wolitzer, whose “nature name” when teaching classes just happens to be Valley Oak.

One Comment

  1. Mel Huse September 5, 2023

    You should check out Doug’s book Nature’s Best Hope for Young Readers!

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