growing oak trees in pots

(Question)

I transplanted small oak trees (6″) into pots at the beginning of summer. They are all do well. My question is what do I do with them for the winter? Can I bring them in the house? Should I bury the pots in the ground? Should I plant the trees now (October)?
Thank you for your help

(Answer)

Oak trees are so important to our ecological system—kudos to you for planting and taking good care of them! Now that they have had a good season of growth, we think it would be best to plant them into the ground, for the following reason.

You may have heard that oaks are slowing growing trees. This is not totally accurate. In the first few years of its life, an oak devotes most of its energy to growing roots. It may appear slow-growing, but in the darkness of the earth it is rapidly developing a large root mass. Only after an extensive root system is built will an oak speed up its growth above-ground.

Which means an oak seedling can become pot-bound quicker than expected. Roots that are bent do not straighten out after planting, and will continue growing in a circle and girdle the tree. The risk of transplant shock also increases with an increase in the size of the root mass. When planting loosen and spread out the roots making sure not to bury the tree any deeper than it currently is, the soil should come to the same place on the trunk. Mulching around the tree but not up against the trunk will help maintain moisture.

It is best to plant an oak tree into the ground as young as possible so its roots can spread out properly. Now (fall) is a good season to plant as the ground is still moist and not frozen. You may want to provide some kind of barrier (wire caging for example) to protect the seedlings from browsing animals if your location warrants it.

We wish you the best of luck with the oak seedlings.