Oak Tree Restoration Project

Oak trees provide shade for grazing cattle on rangeland and help enrich the soil through nutrient cycling. They help prevent mudslides and erosion by providing rainwater runoff control. Oak trees also improve air quality by storing carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen through photosynthesis. The leaves of an oak tree absorbs airborne pollutants.

During the most recent drought, some of the stately old oaks on our ranch started to topple over or lose some of their main branches. We also noticed smaller oaks succumbing to various diseases and the unprecedented heat and lack of water. Livestock grazing is a principal factor in poor oak regeneration, so we were in a quandary as to how we could regenerate oak trees on the ranch without the trees being eaten or trampled by the cattle on the ranch. We spoke with staff from the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Alameda County Resource Conservation District (RCD) and made plans for an oak tree restoration project on the ranch. We applied for and received approval for EQIP funding to help fund our project.

In 2020 we received acorns from one the naturalists from the RCD and Nancy planted them in our fenced in garden.

In August of 2021 we attended an outstanding Oak Tree Restoration on Rangelands webinar hosted by the Big Sur Land Trust and California Marine Sanctuary Foundation. We really learned a lot from this webinar. You can find slides and videos from the webinar here

In the winter of 2021 we began making plans to plant trees. One of our neighbors, Mike M., has been working on restoring oaks for decades, so we met with him and toured some of the areas he has been working on. He has had a tough go of it with voles, grasshoppers, and cattle destroying about 80% of the trees he planted. We really appreciated the advice and lessons learned from him.

We also received advice from Ling one of the NRCS rangeland conservationists. In addition, she helped us determine the locations of the tree plantings and provided the planting guides below.  

Calscape California Native Plant Gardening Guide

Watershed Nursery Planting Guide for California Native Plants

In January of 2022 we planted oak trees.  Below you will find a photo journal of our tree restoration project. 

September 2020

Nancy planted native oak acorns given to her by Stephanie one of our contacts at the Alameda County Resource Conservation District. To prevent the deer, cattle, gophers, and other animals from eating the seedlings, they were planted in small pots on a table in our fenced in garden.

Summer 2021

The acorns have grown into small trees, but they are still too small to thrive in the wild. We hope to plant them in the wild in the future.

December 2021

We started planning our planting project. A total of ten trees were to be planted.

We purchased 9 trees in one gallon pots from Native Here Nursery in Berkeley. Seven of the trees were valley oaks (quercus lobata) and two were coastal live oaks (quercus agrifolia). When Susie selected the trees to purchase she tried to select trees that came from areas similar to the climate at the ranch. The trees came from Mount Diablo, Brentwood, Clayton, Round Valley, and Briones. Nancy kept the trees alive in our fenced in garden until it was time to plant.

A tenth tree that was planted was a coastal live oak tree that was given to Nancy by friend. It is about six years old.

January 2022

Ling from the NRCS helped us select three locations to plant the trees. These locations were chosen because there were already existing oaks in the area, water travels through these areas, and mychorrhiza was present. 

“The word “mycorrhiza” means fungal root. To be more specific, mycorrhizae are fungi that have a symbiotic relationship with the roots of many plants. The fungi which commonly form mycorrhizal relationships with plants are ubiquitous in the soil. Many mycorrhizal fungi are obligately symbiotic and therefore are unable to survive in nature for extended periods of time without their host. Because the relationship between the fungus and the plant is symbiotic, both members of the relationship obtain a benefit from each other. Neither the host plant nor the fungus suffer any ill effects as a result of the relationship. The fungus, because it does not photosynthesize, cannot fix its own carbon. Consequently, it receives all of its necessary carbohydrates from the host plant. In return, the mycorrhiza absorbs nutrients from the soil which are passed along to the plant.”  Karen Delajaut, University of Wisconsin – Madison

An auger was rented and used to drill the holes for the trees. 

To prevent voles and gophers from destroying the trees, we placed the trees in wire gopher baskets before they were put in the ground.

Once in the ground, we placed a sleeve made of a small square wire mesh over the trees. A mesh cover was placed on top of the sleeves that were taller than the trees to prevent critters from crawling or falling into the sleeves. Our neighbor Mike M. has had a lot of success using these wire mesh sleeves on his trees. 

We did not use plastic sleeves because Mike M. said some of his trees got sunburned once he removed the plastic sleeves. We also heard from Mike M. that birds can become trapped inside the plastic sleeves and the sleeves can become breeding grounds for grasshoppers and other insects.

Here you see Troy cutting the mesh to make the sleeves and covers. Two ends of the mesh were sewn together with a small gauge wire to make the sleeves. 

Enclosures were made to keep deer and cattle away from the trees. To make the enclosures, two 50″ x 8′ stock panels were attached to two 6′ steel T-posts. Note that the panels were purposely placed two feet above the ground to allow cattle to eat the grass and weeds that grow around the tree. This may also prevent the cattle from trying to squeeze their heads into the panels.

A berm was created around the trees to help retain rainwater.

The panels were attached to the T-posts with clips

One side of a panel was not attached to a T-post to create a gate that would allow entry into the tree area. Two spring clips were used to close the loop of the panels and allow access into the area. 

As the sun was starting to set, the tree planting crew was still smiling. This dream team planted, installed tree protection, and watered all ten trees in under six hours.

Next Steps

Our next step is to assemble 10 automatic watering systems using plastic buckets and tubing. Our neighbor Mike M. has had great success using these to water his trees.

We also plan to scatter wood chips within the berms around the trees to keep weeds down and moisture in.