Late fall is the time to go out and locate, flag, and make plans to protect young oak trees. Unlike the surrounding vegetation, most young oaks still have their leaves late into the fall and winter. And, though some oaks may have turned brown and fewer yet are bare, most are outstandingly red or orange as fall turns into winter. Young oaks are announcing themselves right now in the woods, in fields, and along field edges. They are hollering and can be imagined to be pleading: “I am here. I am a keystone species. Please know that I sequester carbon and help infiltrate water. I support more wildlife and biodiversity than any other tree. I do lots of good things. I could live for 250 years or longer IF you’ll just help me past my vulnerable youth. PLEASE protect me from the deer and rabbits. And help me get some additional light if you can.”
During the late fall, it is my opinion that there is not a single thing one can do that yields more long-term rewards than to locate and protect an oak tree. There is no other small investment of time that returns more biodiversity benefits, ecosystem services, and aesthetic pleasure than ensuring the thriving survival of an oak.
Oak trees need our help. Deer, shade-producing soft-woods, invasive species, select “high-grading” harvest pressure, and fire suppression have all impacted oak regeneration so severely that too few young oaks survive. They are the primary keystone species in our entire local forest ecology, and oak trees are essential for successful nesting of our neo-tropical migratory songbird species. The nutritious caterpillars songbirds feed their young are produced more prolifically on oak trees than any other tree species.
My humble recommendation is that you take a walk with some flagging tape in hand and go hunting for young oaks in the fall. Then, extend a helping hand by placing 5 or 6’ tall, welded-wire fencing, held in place by fiberglass fencing rods, around any tree that is not above browse height, in other words, not above 8” tall. Details of what you are looking for and of this procedure can be seen in the photos below.