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Bill Pramuk

Bill Pramuk: Trees and People

Napa Resource Conservation District’s (RCD) “Acorns to Oaks” project received a big boost this year. Nature provided a huge crop of acorns while volunteers came out in unprecedented numbers to plant them at our fall event.

On Saturday, Nov. 8, exactly one month after the wildfires began, 90 volunteers showed up at the planting site at Alston Park, a huge Napa city park. The size of the crowd took us by surprise and posed a logistical challenge for the leaders.

After about three hours of work, we had 172 oak tree sites prepared and planted.

The process goes like this:

Citizen volunteers collect and bring acorns to the RCD office in Napa, labeled as to species, general location where they were collected, and with a few leaves from the parent tree to ensure species identification. RCD cleans them and holds them in cold storage.

— Volunteers converge at the site and receive a brief explanation of the planting procedure.

— Staff and team leaders set out flags, color-coded as to species, to mark planting locations.

— At each planting spot, clear all vegetation from a 4-foot diameter circle, dig a small diameter hole about 10 inches deep, and drive a stake.

— Set in a preformed steel mesh tube for protection against gophers and voles.

— Backfill most of the way back to the surface.

— Drop in three acorns of one species and a little soil to cover them.

— Place a tree shelter tube over the wire tube. These protect against deer browsing and they act as a mini greenhouse, inducing rapid establishment of the seedling.

— Tie the shelter tube to the stake.

— Place a burlap mat on the ground around the tube for weed suppression.

— Place a layer of wood chip mulch over the burlap mat.

RCD has changed the setup to provide greater seedling protection and may change it again, as we discover what works best for a given site.

The acorns and seedling trees will receive only rainfall for irrigation.

On May 5, 2018, another group of volunteers will visit the site to check on the seedlings, repair shelters and add mulch as needed.

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In addition, the City of Napa Parks Dept. will be helping at the Alston Park location by trimming weeds around the plantings next summer.

So far, the scope of this project uses a fraction of the donated acorns, but the project is expanding.

As I mentioned in my previous column, North Napa Rotary stepped up and asked to help with reforestation and the California Native Plant Society (CNPS) has, too.

On Nov. 8 a planning meeting at the Napa RCD office included Executive Director Leigh Sharp, Conservation Program Manager Frances Knapczyk, Conservation Program Assistant Jemma Williams, Jim Lincoln and myself as Board members, CNPS State President Dan Gluesenkamp, Yvonne Rasmussen representing the Napa UC Master Gardeners and Al Verstuyft of North Napa Rotary.

We put our heads together to figure out a good way to make use of this year’s wealth of acorns during this time of need after the devastating wildfires.

Other interested and eager participants include all four local wine industry groups: Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa County Winegrowers, Napa County Farm Bureau, and Napa Valley Vintners. Leigh said these groups have also expressed interest in working with Sonoma RCD.

As it is currently developing, acorns will go for planting at properties where owners request them and RCD will provide the hardware materials.

CNPS Sacramento is storing acorns, labeled as to the area where they were collected, and will send us “Napa”- sourced acorns as needed, as long as they last in cold storage. Leigh said Napa RCD sent an additional 2,000 acorns to CNPS Sacramento for storage.

After the direct seeding efforts, we will set up a propagation space to raise about 2,000 oak seedlings in slender, deep pots. These will be available for planting next fall.

Do you have burned off areas in Napa County that need oak replanting? Or would you or your company or service organization like to help with funding for materials and the growing operation? Call the RCD at 252-4189 or email Jemma Williams at

Bill Pramuk is a registered consulting arborist. Visit his website Email questions to or call him at 707-226-2884.