28 August 2013

“Oaks of war” – and how to grow the perfect oak

The new infomercial by Husqvarna, “Oaks of war”, is filled with smart tips for kings from the 19th century – or basically anyone interested in growing the perfect oak. The movie tells the tale of Charles XIV John, the great-great-grandfather of the present Swedish king. Before he started his reign in 1818, the country had recently been at war with first Russia then France and finally Denmark. Which rapidly reduced the number of Swedish oaks – the wood type most suited for battleships.
Thus, to be able to defend his country if need be, Charles XIV John commanded the planting of 300.000 new trees in 1831. Enough for about 150 ships. But, as the story has it, he might not have been quite up to speed on how long it would take to produce the new armada.
“The trees were planted on the island of Visingsö, in lake Vättern. An ideal place for oak growing as it is surrounded by water. However, it still takes quite a while for an oak to become fully-grown. So, 150 years after the king’s order, in 1975, the Rear Admiral of the Royal Swedish Navy suddenly got an unexpected call. It was the chief of the forest estate – happily announcing that the trees were ready,” says Rickard Bindberg, Museum Director at Husqvarna.

Husqvarna entered the story around 1959, when the forest caretakers started using the company’s chainsaws. Which they still do. More than 50 years later.

How to grow the perfect oak

Nowadays, oaks are usually bought at nurseries or garden centers as bare root stock or container plants, but one can of course also grow great oaks by simply planting acorns (depending on the climate and general environment). Not all will sprout though, so to increase the chances of success: grow your own seedlings to make sure that they get all the attention they need during the most important part of their growth cycle. It’s both fun and easy – just follow this simple advice from Lars Erik Wetter who has worked as an oak gardener on Visingsö since the 1950s:

• Pick the acorns during fall and put them in a sack which is then lowered into a pool of water or sand bath over the winter. The water must not freeze but needs to be cold. On Visingsö they sometimes used water wells for winter storage.
• In the spring, the acorns are to be planted in soil, but not sandy soil. The best month to plant is in April. The acorns should be planted in tight rows in farmland for the best results. Two feet between the rows and 30 cm between the acorns.
• The acorns then germinate and grow for two to five years. During this period, the shoots are cropped around the roots with a sharp spade so that they have smaller root systems when they are to be replanted in a forest environment.
• Both the shoots and the plant will survive well with only rain water and do not need much or any nutritional supplements as long as the soil is good.
• After planting, the area surrounding the plant needs maintenance to avoid competition with other plants such as raspberries. The oak also needs a lot of sunlight.
• Wild animals like to eat oak plants and oak bark so it's a good idea to fence for wildlife. It is also important to protect the plant from insects such as green oak tortricid and caterpillars.
• After about 30 years the oak will have grown up to 10 meters.
The main key to growing straight oaks (which can be used for anything from battleships to furniture, flooring, sports equipment and wine barrels) is constant care. Use a chainsaw, polesaw or any of Husqvarna’s manual hand saws for limbing and pruning, to keep all unwanted branches in check and maintain the tree’s upward focus. However, the surrounding area is equally important. By removing general plants with a brush cutter one can make sure that the selected oak gets all the water and sunshine it needs.
“Oaks of war”, the title of the new infomercial, is number two in a series produced to show how Husqvarna products are being used around the world. In the previous one, “The rooftop gardens of New York”, viewers are taken around the “big apple” in search of urban oases high above the city streets. Both are hosted by famous British show host Jonathan Irwin, currently working with three of Britain’s biggest TV channels.
  • Oaks of war

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