AROUND THE GARDEN

0:00 Nuts to You, Acorns Look out below, acorns abound! They pound car rooftops, fill gutters, and clutter driveways. Nut-bearing trees, such as black walnuts, […]

Published November 30, 2023 4:31 PM
3 min read

0:00

Nuts to You, Acorns

Look out below, acorns abound! They pound car rooftops, fill gutters, and clutter driveways. Nut-bearing trees, such as black walnuts, beeches, and those acorn-producing oaks, have on and off years. “On” years, like this one, when we see vigorous production of nuts across an entire species throughout a region, are called “mast” years. 

During mast years, a single oak can drop thousands of acorns, forcing you to rake your lawn even before any leaves drop, or sweep your driveway repeatedly to avoid twisting your ankle while navigating what seems like a blanket of marbles. 

What triggers a mast year? Scientists have proffered a number of explanations, but they still don’t know much more than that they are cyclical. 

Boom-and-bust cycles of acorn production do have an evolutionary benefit for oak trees through predator satiation. The idea goes like this: in a mast year, predators (chipmunks, squirrels, turkeys, blue jays, deer, bear, etc.) can’t eat all the acorns, leaving some nuts to grow into future oak trees. Years of lean acorn production keep predator populations low, so there are fewer animals to eat all the seeds in a mast year. A higher proportion of nuts overall escape the jaws of hungry animals.

 If dealing with massive numbers of acorns wasn’t enough, someone turned out the lights. The annual daylight savings time shift is a thief that robs precious sunlight at the end of the day, a time when many like to be in their gardens. 

The notion of Daylight Savings Time is attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who proposed rising an hour earlier to conserve candles. But it didn’t take root until World War II when President Roosevelt started what he called War Time to save resources. In August 1945, after Japan’s surrender, it was renamed Peace Time.

Some experts contend the time shift is not only pointless but can be harmful. A report found that the annual switch messes with humans’ internal clocks and can lower productivity. The New England Journal of Medicine asserts that the yearly time shifts back and forth can increase chances of a heart attack. 

If a hail of acorns falling and denting your car, clogging gutters, and serving up ankle-twisting mishaps was not enough, we are now confronted with less sunlight. Well, two can play this game. Gardeners unite. Take advantage of early morning hours to catch up on gardening. 

First, rake, or blow fallen leaves into beds and borders, where they will serve as mulch and protect plant roots over winter. As they decompose, they’ll nourish the soil. (That was invigorating and satisfying. Now it’s time for a well-earned morning cup of coffee.) 

Back in the garden, plant lots of flowering bulbs. Stick with daffodils, allium, Spanish or English blue bells, and summer-blooming lilies, as they are all deer-resistant. Only plant tulips where deer cannot reach them. 

If you like crocuses, this is the year to go big planting them. The tsunami of acorns should keep squirrels, which normally devour freshly planted crocuses, busy elsewhere. Take no chances and cover fresh beds with chicken wire the first winter. Once established, crocus multiply with abandon. 

Remove all weak, underperforming, and mildew-susceptible plants. Just do it. There are many native shrubs and perennials resistant to a host of issues, including deer and rabbits. Switching plants will eliminate your worry about Bambi or Peter Rabbit ravaging your garden and counteract the heart attack potential of less sunlight. 

In the garage you may have open bags of fertilizer, soil amendments, and grass seed. Cultivate them in your garden beds and lawn. Now grab a ladder so you can climb up and clean the gutters. They are usually filled with excellent compost. Save and cast that compost on your gardens. After putting the ladder away, you might as well take out the snow shovels. Who knows, this winter may shower us with a lot of snow, à la mast year. 

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