I recently saw a youngster at a county fair trying to eat a jawbreaker the size of a billiard ball. As the glistening, high-fructose corn syrup ran down his hand, I knew no matter how much he wanted to eat it, he just couldn’t cram it into his mouth. Wild turkeys sometimes face a similar dilemma when trying to eat the larger acorns produced from sawtooth oaks.
The answer for many wildlife managers has been the "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak. "The ‘Gobbler’ sawtooth oak was released for commercial production in 1986 by the Quicksand, Kentucky, Plant Materials Center after having been evaluated for almost 20 years for its acorn production and growth habit," said John Vandevender, manager of the Appalachian Plant Materials Center in West Virginia which was formerly located in Kentucky. "The sawtooth oak is native to Eastern Asia but was introduced into the Eastern U.S. around 1920. The ‘Gobbler’ variety was released as an improved source of food for wildlife during the fall and winter, and it was selected through roughly 20 years of observation because it was consistently observed to be best with regard to smaller size and higher yields of acorns, early acorn production, and resistance to disease and insects."
The Gobbler Variety
Even though the selling point on the "Gobbler" variety has been the production of smaller acorns for wild turkeys, other wildlife benefit from the tree.
"The ‘Gobbler’ variety produces acorns that are five-eighths to three-quarters of an inch in length by one-half to five-eighths of an inch in width as compared with other strains of sawtooth that are up to one and one-fourth inches in length," Vandevender said. "The acorns are eaten by squirrels, deer, grouse and bobwhite quail."
Another consideration when deciding on the variety of sawtooth is the number of acorns produced.
"A pound of ‘Gobbler’ acorns contains about 150 nuts, whereas other larger strains produce only 40 to 80 acorns to the pound," Vandevender explained. "The nuts mature in late August in the South."
"Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak trees give an added bonus by producing acorns earlier in their maturity than trees like the sawtooth’s relative, the white oak, which takes about 20 to 25 years to begin acorn production.
"The ‘Gobbler’ sawtooth can grow to a height of 70 feet and, on well-maintained, good sites, acorn production begins when the trees are from five to eight years old," Vande-vender said.
The fertile bottomland soil in Quicksand gave positive results with the "Gobbler" sawtooth trees.
"Typically, 15-year-old trees reach a height of 50 to 60 feet and produce an average of 125 pounds of acorns per tree" he said.
For maximum acorn production, Vandevender offered the following suggestions when planting the "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oaks:
"Seedling trees should be planted 20 to 25 feet apart on sites where they can get good sunlight. Plant one to two-year-old seedlings in early spring. To prepare a site for planting, scalp the vegetation from an area at least three feet in diameter. Then, dig a hole just deep enough to allow placing the seedling at the same depth it had been in the nursery bed. In the bottom of the hole, spread a handful of 10-10-10 or equivalent analysis fertilizer and cover with two to three inches of soil.
When placing the seedling in the hole, make sure fertilizer does not touch the roots. Place the seedling in the prepared planting hole, refill with soil and pack lightly to minimize air pockets, and water immediately.
To conserve moisture and reduce weeds, mulch around the seedling with wood chips, sawdust, pine needles, layered newspaper or straw. Watering and mulching at planting are essential for good seedling survival. Keep the site clear of competing vegetation for about two years until the plant becomes well-established."
Even in the South, if there’s an especially hard freeze in the blooming stage, acorn production will be scarce. The question of will it survive and produce acorns depends greatly on your area. Before ordering and planting seedlings, talk with your extension agent to see if "Gobbler" will not only survive but thrive and be healthy acorn producers.
"Gobbler" Sawtooth Oaks need sunlight 75 percent of the day. This means for optimum acorn yields, the seedlings should be planted in open fields or clear, open areas in the forest. Areas where pine trees have been clearcut-harvested work well if there is fertile, well-drained soil and pH levels are within ideal range or close enough to be adjusted with applications of lime.
If you plant the seedlings in open fields, space them in rows 25 feet apart in rows 25 feet wide. This allows a tractor and mower to easily be driven between rows to keep competing vegetation under control. This also makes spraying herbicides easier and keeps travel corridors for wildlife open.
The thin bark of sawtooth oaks can’t tolerate prescribed burning. Control the competing vegetation through mowing or the use of herbicides. For each 100 acres of land, one grove with 10 to 25 trees is recommended.
Protect those seedlings
"Gobbler" seedlings need to be protected until they mature. Deer will browse on the succulent young leaves and stems as the tree grows. Beavers love to chew the bark around young trees. When beavers chew all the way around a sawtooth, this results in the sure death of the tree. This is known as girdling the tree.
It’s a wise investment to use a tree shelter or tree tube around each seedling. This tube simply slides down over the seedling and is anchored with a wooden stake or rebar steel driven into the ground. Be sure the terminal or top bud of the seedling is pointing straight up inside the tube to ensure top growth. These tree shelters help growth during the early stages because they speed photosynthesis by trapping moisture. This raises the temperature and humidity inside the tube much like a greenhouse which speeds growth.
Once the seedling has outgrown the tree shelter, the young tree is still vulnerable to beaver damage. Four-inch drain tubing can be cut vertically and slid around the tree trunk to discourage chewing beavers. Inspect the young trees often during the early stages of growth.
Where to Get "Gobblers"
Your local forestry agent, wildlife biologist or Extension agent can also lead you to local suppliers of the tree. "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak seedlings are also available through the National Wild Turkey Federation’s Project HELP (Habitat Enhancement Land Program). Call 1-800-THE-NWTF. You can also order "Gobbler" Sawtooth Oak seedlings from Edward Fort Nurseries in Hartsville, SC. Call 1-866-295-TREE or visit them online at www.edwardfortnurseries.com. With a quick production of acorns that easily fit in a gobbler’s mouth, you’ll be more pleased than a child with a jawbreaker.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.