Sure, little baby oak trees are cute when they sprout, but we don’t need thousands of them popping up on our lawns. Here are three methods to use on all those acorns.
Massachusetts non-profit environmental group Mass Audubon tells us large oaks can drop up to10,000 acorns in one year. A 10,000 acorn year is called a “mast” year, and it would be the peak of a 2-5 year boom/bust cycle that oaks experience. After a mast year, bust years bring very few acorns comparatively. This is why some autumns, walking across your lawn feels like stepping on marbles while in other seasons it’s as smooth as a summer breeze. If your trees are having a mast year and your squirrels seem to be on strike, read on.
Even if your squirrels are no-shows, you may want to begin the clean-up as soon as you find the first acorns dropped on your lawn. Squirrels will likely come eventually to bury acorns for the winter. The problem is, squirrels soon forget the location of their stashes. The acorns sprout and new trees pop up. This is great if you have the acreage to support it a new oak forest, but if you want to preserve your perfectly placed patio, then acorn clearing is key. The fewer acorns available for sprouting, the better. Beginning early may mean a few extra passes or two over the landscape but it may save more work in the long run.
We often avoid the acorn clean-up because of the back-straining raking it requires. Traditionally a rake, scoop, bucket and several hours of elbow grease were the only way to rid the yard of Mr. Oak Tree’s mess. Now we have gadgets to help speed up the clean up.
Shop-Vacs. Strong suction is a technological marvel. A dry/wet vac is designed for big messes, and it does a great job on acorn clearing. Optimally, you will vacuum up the acorns on a dry day, helping you to avoid clogging up the shop vac’s tube with mud and wet leaves. Dry/wet vacs are designed to suck up liquid spills, but you still want to be extra careful. For added safety, use a ground fault interrupter (GFI) outlet for plugging in when you can, but a grounded extension cord should be sufficient.
Besides the good ol’ rake, hardware and lawn stores have a tools made specifically for grabbing acorns from the lawn or hardscape surfaces. Two of the main trademarked tools are a Garden Weasel and a Bag-a-Nut Harvester. These are two very differently-priced options but the “trap” gathering concept is the same. Both tools are pushed or pulled over the yard while the acorns are grabbed and stored in a holding chamber. The Garden Weasel is a flexible wire, oblong ball at the end of a push stick. The oblong ball looks similar to a lottery or bingo-ball machine. The flexible wires move over the acorn and snap back into place underneath it, effectively trapping the acorn inside the bingo ball. To empty the Garden Weasel of acorns, you pull apart the wires and shake them out. Garden Weasels can be found for under $50 and can hang on the garage wall when not in use.
The Bag-A-Nut brand has several orb-collector designs. These tools are large and seem to be meant for larger, more industrial applications. Some are made to be pulled by a tractor, some are front-push like mowers. The tech is a trap-and-dump tech, where small rubbery “fingers” pick up the acorns and a straight edge pops them out into a front-loaded bucket. The buckets are large and can hold several pounds of acorns before needing to be emptied. These models are priced into the hundreds of dollars. A smaller Bag-A-Nut will occupy the same amount of storage space as a large snow-blower or front-push lawnmower.
Dump and done!
Be sure to occasionally dump the acorns as you clear the yard. A too-heavy bucket is no fun. That goes for garbage bags, too. Don’t fill them to the top or you’ll need a crane to get it down to the curb. Municipalities that collect yard waste usually accept acorns within that natural debris pick-up, but you don’t want to make any individual bag or can too heavy to lift. If you have a soft spot for the local fauna (and some dense woods), you can leave the acorns in a pile for their winter meals.
There are no bad jobs, just bad tech. Move past the rake and your oak tree’s boom year won’t have to mean your back’s bust year.