Autumn means it’s conker season, and even if your kids don’t play conkers, they can gather and plant them to grow horse chestnut trees — and help combat global warming and climate change.
You can make the whole conker gathering exercise into a marvellous treasure hunt that takes in local streets, council gardens, parks, or nearby woods and forests. Searching for horse chestnut trees will help your kids look at and appreciate all the different trees in your neighbourhood. Plus, they’ll get to spend time outdoors doing something fun. Not bad for a free family activity.
You can use the time before and during the Great Conker Treasure Hunt as an opportunity to talk about how planting even a single tree can help minimise pollution and the threat of global warming. It will help your children to appreciate the importance of taking action to bring about positive change in their world.
The Great Conker Treasure Hunt
Wearing gloves, begin the hunt for horse chestnut trees in your local area. When you locate a tree, search the ground underneath for the husks that contain the conker nuts.
You can discard the husks on the ground around the tree, where they will eventually rot down or take them home to use in your own outdoor compost pile (or place them in a green waste bin). Put the conkers in a bag or bucket.
Don’t allow your children or pets to eat the conker nuts. They contain a poisonous chemical called aesculin, according to the Woodland Trust.
Once home, put the brown conker nuts into a bucket of water. Any conkers that rise to the surface should be discarded since they are dead. You can add them to your compost.
Drain the bucket and get ready to plant the remaining conkers.
Fill a small pot (about 1.9L) with a 50:50 mixture of soil and compost. The soil needs to reach just below the rim of the pot. Push a conker down about 2cm into the soil and then cover it. You can plant more than one conker per pot and then transplant individual seedlings when they appear into their own pots.
You need to plant your conkers between the end of October and the start of December. They will germinate and grow in the spring after you’ve planted them. They usually take about two to three months to germinate and begin to sprout.
Place the conker pots outside in a spot where they will get plenty of light. If you live in an area that receives a lot of hard frosts during winter, it will be best to put the pots into a cold frame.
Water the pots regularly to keep the soil moist.
If deer come into your garden, you must move your conker seedlings away from their reach. They adore conkers and will munch through the lot in one go.
When the seedlings are about 30cm high, plant them in your garden or a much larger pot.
To replant the sapling, choose a large sunny place in your garden. Dig a hole that is as deep as the pot and about three times its width. Remove the young tree and its root ball from the pot, stick it in the hole, then pack the soil around it.
Best Time to Plant Trees
If you want to plant a tree directly into the ground (as opposed to a pot), you need to do it when the soil is soft and not too wet. In the UK, that is probably between October and April.
You should avoid planting a tree or a shrub when the soil is frozen (when you’d struggle to get your spade into the soil anyway). Likewise, avoid planting in soil that is waterlogged. That is, if the water is sitting on the soil’s surface or if it pooled at the bottom of the hole you have dug.
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.
The second best time is now.” ~ Chinese proverb
Choosing A Tree Together
If you don’t live near a park, wood, or forest with horse chestnut trees, consider buying a small tree to plant with your kids. Many supermarkets and garden centres have a wide range of small indoor and outdoor trees for sale.
If you don’t have a garden or even a balcony, don’t worry. There are many indoor trees to choose from. Here is a short collection to consider:
The Weeping Fig (Ficus Benjamina) is often known as the ficus. It thrives in bright, indirect sunlight. You need to keep it warm and away from drafts. Only water the Weeping Fig when its topsoil feels dry. Don’t overwater.
The Dragon Tree (Dracaena Marginata) is considered one of the easiest indoor plants to care for. It can go for long periods without being watered. However, its leaves are poisonous to animals, so don’t allow your dogs or cats near it. The dragon tree can grow up to six feet tall.
The Umbrella Tree (Schefflera Actinophylla) needs bright, indirect light and occasional pruning. Only water it when the soil feels dry. It can grow up to eight feet tall.
Yucca plants thrive in light positions but not in direct sunlight.
The theme for October’s issue (#49) of BRILLIANT BRAINZ children’s magazine is Magic & Illusion, but following that the November issue (#50) will be all about TREES!
Have YOU grabbed a subscription for your favourite conker-gatherering, tree-planting, eco-minded and green-fingered little world saver yet?!