Back in late December my brother and I collected and planted a couple hundred Quercus agrifolia (Coast Live Oak or California Live Oak) acorns up on the "upper 40" hillside at my parents' place in Santa Barbara. Due to uncommonly cold weather in spring of 2007, the acorn yield was very high this year, so collecting the acorns was easy. Acorns came from the ground and from trees. Generally we just scratched a hole in the leaf mulch or soil and pressed them in with our thumb. My father and I also started some in 1 gal containers filled with local soil in case we didn't have enough rain.
Well, we've had enough rain (even down in Los Angeles, where a couple containers with acorns sat out in my back yard and had supplemental hose waterings). One of the two acorns (or more? I can't recall how many I planted, but it was at least two) sprouted the other day. Quercus agrifolia oaks sprouts are red when they first burst on the scene, and it takes them only a couple days to develop a recognizable oak leaf shape.
I expected to see many similar small sprouts on the upper 40, where perhaps 200 acorns were planted. However, I wasn't able to find a single sprouting acorn. I did inadvertently dug up couple acorns that I had previously planted there. One had formed an extensive tap root, but no structure above soil. The other I was not able to accurately observe.
In the 1 gal containers, many of the oak sprouts had already sent their roots down the bottom and in many cases they had started to coil around the container interior. The above ground to below ground ratio must have been 1:20 in some cases. Perhaps root confinement causes early above ground growth. In any case, I'm not willing give up on all the acorns on the upper 40. I think there's a good chance that we'll see a number of sprouts. The process will be to wait a year or two and then select winners if there are too many.
Californiaoaks.org has a recipe for preparing and storing acorns to plant, but I've found that with the two species I've tried here in southern California, that none of the washing in dilute bleach and cold storage is necessary, if starting in containers. I place the acorns in a tub of water and select those that sink to the bottom, scrape the soil to a depth of 0.5 - 1", place the acorn sideways in the hole, (a little up or down doesn't seem to matter) cover, and water.