The highest concentration of oak species in the world occurs in Mexico, but human activities have strongly degraded these oak forests. Mexican oaks have high economic, social, and cultural value, and restoring these forests is of paramount importance for the people of Mexico. Here, we propose a method for restoring oak forests using native shrubs that colonize degraded areas as nurse plants for oak seedlings. To test the viability of this proposal, seedling transplant experiments were performed in a degraded area near a protected oak forest relict. Two pioneer shrubs were identified as potential nurse species: Mimosa luisana and Senecio sp. The target oak species was Quercus castanea. Oak seedlings were located beneath the canopies of both shrubs and in the surrounding area without shrub cover. Water is a limiting resource for oak establishment in seasonally dry environments; therefore, we included irrigation systems in our experimental design to determine whether the combination of nurse plants plus watering led to higher rate of survival than the presence of nurse species alone. Seedling survival without watering was less than 20% both beneath nurse species and in the surrounding habitat. When water was supplied, survival rate beneath nurse species increased up to 58% while survival in the surrounding habitat did not differ from that observed in treatments without watering. Our results indicate that survival rate of oak seedlings is increased by the presence of nurse plants only when water is supplied. This suggests that restoration of oak forests in these degraded areas requires both nurse plants and watering.