Planting acorns

Activity

Grow an acorn in a cut off plastic bottle or similar to see it germinating (you can do the same activity with a broad bean).

  • Estimated time: 30 minutes
  • Location: Outdoors & Indoors
  • School term: Early Autumn, Late Autumn
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s): Science

Learning objectives

  • Observe how seeds grow into mature plants
  • Discover which grows first - root or shoot?
  • Identify the different parts of an oak tree
  • Find out and describe how plants need water, light and a suitable temperature to grow

Essential background information

Preparation

Collect acorns in the autumn, look for ones that have been undamaged by pests. This is a good time to discuss the lifecycle of the oak tree with pupils and study other trees in your local area.

Learn more about oak trees here.

As deciduous trees (die back to wood in winter) the seeds of the oak need a cold winter to break down the outer seed coat. Then once it warms again in the spring they start to grow. Putting the acorns in the fridge for 1-2 weeks can simulate this cold, so they will grow in the warmer classroom. This is a time to talk to your pupils about why the seasons are important for our plants and wildlife. 

Equipment needed

  • Plastic drinks bottle
  • Sugar paper, blotting paper or paper towels
  • Compost
  • Gravel or sand
  • Acorns

Step by step

  1. Add some gravel, sand or other drainage material to the base of the bottle. Line the sides of the bottle with a layer of paper towels, blotting paper or kitchen roll and fill the centre with soil or compost. Add just enough water to make it all moist.
  2. Plant the acorn between the paper and the side of the bottle.
  3. Place a ‘collar’ made of sugar paper or the equivalent around the outside of the bottle to cut out light, but make it easy to slip on and off so that the progress of germination can be observed.
  4. Label with the date it was sown and place the bottle in a semi-bright place (i.e. near windowsill), but not where it will dry out too quickly.
  5. Keep it moist at all times, but don’t allow it to become waterlogged either, because the emerging roots need air as well as water. Too much water would ‘drown’ them.
  6. Check regularly. When the first leaves (seed leaves) of the acorn are fully expanded, plant the oak seedling into a small pot (make sure it has drainage holes).
  7. Once the seedlings roots fill the pot it is time to plant out your little oak tree. Make sure there will be pleanty of space and sunlight for it to grow into a mature tree. Read more about planting trees here.

Hints & tips

  • Do not allow your acorns to become too dry at any stage, plant them as soon as possible after you have collected them.
  • Check the viability of the acorn by dropping it into a bucket of water - if it sinks it's good to plant!
  • Why not have a germination race with your acrons? Get each pupil to plant an acorn in a pot in the garden and see who's acorn produces it's leaves first. Plant them in the atumn for growth in spring.

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