How you can participate in Virginia’s annual acorn harvest

Published: Sep. 26, 2023 at 11:58 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s the time of year when Virginia’s oak trees begin littering the ground with their acorns. And now you have a reason to pick them up.

Virginia’s Department of Forestry is asking the public to help the agency collect the acorns in support of their efforts to plant trees statewide.

Joshua McLaughlin is the nursery manager at VDOF’s nursery in Augusta County. He says each year people donate acorns which are then planted at the nursery. Within a year, those seeds become seedlings - available for purchase for around $3.00.

“So here in about a few weeks, we’ll start putting acorns in the ground, and then that will be next year’s crop,” McLaughlin explained. “And so like for this year, starting October 2, we actually have our online store starting our seedlings sale season, and we sell seedlings to the public. We’re not in it to make a lot of money. seedlings are very inexpensive. "

The program to collect acorns from the community began about 12 years ago, McLaughlin said. But since then, the program has rapidly expanded. In 2022, Virginians donated nearly eight tons of acorns, which is enough to potentially produce about 1.5 million seedlings. That was 400 percent over the 2021 collection.

“This process is turned into something fun,” said McLaughlin. “It’s a good educational avenue for groups like Scouts and church groups.”

What DOF plants in the nursery in the fall will germinate in the spring. The foresters will fertilize them, grow them and start shipping them our between mid-February to the end of April.

McLaughlin recommends storing the acorns you collect in a breathable sack, such as a paper bag. Don’t mix acorn types, and try to identify the tree from which the acorns came from. You don’t have to take them all the way to the Augusta Nursery, but you can drop them off at your local DOF office, found by searching the website here.

He notes that some trees may produce more acorns than other and climate and weather have an effect on what the tree produces. Drought can cause trees to drop their acorns early, which are not likely to germinate. Some trees flower in spring and if they endure a frost, they likely won’t produce acorns.

Whatever is gathered and donated, McLaughlin said, is much appreciated.

“If you collect a sandwich bag full or you collect a pickup truck full, we’ll take them and we’ll treat them well.”

Below are some tips from VDOF to make your acorn harvest a successful one:

DOF needs the following species this year.

*Bold species are of particular interest:

  • *Black Oak
  • *Chestnut Oak
  • *White Oak
  • *Black Walnut
  • Chinese Chestnut
  • Northern Red Oak
  • Pin Oak
  • Shumard Oak
  • Southern Red Oak
  • Swamp Chestnut Oak
  • Swamp White Oak
  • Water Oak
  • Willow Oak

Keep these acorn collection tips in mind:

  • Safety first. Stay away from roadways.
  • Look for whole, uncracked acorns that are dark brown or green. Collected acorns do not need caps.
  • Do not collect on private property without permission.
  • Place in a paper bag. Please do NOT use plastic bags.
  • Use a separate bag for each species.
  • Label the bag with the collection date and species (if known). If you’re not sure, include a few leaves from the tree to help us with identification.
  • Place in a cool area until you’re ready to drop them off (sooner the better!).
  • Collection from yards, sidewalks, driveways, etc., is recommended, to ensure collection of a single species. (Forest collection makes it difficult to determine the tree of origin and often leads to mixing of acorn types.)
  • Avoid sticks, leaves, gravel and debris.