Garden Center Expedition
What to Pack:
- Plastic sheet (or cut-up garbage bags) to protect your car from dirt spills
- Reusable bags
- Map out a plan. Consider how much space you want to devote to your plants. Do you want a pot or two on your kitchen counter? A container garden in a sunny window? Or a child's garden in the backyard? (Even if you have two green thumbs, keep a child's first garden manageable—no bigger than three square feet.)
- Take a tour. When you arrive, enjoy just wandering the aisles together, encouraging your child to see the sights and breathe in the scents. What else is sold at a garden center besides plants? Look for a gnome, a birdhouse, a stone turtle, a flamingo, a hose, a rake, a shovel.
- Ask the experts. Ask for assistance finding hardy, fast-growing seeds (or seedlings). Consider grass, beans, snap peas, radishes, lettuce. If you're planting a child's garden outside, add a few long-term kid-pleasers, such as sunflowers, watermelons or pumpkins (keeping in mind that these plants take up a lot of space).
- Get equipped. When you purchase seeds, consider child-sized gardening gloves and trowel, and perhaps a small, unbreakable watering can for easy pouring.
- Start smart. Start your seeds indoors and move them outside, if desired, according to the seed packet directions for your zone. For pots and container gardens, add rocks on the bottom of the pots for drainage. For outdoor gardens, prepare the soil when it gets warmer by turning it over and adding mulch for nutrients. Plant seeds, spacing them according to packet directions.
- Water and weed. Water regularly, being careful not to allow the soil to dry out or stay soggy. As the shoots come up, separate them, according to directions. Teach your child to water the roots, not the leaves of the plants.
- Chart your progress. Have kids illustrate a garden growth chart. Paste seed packets on a chart. Beside each, have kids illustrate the seed's growth from week to week.
- Investigate. After your seeds sprout, ask these questions: What does a seed need to grow? What happens if there's not enough sunlight? Water? What happens if a plant is leaning toward the light and you turn it around? How are your plants the same? How are they different in size, color and shape? What's in our fridge that came from a plant? Do animals eat plants? Where do seeds come from? (Cut open an apple or orange for a hint.)
- Share the harvest. Let kids pick their produce, wash it and serve it for dinner.
Bonus Explorer Activity Not all plants grow from seeds. Some, like carrots, sweet potatoes and vines, will root themselves in water. Try this: Cut the top off a carrot (removing any leaves) and place it face down in a dish of water in the sunlight. Soon it will grow both roots and shoots. Read all about it! Check out The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss, The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert, The Empty Pot by Demi, Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming and A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston.
Check out the Dawn Wildlife Champions program for free lesson plans and tools to explore the issue of oil spills, and lots of ways for your kid to get involved in wildlife education!