Kids' Container Gardening
Year-Round Projects for Inside and Out
By Cindy Krezel, Rick Blanchette, Bruce Curtis
Chicago Review Press Incorporated Copyright © 2010 Cindy Krezel
All rights reserved.
before you start
There are things plants need to grow. If we know them and plan — and plant! — accordingly, our plants will be happy, and so will we. If we try to cut corners and do what's easy for us but not best for the plants, we won't have great looking gardens. And since we garden for the fun of it, why not do it right?
What plants need
Find out about the plants you choose. Find out what they like. Then see to it that these needs are filled. You wouldn't send your little sister out into the cold without a coat or forget to feed the dog, would you? Plants tell you what they want in quiet ways. They wilt or turn colors or the leaves curl up or shrivel. You have to watch carefully. If you do, your plants will tell you how they feel.
Also, if you're planting two or more plants together, make sure they like the same things. A shade plant that needs a lot of water and one that needs dry soil and sun will never do well in the same container. Get to know the plants you choose and plant them with their "friends," those who like the same conditions.
Roots need water and food, just like people. Some need more, some need less. Some can stand in water, others need almost totally dry soil, with an occasional dunk. Plants will tell you if they are getting enough, not enough, or too much water, if you pay attention to them. Pay attention. Your plants depend on you. They can't run away.
The signs of too much and not enough water can look the same if you only look at the leaves. If the leaves wilt or curl up, check the soil. Feel the soil every day or two. Is it wet? Is it dry? Does the soil 91 smell rotten? If you need help finding out what is wrong, ask a person who works at a garden center.
You also have to be very careful when handling your plants. Never hold a plant by the stem, leaves, or flowers. Always hold it by the roots or by the pot. A plant can be removed from the pot by tipping it on its side or slightly upside down and then knocking gently or pushing from the bottom and freeing it. Then hold it by the roots when planting.
Something else to think about is how cold it gets in your area. It won't matter for indoor plants, but if your containers will be left outside, it's good to know what "Zone" you're in. The USDA Zone Map tells you how cold different parts of the United States get. Find where you are, what Zone number you live in, and choose plants that have your Zone number or a higher (warmer) number. Here is the Zone Map. Can you find where you are and what zone you're in?
You also want to wait until after the last danger of frost before you plant certain plants. Find out when your town's frost-free date is, and don't plant anything delicate outside until after it is past.
When planning a planting, one way to design is with a color wheel. Color wheels show the full range of colors and how they blend into one another. Below are the three "color concepts" used when planning a garden. They are big words, but you will easily understand them, especially when you see them.
Each of these will give a planting a different "feel." Try holding pots of plants next to each other to see how you like them. Then plant whatever you like the best (as long as the plants have the same needs). Pick colors that make you feel good or that you really like!
what kids need
Here are a few things you don't usually think about: sunscreen, water, and bug spray. Pretty exciting stuff, huh? But they can be the difference between a great experience and a horrible one. If you are working outside for any amount of time, be sure to plan ahead. Put on sunscreen, bring water to drink, and carry bug spray if needed. Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it, as my mother always says. (And she's almost always right!)
Monochromatic: This is using all one color, like using many different plants that are all white or all have red flowers.
I Analogous: This is using colors that are similar or blend into one another, like pink, lavender, and purple.
Complementary: This is using colors on opposite sides of the color wheel, so the colors are very different, like yellow and purple, or green and red.
Maybe these are not things you must have, but I always end up using them when I make garden projects, whether with kids or for myself. Keep them around so that when the spirit moves you, you're ready to garden.
Silly that they should be indispensable, but to me they are. I use them in the bottoms of terrariums, as seed starters and ... well, you'll see. I use them a lot. Order them online or buy a bunch next time you're in a garden center, and store them in a Ziploc bag. They really come in handy.
Always save old pots, of whatever size. Use broken shards at the bottom of planters. Use them whole as the makings of pot people (See pages 27–30). Start plants in them any time. Old pots are better than having to buy new! '
Bagged potting soil
I hate the word never and almost always try whatever I'm told never to do. But this is one thing that I really never do: Never dig soil out of the garden for new container plantings. It just doesn't work. Whether germs in the dirt make the plants sick or the soil just isn't good for planters, it's not worth the effort to start new plants in old soil. Start right, and you will be successful. You'll be glad you did.
Ok, now you're ready to garden. On your mark, get set ... go!
starting in spring
Take-out Seed Start Greenhouses
Don't throw away those plastic take-out trays you get from restaurants! They make great "incubator" greenhouses. Plant seeds in them, then when your plants have sprouted, transplant the baby plants outside into the garden or pots. This is an easy way to start annual flowers or vegetables early in the season for a longer lasting garden.
WHAT TO DO | Take-out Seed Start Greenhouses
1. Be sure that the take-out container is clean and dry. Run it through the dishwasher or wash and dry it well by hand.
2. Set the lid off to the side and put the take-out container on a table or flat surface. Put in as many peat pellets as will fit side by side with no overlap, or as many as you want to start. If you look closely at the pellets, you will see a bottom and a "top," with a circle and a dot in the center. The top goes up.
3. Add enough warm water to cover the pellets, filling the container about two-thirds of the way. Some of the pellets will float to the top. That's OK. If the water is warm, they will begin to expand almost immediately. It's fun to watch them. First they look like small Oreo cookies. Then they swell, getting fatter and wetter all the time. In about 2 to 10 minutes they will be "done," depending on how warm the water is. They will be 2-3 inches tall, soft and plump, with a hole in the top. If all the water has been absorbed and the pellets aren't all the way open, add a little more water. If there is leftover water in the container and the pellets are completely open, carefully pour out the extra water. Now you are ready to plant your seeds.
4. Write the name of each kind of seed onto a plant label. Push the label down into the pellet at the outside of the hole. Do this until each pellet has a label for the kind of seed you will be putting there.
5. Take a plant label out of one of the pellets. Carefully open that packet of seeds and push two to four seeds down into the pellet until they are partly buried in the peat moss. Replace the plant label. Do this with each kind of seed until all of the pellets have seeds. Now push the labels back down into the pellets, so they are in firmly.
6. Set the lid on the take-out tray. The labels should prevent it from closing completely, which is just fine. You want the lid of the tray to hold moisture in while still letting in air from the outside. If you can see condensation (water beads, or trapped moisture) on the inside of the lid, it is a good sign.
7. Now put the tray inside the house in a bright, warm window. Each day, take the lid off the tray and look at the plants. In seven to ten days you will see little sprouts growing. Once they are as tall as the top of the container, take the top off. Now you will have to check carefully for water. They may need to be watered every day, or every few days, depending on how hot and dry your house is. The pellets can't sit in standing water, but they can't dry out either. Watch them carefully. You have little baby plants to care for!
8. Leave your little pellet babies in the tray for no more than two to three weeks or else they will get long and leggy. Peat pellets, though a great way to start plants, have no natural nutrients, so you want to get the plants into the ground and fertilized as soon as possible. Depending on what zone you are in (see the chart on page 3), you can put your little pellet babies out into the garden after the last chance of frost. They can go into the ground or into large pots. Whichever you do, add lots of organics, such as compost and composted manure when you plant. Make a hole just slightly wider and just as deep as the pellet. Gently rip the mesh of the pellet open, but don't try to take the plant out. Simply set the whole pellet into the ground and push the soil back up against it. You've planted your pellets!
WHAT YOU NEED
[CHECK] Plastic take-out tray
[CHECK] Peat pellets
[CHECK] Warm water
[CHECK] Plant stakes or short popsicle sticks
Be sure to watch and water your plants once they are in the ground. This is a great way to start your yearly vegetable or flower garden.
WHAT TO DO | Great Big Garden Bowls for Mom
This is the favorite project of many of my favorite kids. It feels wonderful to give Mom a great big bowl of flowers for Mother's Day that will flower all season long. What better way to say "I love you, Mom"?
1. Fill your planter with soil to 3 inches below the top. Pat the soil down gently with your fingers so it is flat and even. Enjoy the feel of the soil!
2. Now pick the flowers that you want to put into your pot. How big the plants and your pot are will determine how many plants you can put into your pot. Don't put them too close together! Annual plants can triple in size in a season, so you want to leave at least as much space between plants as the plants are now.
3. Take a minute to read the labels or signs on the plants you choose. Make sure the plants you pick will be "friends." If you put a shade-loving plant in a pot with a sun lover, one of them won't be happy. Pick plants that are compatible in terms of their water and sun needs, so you can keep your plants happy and healthy.
4. When you pick up a plant, never hold it by the stems, leaves, or flowers. Only hold it by the roots. Plants have veins, just like people, and they are very delicate. If you bruise a plant, you may not see the bruise, but it will wilt and eventually die. So always hold plants by their roots. If you need to, turn the container over and let the plant slide into your hand. Then, have a look at it. This is the only chance during the life of the plant that you will get to look at the whole thing — roots, stems, and all. Have a good look. Isn't it cool? Are the roots very noticeable around the outside of the root ball? If so, it's probably because the roots have been trying to grow outward and kept hitting the plastic container. Very, very gently pull as many of them out as you can and spread them out when you plant. "Unsnarling" these roots, even if you break a few of them, will help the plant grow better in the long run. When you are done admiring the roots, set the plants you've chosen onto the bed of soil.
5. Fill in around the plants with as many small handfuls of soil as it takes. Don't cover higher than where the roots and the stems join. That's called the "crown" of the plant. You should never bury a plant deeper than that, or you will smother the plant.
6. Now gently pour water over your fingers and down onto the planter bowl. Your fingers will break the fall of the water and direct it where it's needed.
7. Did you remember to find out about your plants when you picked them? Do they like sun or shade? Place your planter wherever your plants prefer. Water only as often as needed. Take one finger, every day, and touch your soil. If it's dry to the touch and the plants seem to sag, water the bowl. If not, wait and check again the next day.
8. Your flowers will get bigger and bigger and will flower all the way until the frost.
This is great for Mom, Grandma, or anyone else you want to remind every day that you love them!
WHAT YOU NEED
[CHECK] A big pot or salad bowl, with a drainage hole in the bottom
[CHECK] Potting soil
[CHECK] Some annual flowers in cell packs. It's a lot of fun to go to the garden center and pick flowers with Dad or Mom. See the list of flowers on page 13, but there are many other choices!
[CHECK] A watering can or cups full of water
WHAT TO DO | Vegetable Hanging Baskets
This is a great end-of-school teacher gift or something fun to hang around the house and harvest (that means pop in your mouth!) as you pass by.
1. Make sure your planter has drain holes. If necessary, have a parent punch a few holes in the bottom. Add enough soil to the pot so that the soil comes to about 3-4 inches below the rim.
2. Now gently take three basil plants out of the cell pack. Center them as a triangle in the center of the pot. Take out three marigolds. Set them slightly outside and between the basil. Now take out three tomato plants. Set them at the outer edge, around the marigolds.
3. Gently open all of the roots and set them firmly onto the soil. Now add soil up to the crown of the plants. Tuck it in with your fingers so the plants are nicely secure in the soil.
4. Water gently with a soft spray of water so the plants don't get moved. You want them to settle in. You are ready now to give your gift if you are making it for someone or to hang it if you are keeping it.
5. Since these are vegetables, your planter will need to go in full sun and be watered whenever it feels dry. Don't let it stay wet (that's why you need the holes), but don't let the leaves wilt from thirst either. Watch your planter and touch a finger to the soil every day, and you will get to know how often it needs to be watered.
6. The basil can be picked as soon as it has at least six leaves. Take no more than one-third of the leaves at a time. Pick leaves from the bottom of the plant. Be sure to pinch off any flower buds that form on the basil. Once it makes flowers, the leaves become bitter.
WHAT YOU NEED
[CHECK] A pot, at least 10 inches across, that can be hung (hangers attached or with a separate hanger)
[CHECK] An organic-rich potting soil, preferably with some compost in it
[CHECK] One cell-pack* of cherry tomatoes (use only cherry tomatoes, which will hang down)
[CHECK] One cell-pack* of basil
[CHECK] One cell-pack* of marigolds
*A cell-pack is the way baby plants are sold in the spring. There are usually four plants to a pack. This is the perfect size to start your little garden.
MORE ABOUT VEGETABLE HANGING BASKETS
Why did we plant marigolds with our basil and tomatoes? Two reasons: 1. Marigolds are pretty and they flower all summer long. 2. Marigolds have a chemical in them called pyrethrin, which smells bad to insects. So they help to keep away bad bugs. Since we will be eating some of what we grow, we want to use only healthy organics if we possibly can. Marigolds help us to do that!
WHAT TO DO | Father's Day Fountains
This is one to do with an adult because you use tools and electricity. It takes a little work and a few special supplies, but when you're done, you have a fountain! That works! That you made together! How cool is that?
1. Getting the supplies gathered is the hardest part, I promise! Once you have them, you're ready to make a fountain.
2. Check to make sure the container is waterproof. If not, you'll need to use a different one.
3. Take the slate that you will use as your main piece and soak it in water while you do the next steps. It will be easier to drill if you do. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Kids' Container Gardening by Cindy Krezel, Rick Blanchette, Bruce Curtis. Copyright © 2010 Cindy Krezel. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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