Winter blues got you down? Summer heat keeping you in? Or perhaps it’s almost Spring Break and you can’t wait for some warmer weather. Whatever the season, bring some green into your classroom by creating a miniature nursery.
Always try to have items donated – most businesses are more than happy to help out. You may be able to find a local nursery that will donate “flats” to plant in.These are small plastic containers that come fastened together at perforations and can then be separated. If you can’t locate some free flats, have students bring empty (clean) milk cartons from home, or collect the individual milk cartons from the cafeteria after lunch to plant in. Plastic or paper will both work just fine, but keep in mind that paper will eventually begin to break down when watered. You will want to sterilize any plastic containers by dipping them in a solution of one part bleach to 20 parts water. This will kill off any bacteria or micro-organisms that may want to attack your new plants.
Growing from seed is a very rewarding experience! The only materials you should need to purchase for this activity are the seeds to plant and a starting mix to plant them in. While you can get dirt from your backyard, a good starting mix is loaded with nutrients to help your plants flourish sooner. Starting mixes are also important because they have been sterilized and are free of weeds and the like.
When purchasing seeds, marigolds and zinnias both come highly recommended because they grow quickly and come in a variety of colors. If you don’t necessarily desire a flowering plant, vegetable bush beans also grow quickly, and a planting of cat grass offers a quick, edible take-home treat for the family pet.
Fill your planting container three-quarters full with starting mix. Tap the soil down carefully, but do not pack it in tightly because you want to allow roots room to grow. Sprinkle seeds according to package directions. As a general rule, three times the diameter of the seed is the depth the seed should be planted at (diameter x 3 = planting depth), so keep this in mind when covering the seeds. For very small seeds, just push them lightly into the soil – it doesn’t take much to cover them adequately.
Once the seeds are planted, it is important they are kept moist. After watering, cover the containers with plastic wrap to keep the moisture in. Poke just a few small holes in the plastic to allow fresh air in. Seeds need as much light as you can give them. A fluorescent or “grow light” on a timer is ideal – experts recommend a minimum of 14 hours of direct light. However, if you don’t have the means to provide that much artificial sunshine, place the containers on a window ledge where they will get as much sun as possible.
Most seeds will begin to sprout in about a week. The plastic wrap can be removed when the plants reach about a quarter inch in height. Continue to keep them well watered and moist. Also, products such as Miracle Grow help to boost growth, and can be added to the water on a regular basis to speed the process. Keep the plants at school until they flower so you can enjoy the color in your classroom. Once all danger of frost has passed, students can take the plants home and plant them outside, or repot them for use as house plants.
Our thanks to Earl May Nursery & Garden Center in Leawood, Kansas for their expert planting advice.