Down to Earth - by Madison Co. Master Gardeners
Gardening with Kids
School’s out and the flurry of summer activities has begun. Include plenty of unstructured outdoor options in your summer vacation plans. Constant change and growth inherent in nature stimulates a child’s intellect. The garden is a place where children can learn while largely unsupervised, yet protected. Garden projects can help kids learn colors, numbers, math, language, art, nutrition and even history. Reinforce the concepts just learned in school and this fall’s transition back to the classroom will be a smooth one.
- Where in the World? – Learn geography and the origin of several plants. See ISU publication RG 0901
- Plant Zoo – Identify plants that have been named after an animal. Download ISU publication RG 0902 and go on your own plant safari at Reiman Gardens in Ames. Or, start a Plant Zoo in your backyard.
- Garden Insects - Become a Private Insect Investigator. ISU publication RG 0901 will help you identify common garden insects. You’ll also find tips for keeping a journal of your observations.
- Square Foot Gardening – Plant a Salsa Garden and practice your math skills. Mark off a 2’ x 4’ bed into eight 1’ x 1’ squares. Tomatoes and peppers need 12” between plants so give each of these their own square. Cilantro requires 6” so evenly space 4 plants in one square. Parsley, 9 plants per square. Onions, 16 sets per square. Using this “square foot” method, your bed will hold 2 tomatoes, 3 peppers, 4 cilantro, 9 parsley and 16 onion plants. Plant, water, weed and later this summer you’ll be making tasty salsa.
- Small Spaces – Give your child their own garden space. Keep it small and simple to match the child’s attention span. Radishes are quick to sprout and rapid growers making them a good first choice for young children. See ISU publication PM 0870A to find tips for growing vegetables in small plots and recommended varieties.
- Contain Your Enthusiasm – Use containers to keep your garden small and manageable. Cherry tomatoes are easy to grow in pots and fun to harvest. See ISU publication PM 0870B for suggested vegetable cultivars for container gardens.
- Take Time to Smell the Flowers – Sunflowers and zinnias are easy to grow, fun and colorful. Watch for pollinators then dissect a blossom. ISU publication RG 0212 describes garden pollinators and includes a diagram of the parts of a flower.
Give your child time and space to actively experience the outdoors this summer. Children are natural gardeners. They are curious hands-on learners who love to get dirty. Fortunately, they’re also washable.
All of the ISU publications mentioned above are downloadable at https://store.extension.iastate.edu/. Or visit your local ISU Extension and Outreach office.
Moving Houseplants Outside
Change is hard for everyone, including houseplants. Just like housebound Iowans who finally burst outdoors on the first warm spring day, houseplants can feel a bit worn and torn by too much of what will soon be a good, rejuvenating experience for them. “Gradually” is the word for making the move from indoor conditions to a summer home outside.
- Expose the migrating plant to small doses of sheltered outdoor conditions. An hour in a shaded spot one day, a couple more hours the next day, more wind or a bit of sun the next, and so on.
- Pay close attention to night time low’s. Many tropical plants just can’t tolerate temps below the 50’s. Their owners, giddy with springtime, can forget that the 40’s are frigid for a tropical plant.
- Monitor any extremes that the weather throws at a transitioning plant. A sun-lover who has successfully withstood even full days of sun might really pout one day if that sun were accompanied by a 25 mph wind and 25% humidity. Better to be cautious than to just assume the plant will tough it out. It might live, but could spend weeks refoliating or putting out flower buds if it is stressed too much during its move-in.
- Know the natural environment the plant inhabits in the wild. Mimic those conditions as closely as possible in the permanent summer home for it.
- Water and feed regularly throughout the growing season.
Many books and sites online provide additional information for nurturing houseplants during their summer outdoors. The goal is a plant that is reinvigorated by its summer in a more congenial growing environment. You’ll have all winter to enjoy the plant’s resulting good health.
Contact Madison County Master Gardeners at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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