Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 6/29/2005 2:11:33 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
By the middle of summer, many adults are trying to think of ways to provide something for children to do until school begins again.
Why not start a gardening project? You can introduce your youngsters to the joys of gardening and at the same time exercise their bodies and brains.
To be successful during the summer, you’ll need to plant seeds or use plants that will thrive in our hot, humid climate. A good selection of flowers, vegetables and herbs can be grown.
Whatever you decide to grow, be sure to start with a well-prepared bed, or, if gardening in containers, use a good potting soil and the proper size containers.
To prepare a garden bed, remove any weeds or grass from the area. Next, dig the soil to a depth of 8 inches. For small children this can be a physically difficult task, and your assistance will be required. But you can try to find tools that are designed for kids to use and get them involved. Next, sprinkle a complete granular fertilizer following the label directions and then spread a 2-inch layer of organic matter over the area and dig it in. Most often compost, aged manure, peat moss, leaves or grass clippings are used as a source of organic matter. Thoroughly incorporate everything into the soil of the bed by turning it in with a shovel.
Children might ask why you need to add fertilizer and organic matter to the soil. A simple answer would be that the fertilizer provides nutrients needed by the plant. You could compare a fertilizer to vitamins. Just as getting enough vitamins is important to our growth and health, fertilizers provide nutrients that make the plants healthier and more productive.
You also can mention that although we call fertilizers "plant food," plants actually make their own food through a remarkable process called photosynthesis. In this process, plants absorb the energy of the sun and use it to create the food they need to live and grow.
As for the organic matter you add, it helps to put in nutrients, but, more important, it improves the soil so the roots of the plants will grow better. The organic matter helps create air spaces and aids in drainage of excess water from the soil. The air spaces allow oxygen to be present in levels needed to maintain a healthy root system. A loose soil also helps the roots grow through it easier.
Most kids are familiar with the recycling of aluminum, paper and glass. You can introduce them to the recycling of organic yard waste through composting. Compost is a valuable soil amendment you can easily make yourself with grass clippings, leaves and vegetable and fruit peelings from the kitchen. The LSU AgCenter has excellent free information on establishing a compost pile. Contact your parish’s LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com to obtain copies.
For container gardens, choose commercial potting soils that are light and drain well. Make sure the containers you use have drainage holes to allow excess water to drain away when you water. Choose larger containers, since they will need watering less often and you can grow a wider variety of plants in them. Use your favorite water-soluble fertilizer or a slow-release formulation. Follow label directions and repeat as indicated.
You can start your plants from seeds or purchase transplants from local nurseries. I would recommend trying both ways.
Some of the flowers that will grow well in the summer include: marigold, zinnia, sunflower, cosmos and balsam. Better yet, those flowers and such vegetables as peanuts, yard-long beans, hyacinth beans and luffa are very easily grown from relatively large seed that children can handle easily when planting.
Other flowers that grow well in summer are salvia, periwinkle, portulaca, verbena, gomphrena, wishbone flower, melampodium and pentas. Vegetables you can be successful with include eggplant, hot peppers, okra, sweet potatoes, banana pepper and Gypsy pepper.
For the ones, such as beans and luffa, that need something to climb on, you can make a teepee out of bamboo stakes for the vines to climb on. The kids also will love to sit inside.
A few herbs also would be fun to plant. Choose plants such as basil (the spaghetti sauce herb), oregano (the pizza herb) or spearmint (the toothpaste herb).
You might also consider planting a butterfly garden. Children are enthralled by the different stages (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis and butterfly) in the life cycle of these fascinating insects.
In caterpillar stage they are voracious leaf eaters, and plants that they like to eat are planted in the butterfly garden for them to feed on. The adult female butterfly will lay her eggs only on those plants that will properly nourish her offspring (so you don’t have to worry about butterfly caterpillars eating your other plants).
Different species of butterflies lay eggs on different plants. Here are a few examples: monarchs lay eggs on butterfly weed; Gulf fritillary, passion vine; long-tailed skipper, beans; and sulphur, cassias.
The adult butterflies feed on nectar from many commonly grown garden flowers. Some of the best are pentas, lantana, butterfly weed, coneflower, buddleia and verbena.
I talk to so many gardeners who say that an adult introduced them to gardening when they were children. Gardening is one of the best ways to put children in touch with nature. Planting a few vegetables will help kids realize that food doesn't just appear on grocery shelves.
Why not take some time to open a child’s eyes to the wonders of gardening this summer?
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.