Gardening with Kids: Potted Flowers
The Gardening with Kids Series
Every day should be Earth Day!
An excellent way of honoring our earth is to let it help us grow things. It is remarkably easy to start flowers and plants and even vegetables from seed. You can do it whether you live in the cold north (like myself) or the warm south, where you can probably grow certain flowers and vegetables year round.
This is an excellent project for parent and child. If you have not started plants from seed before, it is much more exciting and easy than you might have imagined. Within a week you will see certain seeds sprout and know that something even better is on its way. Whether it is a flower, tomato, or cucumber, it will be inspiring to both you and your kids.
This project is particularly good because it works for apartment dwellers with terraces, balconies, just as well as those families that have a full backyard. Even though we faced a snow storm this weekend, we were able to protect the planters we started last week, and I was thrilled to see some seedlings already. In general, if you start now you will have flowers by July or August (gardening is a hobby for the patient). For those in colder climates, you must start seeds now, or you won’t see flowers until very late summer and if there is an early frost, all your work could be short lived.
First, you need a few things. You must have a warm windowsill, preferably south-facing window where you can put a stool, or a small side table, or even the floor. Check what you are growing, if you do not need full sun, a west-facing window will work as it gets lots of hot afternoon sun. I had to look up how our house faces on Google maps, so don’t worry if you don’t know, that is what Google is for! There are more sophisticated options like grow lights on mini greenhouses, such as this one from Lee Valley, which is really a teeny greenhouse. No one can be left out of indoor gardening with grow lights and mini greenhouse options. Here is a blog of a woman doing a window sill gardening project called “my square foot garden”.
Other things you need are seeds, soil, containers, like pots or planters, maybe a spade or wooden spoon or some sort of scoop, watering can, and labels for your plants.
Make sure you give the pots a good soak the first time you plant your seeds. My preschooler-daughter, Charlotte, took care of this for us.
You can get by with very little tools and supplies or step it up with more sophisticated options. For this tutorial, we are using: some clay pots, a spade (scoop), and a watering can. Charlotte and I chose three different flowers that would do well in individual pots.
We are using zinnias, marigolds and sunflowers. All of these flowers are quite hardy and easy to start either inside or outside and would be able to stay in their pots or could be transplanted into a conventional yard garden. The exception is sunflowers, which do not transplant very well. We also chose those three because they are pretty. *smile* You can figure out what grows well in pots a few ways: 1) it says “ideal for containers” on the seed packet, 2) consult a book, 3) Google! it.
We added some little flower sticks to our pots, so the soil wouldn’t feel so lonely before anything grew and flowers. We bought these are our local IKEA, and Charlotte has since rearranged them several times.
It is also very important to label your pots. If too many seeds sprout and crowd the pot, you may want to thin them out. You probably don’t want more than about 10 zinnias in your pot, same goes for the marigolds, and probably about 3-5 sunflowers are enough, but watch as they grow to make sure they don’t get too crowded. Wait to thin them out until they have 5-6 leaves on them and seem pretty sturdy. You just pull them out gently and discard, or you can try putting the sprouts into smaller pots! It took only eight days for our zinnias and marigolds to sprout. Exciting!
The sunflowers have not sprouted yet, but here are the seed packets for a preview of the flowers, the directions given on the back of the seed packet should give you and estimated time for germination (sprouting!) as well as how deep and wide to space your seeds. We find it is better to put in more seeds than less, regardless of what the package says. For sunflowers use a large pot, at least about 16 inches across and about the same deep. Sunflowers can have large roots, and it is better to be safe that sorry. The zinnias and marigolds we sowed are smaller and you could use a smaller pot for each.
So now, it’s a waiting game. We watch the sprouts, and get excited! With this batch of flowers, I expect to see blooms by late June early July, since we are starting so early, although the marigolds and zinnias will bloom first!
Make sure they are always damp, but not soaked (you could use a spray bottle), and thin as needed. The top of the soil should always be moist to the touch. You probably have to mist them well daily, but use your fingers to make sure the dirt is moist.
As I mentioned above, we had to take out pots inside this week because of snow, and our seeds are still doing well. Check your weather forecast, if there is a risk of frost, take them inside for a cuddle at night. You can put them back out slowly, for a few hours a day, when the sun gets hot again. Don’t put them out for a 12 hour plus heat bath until they are used to it. This is called “hardening off”.
Next time, we will talk about vegetables you can start from seed AND grow right into containers. Also, seeds you can just toss into the yard, if you have one, right away without covering them with much or any soil and they will grow on their own.
Another excellent resource for gardening tips, including starting things from seeds is at You Grow Girl, run by my friend Gayla Trail.