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Helpful Tips for Starting a School Garden

When it comes to gardening, both novice and skilled gardeners alike tout the benefits of the practice. Gardening is about more than just planting random seeds into the earth and watering them until they grow. Gardening is both therapeutic and educational.

school garden with flowers, vegetables and fruits

In fact, studies have shown significant physical and mental benefits when it comes to gardening. Gardening helps reduce stress and helps to improve mental clarity. In a day and age when stress and anxiety run rampantly high among students at an ever-increasing rate, finding ways to diminish that stress and ease that anxiety becomes essential. In addition to stress reduction and mental clarity, it keeps the body moving and active and engaged – all of which help the physical and mental aspects as well.

So why wouldn’t we want to encourage students in the academic setting to take pride and ownership in engaging in their own community school garden? If you’re looking to start one at your own school, here are some tips to ensure both you and your students find success and growth with their garden!

  1. Consider multiple ideal locations and monitor the daylight exposure.

It’s no secret that a successful garden needs some sunlight to flourish! Whether you have a plot of dirt you’re considering converting into a garden, or a concrete space you might place planters on, consider how close they are to surrounding buildings and where they’ll get their daily sunlight from.

Spring and summer will likely be your key gardening months. Which means you’ll want to make sure that the location of your garden will allow for ample direct sunlight during those months. Remember- winter sun is a different direction than summer sun, so plan accordingly when deciding where to start your garden.

  1. Get creative with the space you do have.

Especially when trying to coordinate a garden on a school campus, where space is limited and valuable, it’s important to find ways to use a small space in a creative manner. Gardens don’t need to be entirely horizontal! Growing walls and growing towers, like this Garden Tower 2 Composting Garden, allow you to maximize as much gardening space as possible. Plus- it’s designed for composing, making it easier to utilize kitchen or lunchtime scraps to help your garden flourish.

With this type of garden tower, you’re also more likely to find success, since some earth plants can struggle with hard dirt, stagnant water that sits at the root and causes root rot, and require more effort to compost. Getting a Garden Tower is the best way to use space while still getting the best garden growing possible.

  1. Research plants before you plant them.

Finding ways to make sure this school garden is successful is important, because if the garden is successful, the students will take more pride and ownership and enjoy the process. But, in order to be successful, you also need to plant the right seeds for your season, climate, and environment.

Lettuce is a winter produce, while tomatoes are a spring produce. Strawberries grow in the summer, while pumpkins grow in the fall. Peppers only need a small space, while zucchini can amass giant territories of ground coverage. Annuals are plants that will die every winter and need to be replanted entirely. Perennials are plants that stay alive all winter, bloom in the spring or summer, and lose their blooms and blossoms to survive the winter.

lettuce and greens grow in garden soil

To avoid wasting money or time, research what plants you want to grow, and make sure they are ready for planting in the right season, with the right weather and the right environment.

  1. Seek out donations from local shops.

In general, communities love to support their local schools. Reach out to nearby nurseries or hardware stores to see if they’re interested in donating plants or seeds, as well as essential gardening supplies like gloves, watering cans, trowels, and more. Be open to accepting gift cards or purchasing discounts, as well!

Before you seek out any of these donations, generate a list of what items you think your school will need. Keep in mind students will be using them, and accidents happen, so you’ll likely want to have multiples of many of them.

Here are some common gardening items to get your list going:

  • Gardening pots
  • Seeds
  • Shovels
  • Trowels
  • Rakes
  • Watering cans
  • Garden gloves
  • Buckets
  • Planters
  • Troughs
  • Rainwater collectors
  • Pruning scissors
  • Garden forks
  • Hand spades
  • Soil
  1. Document the process.

When you think about it, especially in the mind of children and teenagers, a garden is truly a long-term investment. The work they put in on the first day doesn’t fully reveal itself for months and months as the plants take time to grow.

To help them really see their own progress and dedication at work, document the journey from start to finish. Take pictures and record videos as things are being set up, planted, and cared for. Later in the year (or even years later) these will provide a comparison point to see just how far in the journey they’ve come. It will also help newer, younger students see the progress as well to help welcome them to the project.

student waters garden with teacher

Sometimes, it’s hard to see how far we’ve come when we forget where we even started in the first place!

  1. Don’t rely on the dirt nearby.

Your local dirt is not the same as rich, healthy soil. The dirt on the ground is packed tight, and has likely been stripped of all nutrients and goodness. Avoid thinking that you can simply dig a whole, place a seed, and the seed will flourish, because to be successful in a garden, you need to start with a healthy soil.

At any nursery, you can see just how nutrient-dense the soil they use actually is. It’s moist, grainy, dense, and textured. It’s not dusty or muddy like the campus dirt. It’s worth it to take the time to plant your future garden with dark rich soil.

You’ll also want to make sure you don’t plant the same produce in the same soil year after year. It strips essential nutrients that specific produce needs, causing problems later on. Poorly maintained soil and nutrient-less dirt can be a bit of a challenge when it comes to a successful garden - ever heard of a little something called the Dust Bowl? 

  1. Start with a quality worm composter early on.

Maintaining a healthy rich soil for your plants can be expensive if you don’t plan ahead. One of the best and easiest ways to keep your plants healthy is to feed them with compost, which helps to fertilize the soil on a regular basis, allowing your plants and produce to flourish with ease. It’s also pretty interesting from a scientific perspective and can help with a creative lesson, too! 

A composter, like the Hungry Bin Portable Composter, is both convenient and effective at fertilizing your garden. Students can save table scraps and other organic food waste, insert it into the composter, and let the worms do their work! The worms chew through the organic material and convert it into a high quality, natural fertilizer that can feed the garden.

  1. Build excitement and promote community involvement.

By building excitement around the garden itself, you can encourage students to become more invested and interested in the project. It helps promote a sense of pride and dedication to the garden as a whole. Promoting community involvement is also going to help with donations of items and money to help fund and maintain the school garden as well. Some ways to do this include:

  • Host an opening: Make an event out of the opening of the garden. Invite students, families, faculty, and community members to see the start of the garden once everything is planted and ready for the season.
  • Offer personal stepping stones in the garden: This option depends on the size of the space for your garden, but is a great way to get families involved as well as raise some additional funds. Families or locals can donate a certain amount and have a plaque or concrete stepping stone with their name placed in the garden.
  • Have a naming ceremony or competition: Finding the perfect name for your school’s garden can be a challenge (and may require some hoops to be jumped through). Ask the community and students to submit names with reasons for that name, and have a designated committee to select and reveal the name.

Get Your School Garden Growing

Getting the ball rolling is the hardest part of starting a campus garden, but once it’s going, it’s growing! A school garden encourages students to become invested in the nature and world around them, helps promote better social and emotional wellness, is immensely therapeutic, and encourages new hobbies and interests. Additionally, it has the added bonus of helping bring the beauty of nature into some of the most urban spaces, even in the busiest of cities.

girl smiles while picking fruit from plants

Create a garden oasis on your campus today, and use these tips and suggestions to give your campus the successful, flourishing garden that your students and staff deserve! 

Feel free to browse the many educational gardening systems that we offer at SproutRite. Don't hesitate to give our experts a call at (833) 777-6882 with any questions you might have.