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Seed and Plant Selection

If you are a beginning gardener, or working with kids who have never gardened before, start with the vegetables, flowers, berries and other plants whose produce you really love. Grow the veggies you love to eat, the flowers you love to give in bouquets, the berries that make the jams and fruit cups you love, and so forth.

Also start with seeds that are quick and easy to germinate and don't require a lot of extra fussing.

Avoid indoor seed-starting of plants that don't transplant well, but are better off being sown straight into the garden after the last chance of frost. These include corn, beans, peas and cucumbers.

Read the backs of seed packets to decide how many square feet of gardening space you might need for a decent crop from each plant. Then decide if you really have room for that plant if it takes up a lot of space, like corn.

Think about growing a few plants that can be harvested in late spring, a few in early summer, and a few in late summer, to keep the excitement going.

Read the other articles on this website about good companion plants, and think about the need to have some tall plants and some short plants, some that are spiky and some that are mounded, colors that will blend well, some that might need a trellis or cage or something to climb on, and others that might creep along the ground.

Maybe you're intimidated by indoor seed-starting, and not to worry if so: there are many, many vegetables or annual and perennial flowers available for purchase at garden centers for your convenience, to plant as seedlings.

A really good rule of (green) thumb is for beginners to start out with 10 different plants. Master them, and then NEXT year you can add 10 more and have a bigger, more elaborate garden.

The point is to KISS - Keep It Simple, Silly.

It's easy to get carried away and buy too many different packets of seeds, or plan on growing 'way too many plants in your garden space so that you'll end up with a crowded mess.

            To keep organized and do-able, do your homework. Read up on the various plants, how easy or hard they are to grow, when they should be planted, when their harvest is due, and so on. Whittle down your list of possibles until you come up with 10 to experiment with and learn about this year.

One way to keep things in perspective is to choose one of the Garden Themes on this website and grow the plants specified in that theme garden. This year's theme is an African-American Heritage Garden, featuring 10 plants that have been important in African-American culture down through the years.

This website will give you lots of fun things to do with those particular plants this year. And next year, there will be a different theme, so you and your club will get plenty of variety.

As you and your students discuss all your options, it's a fun idea to page through seed catalogs and gardening books.

Good plants for indoor starts:

Tomatoes

Peppers

Broccoli

Eggplant

Cauliflower

Melons

Squash

Herbs

Marigolds

Impatiens

Don't waste your time starting flowers that are so easy to start by simply broadcasting (throwing) the seed directly into the garden. Nasturtiums, alyssum, California poppies, sunflowers, columbine, and wildflower mixtures are examples.

Similarly, there are many veggies that grow fairly fast and whose products grow underground - radishes, beets, carrots - so you might as well wait 'til Mother's Day and sow those seeds outdoors in your prepared garden.

Your students' first challenge will be to decide when to put different plants outdoors. Cool-weather crops like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage can be set out up to a month before the last danger of frost in your area. (For the Omaha metro area, that's generally considered to be Mother's Day.)

Warm-weather crops such as tomatoes, peppers, and melons should be transplanted after that date. (You can find out last frost dates in your area from local gardeners, the Cooperative Extension Service, or weather maps.) Students can check seed packets or gardening catalogs to find out about frost tolerance, then count back to decide when to sow each crop indoors so they'll be at the right stage at transplant time.

While investigating planting dates, encourage your students also to determine the frost dates for different areas of the country, and discuss why the dates vary. Or they could research the origins (OK, a little garden humor: the ROOTS) of some of your garden plants and discuss how the cold tolerance or heat preference of different plants relates to where in the world the plant originated.

More than anything else, keep notes in your club's Garden Notebook so that you can fine-tune your seed and plant selection for next year!

By Susan Darst Williams • www.KidsGardenClub.org • Start-Ups 04 © 2010

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