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Plant Projects with Kids

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By Robert Cox and Shirley Marken, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agents, horticulture.

The family that gardens together grows together.

Pardon the parody, but gardening is good for families. And, if parents enjoy working with plants, it's a good likelihood that kids will learn to enjoy plants, too.

Parents who want to develop kids' interest in gardening can begin with some plant projects that are just plain fun. You also can add to the list of kids' plant projects by perusing these books: "Let's Grow - 72 Gardening Adventures with Children", by Linda Tilgren, or "Kids Gardening - A Kid's Guide to Messing Around in the Dirt", by Kim and Kevin Raftery.

Do plants use water?

Fill jars with water and add food coloring. Place a celery stalk or white daisy and stem in the jar. As transpiration takes place, water is pulled through the stem. The colored water will color the celery stalk or daisy petals.

Another way to discover that plants use water is to split a white carnation stem into two equal parts with a knife, from bottom up to the flower. Put each stem piece in a separate jar containing different colored water. You'll get a bicolored flower.

Seed Germination

Roll a paper towel into a cylinder and place inside a jar. Wet the towel so it sticks to the glass. Place seeds of beans, radish, corn or squash between the towel and the jar. Put an inch of water in the bottom of the jar to keep the towel moist. Place jar in a well-lighted warm room, out of direct sunlight. Let children record dates of planting and germination.

Children also can make a "seed doll" to observe germination. Moisten a paper towel and spread it flat. Place three or four rows of seeds on the towel. (Large seeds, such as beans, are most interesting for children to watch.) Fold in two edges of the towel to cover the seeds; roll as in a cinnamon roll. Fasten with two rubber bands and put in a plastic bag to stay moist. Every two or three days, carefully unwrap the "doll" to see if the seeds have sprouted. Be sure the towel doesn't dry out or become too soggy. Children can dissect the sprouted seeds to inspect them or they can plant them to grow. Even adult gardeners sometimes begin seeds this way.

Eggheads

When cooking eggs, carefully crack and save lower two-thirds of shell intact. Wash and then draw mouth, eyes and nose with a felt tip pen. Fill shells with potting soil. Sprinkle grass seed on surface (ryegrass works well) and gently press seeds into soil. Water gently, put egg shells in egg carton and cover with lid. Keep soil moist but not soggy. The sprouts become "egghead hair" and can be clipped with scissors to keep short or go for the shaggy look.

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Eggheads

Another way to do this is to dip pine cones in water (don't soak them), and then roll in potting soil in which has been mixed some grass seed. Roll the pine cones in the soil-seed mixture. Place in egg cartons to help them stay upright. Soon the grass will sprout and the entire cone will have "green hair." Kids can clip it or leave it shaggy, as with the eggheads.

EZ houseplants

Cut off about one-half inch of a carrot top and plant in a pot filled with moist, well-drained soil mix. The carrot top will develop fern-like leaves.

Cut off top green leaves of a pineapple, with about one inch of the fruit portion attached. Put the cut-fruit end in a shallow pan of water, leaving green top well above water. Roots will develop after several weeks. Transplant to a pot of moist soil and cover with a clear plastic bag for three weeks. Keep your pineapple plant well watered; tiny pineapples may even develop in a year or so.

Plant orange, grapefruit, tangerine or lemon seeds in a pot of moist potting soil as soon as they are removed from the fruit. Keep soil moist but not soggy; plant in a well-lighted room but out of direct sun. Resulting plants may become attractive houseplants although they may be spiny. Place plants in a sunny west or south window. They are unlikely to bear edible fruit.

Sponge Garden

Sow leaf lettuce seeds in the holes of a moist sponge and keep sponge moist in a shallow pan placed in a well-lighted area. The young plants will form masses of foliage. If you use a water-soluble fertilizer in the water, you might even have a "crop" of leaf lettuce to eat.

Personalized Pumpkins

In May, plant pumpkin seeds in garden soil well amended with aged manure or compost. Water and wait for germination. Mulch well with straw and keep weeds pulled. Fertilize lightly every two weeks. Where flowers develop on the sprawling vine, you'll soon see tiny pumpkins at the base of female flowers. Once a pumpkin is a few inches in diameter, let your children write their initials on the pumpkin with a felt marking pen. With a paring knife, go over the initials, using enough pressure to scrape the pumpkin skin. As the pumpkin grows, so will the initials! Remove other pumpkins that form later to allow personalized pumpkins to grow as large as possible.

Harvest pumpkins when the rind is hard and orange. Let light frost nip the vines, then harvest before hard frost, leave three to four inches of stem on the pumpkin.

Use pumpkin for jack-o-lanterns, pies and seeds. Suggest that kids guess the number of seeds in the pumpkin. Roast washed seeds on a cookie sheet. Sprinkle on a little salt before roasting at 300 degrees for about 30-40 minutes, stir every 10-15 minutes.

Photographs courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010