How Plants Grow

All plants need water to live. They do not take in food as animals do, but make their own using water from the ground, and carbon dioxide gas from the air. Water is absorbed through a plant’s roots. It travels up through the stem or trunk into the leaves, shoots, and flowers. The water also carries the nutrients from the soil to all parts of the plant. In the leaves, nutrients and water are used for photosynthesis, the process of making energy from light. Excess water not needed by the plant evaporates back into air in the form of water vapor in a process called transpiration. You can see how much water vapor is transpired by a plant in the first experiment.

EVAPORATION IN ACTION

You will need :
1) House plant
2) Watering can
3) Clear plastic bag
4) Tape
5) Scissors


Step 1
Water the house plant well using a watering can. Water the plant at the base, so the roots can draw the water up. If you water the plant from the top, water just the soil, not the plant itself.


Step 2
Place a large, transparent plastic bag over the plant, taking care not to damage the leaves. Tape the bag tightly around the pot. Leave the plant overnight.


Step 3
Look at the plant the next day. Inside the bag, water vapor given off by the plant turns back into water. The air inside is warm and moist, like the air in a rainforest.

When a seed begins to grow, we say that it is has germinated. Germination occurs when conditions are warm and moist enough for the seed to swell and split its skin. A tiny root grows downward, and a thin shoot pushes upward toward the light. The second project shows you how to germinate a seed and help it grow into a tree. Germinating a seed this way takes about two months.

GERMINATE AN ACORN

You will need :
1) 4in (diameter) flower pot
2) Soil mix
3) Gloves
4) Acorns or another tree’s seeds
5) Trowel
6) Watering can


Step 1
Fill the flower pot with soil mix and bury an acorn just beneath the surface. Put it in a warm place and keep the soil moist. Plant several acorns, since one may not germinate.
Step 2
When a tiny tree starts to grow by itself, it is called a seedling. It needs light and and regular watering to grow well. Do not soak the soil with water, or the roots will rot and die.
Step 3
Your seedling should grow rapidly for a few weeks and then stop. During the winter, it will need little water. In the spring, you can take the seedling out of its pot and plant it outside.

MORE INFORMATION ON TREES

CONVERTING ENERGY :

Photosynthesis is the process through which plants use the water in the ground and the energy in sunlight to make their food. Leaves take in carbon dioxide and water to make oxygen and glucose (sugar). Glucose flows to all parts of the plant, supplying energy for growth. Oxygen gas escapes through the holes on the underside of the leaves. The oxygen is released back into the air. We need oxygen to breathe.

SURVIVAL IN THE WETLANDS :
Swamps are places where the ground is permanently waterlogged, such as in muddy river estuaries. Most trees cannot survive in swamps, because they need fresh water and air around their roots. Some types of mangroves have breathing roots that grow upward, so that their tips are above the surface of the water. Mangrove swamps are home to kingfishers, giant water bugs, crabs, turtles, crocodiles, and mudskippers, a type of fish that spends much of its time out of water.

FLOATING WATER : Trees pass millions of gallons of water vapor into the water each day. The vapor forms thick clouds of tiny water droplets over the forest.

Back to School Projects Main

Plants and growth

Plants often go to a lot of trouble to attract animals that will help them pollinate their flowers or spread their seeds. Some flowers are shaped so that only certain kinds of insects or birds are able to get into the flower to collect the nectar.

Sunflowers grow into tall flowers very quickly. If you plant sunflowers in different places in the garden – some in shady corners, some in sunny spots – you can see which ones grow the fastest by measuring them every day.

Animals eat plants to get the food that they need to grow because only plants can convert energy from the Sun into food. Even animals like lions and tigers that only eat meat rely on plants for their food because the animals that the lions and tigers eat get their food from plants. This is called the food chain.

Insects aren’t the only type of creatures that plants use to help with pollination. Some small birds like the hummingbird or small bats are involved in the pollination process too.

When a flower has been pollinated, seeds will develop in the ovaries at the bottom of the flower. These seeds will grow into plants of the same species and the plant will use animals, wind or an explosive seed pod to spread them around.

Some seeds are very light, like the seeds from a dandelion, and plants use the wind to carry these long distances. Other seeds grow in pods like peas – when these pods dry out, the pod will burst and fire the seeds away from the plant.

Many plants use animals to spread their seeds, and they can do this in different ways. Some seeds have hooks on them so that they catch on fur or skin, and the animal carries them a long way before the seed falls off. Some seeds develop into fruits – this is when the flesh of the ovary that the seed is in grows into something that animals like to eat (like tomatoes, cherries or apples) – the animals eat the fruit and then either spit out the seeds or they come out in their poo.

Carnivorous plants are plants that also eat meat. They use sticky pads or slippery tubes to trap animals (mostly insects) inside them and then they dissolve them and eat them. Venus flytraps and pitcher plants are examples of these.

Some plants live for a very short amount of time before they flower and spread their seeds. Many types of plant that we like to eat (like tomatoes or cucumbers) only live for one year and die in the winter. Other plants can live for several years and some plants like trees can live for hundreds, or even thousands of years!

Words to know:

Bulb – a form some plants take when they are dormant; some plants like daffodils or onions survive the winter as a bulb under the soil, and grow new stalks and leaves in the spring
Carpel – the female reproductive parts of a flower; it receives pollen from other plants and protects seeds while they develop
Deciduous – deciduous trees are ones that shed their leaves in winter; leaves on these trees are normally wide and flat
Evergreen – evergreen trees (also called conifers) are ones that keep their leaves all year around; they often have leaves shaped like needles
Flower – a flower contains the reproductive parts of a plant; they are often brightly coloured to attract insects
Fruit – flesh surrounding a seed or seeds that makes it attractive for animals to eat them
Germination – the process of a seed starting to grow to create a new plant
Leaves – plants have these on their branches or stem, and normally use them to make food from sunlight; this is called photosynthesis.
Ovary – a chamber at the base of the carpel; this contains ovules that are fertilised by pollen to create seeds
Nectar – a sugary liquid that is found in many flowers; nectar attracts insects to drink it and encourages them to travel from flower to flower spreading pollen
Petal – special leaves that are part of a flower. They are often brightly coloured to attract insects
Photosynthesis – the process plants use to make food from sunlight; it also needs carbon dioxide from the air, and water from the soil
Pollen – pollen is needed to create seeds to grow new plants; sometimes pollen is carried on the wind, and sometimes it is carried from plant to plant by insects
Seed – seeds are created using pollen from other plants; they are a new plant and normally need some food to help it start to grow
Stalk/stem – the central part of the plant that all the leaves and branches connect to; in trees, this is called the trunk
Stamen – the male reproductive parts of the flower; they are covered in pollen that either rubs off on passing insects or is blown away by the wind
Stigma – this is at the top of the carpel; its job is to catch pollen that is floating on the wind or is on the back of an insect that has come to the flower
Style – a tube in the centre of the carpel to take pollen to the ovary
Tree – large plants that live a long time, have a very tough, woody stem called a trunk, and normally have lots and lots of leaves and a large number of branches
Tuber – part of the stem or root used to store food by the plant; potatoes and carrots are tubers
Vegetable – bits of plant we eat that aren’t fruits; most vegetables are the root, stem or leaves of the plant

Now that Spring is here, it’s time to think about starting a garden! Growing a garden is a wonderful experience for preschoolers. Before starting a garden, it’s important for kids to understand what plants need to grow. This simple growing plants science experiment is a great way to demonstrate to preschoolers what plants need.

Benefits of Growing Plants with Preschoolers

Growing plants with preschoolers provides hands-on, real life experience about what plants need to grow.

With this activity children will also gain sensory input through touching the soil and work on fine motor skills used to plant seeds and water plants.

What Plants Are Good For Experiments?

You want to use fast growing plants. We used pea plants in our experiment.

But you could also use these types of seeds as well:

  • grass
  • beans
  • herbs
  • mushrooms
  • cress

Supplies Needed for Growing Plants with Preschoolers

  • The Surprise Garden by Zoe Hall
  • Seeds
  • Soil
  • Peat Pots
  • Garden gloves for kids
  • Scoop for the soil
  • Marker

How to Plant the Seeds

Gather all the supplies and set up at a low table so the children can help. Help the children put on the gardening gloves and hand them a scoop. Guide them in filling the peat pots with the potting soil.

Then invite them poke little holes into the potting soil, place the seeds in the holes, and cover with soil. Help the children water the soil.

How to Set-up the Growing Plants Experiment

To set up the growing plants experiment read The Surprise Garden by Zoe Hall and talk with the children about what plants need to grow. Then, have them choose places for the plants to sit around the home or classroom. Some ideas where plants might grow is in the window, on a shelf, and in a cabinet.

Water the plants as usual wherever they may be placed. At the end of a week or two take them all out to compare the plant growth. Talk with the children again about what plants need to grow and why some plants might have grown more than others. You might even have the students count the leaves for a math activity.

BIO: Samantha writes at Stir the Wonder, sharing creative, hands-on learning activities for preschoolers including fine motor, STEM, and book-inspired activities. She is also a co-author of the book 99 Fine Motor Ideas for Ages 1 to 5, and the brand new 100 Fine Motor Ideas for Parents, Teachers & Therapists! You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

More Science Ideas

Science Center Books for Preschool– Science is exploring and discovering more about the world. Your science center offers hands-on experiences with the world. Investigating, exploring, and using senses are key for preschoolers to learn about science and the world.

Science for Kids: Ice Cream in a Bag– Making ice cream in a bag is the perfect recipe for preschoolers! There is fine and gross motor work involved plus you get a yummy treat! Try this as a team building activity or a fun special science experiment for kids.

Color Changing Flowers Science Experiment– This color changing flowers science experiment is so easy to do and your kids will love watching the flowers change colors! Your kids will love learning about how plants drink water with this simple experiment. Perfect for a plants theme in your preschool, pre-k, or kindergarten classroom.

Dinosaur Eggs Fizzy Science Experiment-Dinosaurs are always a fun topic or theme to explore with preschoolers. Something about dinosaurs seems to grab the mind and imagination of children. This fun science experiment will add even more excitement to your dinosaur explorations.

Ocean Octopus Science Exploration in Preschool-Learning about the ocean and sea creatures is a popular topic in preschool. But without real life experiences, it can be difficult for young children to understand sea life and sea creatures.

Plants (ornamental) – Spring

What to do first
Unpack them immediately and, if dry, stand the trays for a few minutes in about 2cm (¾in) of water, until the compost is fully moist again. You may notice a slight yellowing of the foliage but this is quite natural after they have been in a dark box and is nothing to be worried about.

Now stand them in a bright, airy position, out of direct sunlight and where there is some gentle warmth. Having been carefully nurtured under ideal glasshouse conditions, your plants will be sensitive to both cold and scorching sunshine. Suitable places would be a conservatory, greenhouse, windowsill of a cool room or well-lit porch. Aim to give them a minimum temperature of about 10C (50F), a little more for begonias and impatiens.

Growing Them On
Your plants have arrived ready for transplanting and, although they may be left for a day or two to acclimatise to the new conditions, they should otherwise be potted on as soon as possible. When you do this, ease each one gently from its cell, if necessary pushing it out by inserting a suitable thin implement through the hole in the bottom. Please note: larger plugs do not need to be grown on but will still need protection from frost.

If you plan to set out your plants in beds or borders later in spring or to plant them in large, immovable tubs, pot them on into multicell trays with large cells or 7.5cm (3in) pots. Use any good multi-purpose compost.

With the exception of mini plug plants, plants intended for use in hanging baskets, flower bags or pots can be planted directly into their final containers, if you so wish, but will then take up a lot more room and will still generally need protection until all danger of frost is past. If you transplant them first to multicell trays or small pots, leave them for about 3-4 weeks before moving them on.

As soon as you have transplanted your plug plants, water them in well. After that wait until the surface of the compost starts to dry before watering again. Your plants are unlikely to thrive if over watered.
If you have to grow your plants in a place where they only receive light from one side, such as on a windowsill, turn them regularly so that they grow evenly.

Planting Out
During May, harden the plants off by standing them outside in the day and bringing them in again on cold nights, before locating them in their final positions outside at the end of the month. Sunflowers, which develop rapidly and must not be allowed to become root-bound, are an exception and should be set out as soon as they are large enough. Other hardier types, like antirrhinums, delphiniums, pansies and stocks can also go out earlier if growth is sufficient.

When you plant up your containers and baskets, mix water-retaining gel granules and a slow-release fertiliser with the compost. Together they will save you time with both feeding and watering later in the season. As a general rule, allow one plant per 5cm (2in) of container or basket diameter and double this number for baskets where the sides are planted. Needless to say, large-growing plants like Nicotiana sylvestris will need more space.

If you are planting in your borders, prepare the ground well, removing any perennial weeds. Where the soil is not already rich, dig in well-rotted manure or compost. For optimum flowering, either incorporate some slow release fertiliser at this time or feed regularly through the season. Keep plants well watered until they are established.

Fun Plants For Kids

Fun Plants for Color and Shape

Kids love colorful flowers in a variety of shapes. Here are some great selections to try:

  • Sunflowers – What kid can resist the fun-filled sunflower? Sunflowers come in a variety of sizes and colors, from the nearly 12-foot tall ‘Mammoth’ variety to the smaller 3-foot ‘Sonya.’ There are common yellow sunflowers, or you can grow red and orange varieties, such as ‘Velvet Queen’ and ‘Terracotta.’ Regardless of the type, kids will be fascinated by its sun-chasing characteristics, not to mention the scrumptious seeds that follow.
  • Hens and chicks – This is a fun succulent plant that produces offsets resembling small versions of the mother plant. It is great for filling in nooks and crannies nearly anywhere, even old boots.
  • Snapdragons – Snapdragons are fun plants for kids, not only by their many colors and sizes, but also by pinching the blossoms to make the dragon’s mouth open.
  • Nasturtiums, marigolds and zinnias – these flowers, with their wonderful mix of colors, have always been favorites for kids.

Fun Plants for Smell and Taste

Scented plants awaken their sense of smell. Good choices here include:

  • Four o’clock – This is a bushy plant with trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of pink, yellow, or white. The fragrant flowers don’t open until late afternoon, around four o’clock.
  • Mint – A commonly grown aromatic herb that is great for kids. Mint comes in numerous varieties, all with unique scents, from peppermint and orange to chocolate, lemon and pineapple.
  • Dill – This is another scented herb that kids will enjoy. Not only does it smell like pickles, but it also has feathery looking foliage.

Vegetables are always considered fun plants for kids. They not only germinate quickly but can also be eaten once they have matured. Many vegetables are now available in unusual colors, shapes and sizes (from speckled beans, yellow tomatoes and red carrots to miniature cucumbers and pumpkins). Not only do kids love to eat produce harvested from their own garden, but the fun colors add excitement to the experience. Here are some good choices to start with:

  • Beans are always good choices for kids as their seeds are large enough for small children to handle easily. ‘Purple Queen’ is a bush variety, and once ripe, the beans can easily be spotted by their purple color.
  • Radishes – Although radishes have small seeds, they germinate quickly, making them ideal for impatient kids. The variety called ‘Easter Egg’ produces red, purple and white radishes. These fun, colorful, egg-shaped radishes are a good choice for kids.
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes are often a huge hit in the children’s garden, especially cherry tomatoes. Kids will love the ‘Yellow Pear’ variety, which produces yellow, bite-sized tomatoes rather than red ones.
  • Pumpkins – Another good pick for kids, but for something a little different and lots of fun, try the ‘Jack Be Little’ variety, which produces miniature orange pumpkins. There is also a white form available called ‘Baby Boo.’
  • Gourds – These are always a favorite with kids as well. While the ‘Birdhouse’ gourd is oftentimes the most popular, there are other varieties available in different colors and sizes that also appeal to kids, such the ‘Goblin Eggs’ mix. This variety is a mix of miniature egg-shaped gourds in various colors.

Fun Plants to Touch and Hear

Children love to touch soft, fuzzy plants. Some favorites include:

  • Lamb’s ear – This plant has fuzzy silvery-green leaves that kids love to touch.
  • Bunny tails – A small ornamental grass that produces soft, powder-puff flowers.
  • Cotton – Don’t overlook the cotton plant. It is easy to grow and produces soft, fluffy white cotton. Adding it to the garden is a good way to teach kids about the history of cotton and how it’s used in making various things, such as clothing.

Some plants make interesting sounds. These plants can also be fun for kids.

  • Ornamental grasses come in many varieties and as wind moves through their foliage, it produces soothing sounds.
  • Chinese lantern plant produces rows of inflated papery, orange-red lantern-like seed pods that create interesting sounds in the wind.
  • Money plant produces lightly scented purple or white flowers, but it’s actually the translucent, silver-dollar seed pods that make this plant fun for kids. The plant creates soft rustling sounds as it gently flutters in the wind.

Kids love anything that awakens their senses. Giving them the opportunity to fill a garden of their own with their favorite fun plants is a great way to encourage continual interest with this popular pastime.

Easy-to-grow plants

Plants

  1. Primrose, Primula vulgaris; a spring wildflower that comes in a variety of colours. Great for planting in pots and containers.
  2. Wild strawberry, Fragaria vesca; children will love hunting for the small, sweet, delicious fruit.
  3. Bellflower, Campanula medium ‘Canterbury Bells’; a blue, white or lavender, summer-flowering plant.
  4. Pansy, Viola; the cheery face of the pansy is a popular choice for an abundance of both summer and winter colour. Ensure you deadhead them regularly.
  5. Crane’s-bill, Geranium; grown for its white, pink, blue or purple saucer-shaped flowers and its dense foliage, which is great for keeping down the weeds. Not to be confused with the summer-bedding plant pelargonium, which is often referred to as geranium.
  6. Lamb’s ears, Stachys byzantina; grown more for its foliage than its flowers. As its name suggests, its downy leaves resemble the ears of a lamb.
  7. Houseleek, Sempervivum; a rosette-forming succulent that produces flowers on long stems. It is a great plant for dry areas of the garden.
  8. Lavender, Lavandula; a familiar garden favourite, producing white, pink, blue or purple aromatic flowers during the summer months. Flowers and foliage are often used for making pot-pourri.
  9. Lady’s mantle, Alchemilla mollis; produces greenish yellow flowers from June to August. Provides good ground cover.
  10. Forget-me-not, Myosotis; pretty clusters of small flowers in either blue, white or pink. They love well-drained soil.

Seeds

  1. Runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus; water well in dry weather, otherwise the plants will not produce beans.
  2. Radish, Raphanus sativus; a great starter vegetable for kids because as well as being easy to grow, the colourful roots are ready for eating within a month of sowing.
  3. Sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus; sow seeds outdoors in March or April for blooms in June and July. Pick the flowers regularly to encourage more growth.
  4. Marigold; French or African Tagetes; plant out in early summer for beautiful yellow and orange blooms until autumn.
  5. Pot marigold, Calendula officinalis; plant a pinch of seeds in March or September and you will be rewarded with a mass of flowers in about 10 weeks. The petals can be eaten in salads!
  6. Lettuce, Lactuca sativa varieties; lettuces can be grown all-year-round; simply choose from the many varieties to ensure you have a crop for every season. Seeds, once sown, should begin to sprout within 12 days.
  7. Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus; sow seeds in pots in spring, then make a colourful salad from the beautiful, peppery orange, red or yellow flowers.
  8. Cosmos; in mild weather seeds can be sown outdoors in May. Produces ferny foliage and large brightly-coloured flowers. Likes a sunny position.
  9. Cornflower, Centaurea cyanus; plant seeds in September or April where you want them to flower. This beautiful flower, surprisingly, used to be a weed!
  10. Tobacco plant, Nicotiana x sanderae; plant seeds indoors and plant out when the danger of frost is past. Flowers give off a wonderful scent during the evening, from June to October. Don’t worry, you won’t be producing any tobacco!

Herbs

  1. Spearmint, Mentha spicata; mint will thrive in most soils, to the extent that it can easily become a nuisance. To avoid this, try growing it in a container on the patio. Use the leaves to flavour new potatoes and peas.
  2. Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis; this pretty herb produces blue flowers and has highly-scented, needle-like leaves. Plant in a sunny, sheltered area of the garden.
  3. Thyme, Thymus vulgaris; grow thyme in a well-drained, sunny area of your garden. The leaves of this evergreen herb can be picked throughout the year. Their distinctive taste goes well with a variety of dishes.
  4. Chives, Allium schoenoprasum; grow in moist soil and full sun. For a regular supply of delicious leaves for your salads cut off the flowers before they open.
  5. Lavender, Lavandula; a pretty herb that produces beautiful scented flowers during the summer months. Cut and dry some to make pot-pourri.
  6. Sage, Salvia officinalis; this strong-flavoured herb has grey-green leaves and spikes of blue flowers. Grow in a sunny area of the garden.
  7. Oregano, Origanum vulgarea; planted in a sunny area of the garden, marjoram will grow as vigorously as mint. Children may recognise its taste as it’s often used in pizza and pasta.
  8. Coriander, Coriandrum sativum; this popular herb, frequently used in Indian cookery and salads, favours a sunny, sheltered area of the garden. Both leaves and seeds can be used for flavouring.
  9. Sweet bay, Laurus nobilis; this evergreen shrub or small tree likes a sheltered position in the garden. Its leaves are the key ingredient for bouquet garni and are great in stews.
  10. Tarragon, Artemisia dracunculus; grown in a sheltered spot, tarragon can spread at the same rate as mint but is not totally hardy, so cover with straw as winter approaches.

Fruit and vegetables

  1. Runner beans, Phaseolus coccineus; water well in dry weather otherwise the plants will not produce beans.
  2. Strawberry, Fragaria; dig up old plants and replace with new ones after three years to ensure a good crop of fruit. Long stems with small plants at the end, called runners, are sent out from the adult strawberry. Peg these stems down to the soil to encourage the small plants to root and produce new fruiting plants.
  3. Radish, Raphanus sativus; a great starter vegetable for kids because as well as being problem-free to grow, the colourful roots are ready for eating within a month of sowing.
  4. Lettuce, Lactuca sativa varieties; lettuces can be grown all-year-round. Simply choose from the many varieties to ensure you have a crop for every season. Once sown, seeds should begin to sprout within 12 days.
  5. Courgette, Cucurbita pepo; courgettes are simply marrows harvested before they have been allowed to grow to full size. Plants get quite big so be sure to give them room.
  6. Carrot, Daucus carota; sow carrot seeds thinly in a sunny area of the garden and they should germinate within 17 days.
  7. Potato, Solanum tuberosum; potatoes can grow in most soil types but prefer a sunny site. Don’t leave potatoes, once dug up, in the sun as they will turn green and poisonous.
  8. Spinach, Spinacea oleracea; start picking the young, tender outside leaves of the spinach as soon as they reach a reasonable size, this also encourages new growth.
  9. Swiss chard, Beta vulgaris; one of the hardier vegetables, chard is able to survive winter and can be harvested during the milder winter months. Planted in mid-spring, chard will be ready to pick by summer.
  10. Beetroot, Beta vulgaris; a slow starter but once seedlings start to push through it picks up speed. You could speed up germination time by soaking seeds for a few hours before planting. Keep plant well watered in dry weather.

10 Easy-to-Grow Plants for First-Time Gardeners

Gardening is more than a hobby. The act of cultivating veggies for your dinner table and flowers for your lawn has numerous health benefits. Research has indicated that regular gardeners are less likely to suffer from heart attacks or come down with Alzheimer’s disease. Plus, spending time with your backyard crops is an excellent way to relieve stress. Now that spring has sprung, why not get your hands dirty? If you’re new to the game, here are 10 tough plants that you won’t need a green thumb to take care of.

1. PANSIES

These hardy flowers are tough to kill—in most areas of the United States, pansies are resilient enough to survive winter temperatures. More than 300 varieties of pansies exist, including several that have been specifically bred for really hot or really cold environments.

The ideal time to plant pansies is when the soil temperature is around 50 to 60 degrees (August for the northern parts of the country to October in the southern), but you can also set yours out in the early spring. Fully-grown plants can be purchased at most gardening stores and deposited directly into the ground. If you plan on growing some from seeds, deposit each one in moist soil spaced 7 to 12 inches apart. In colder states, pansies do best in direct sunlight, but if you live in a warm state like Georgia or Texas, give the flowers some shade and strategically plant them so that they can spend three to four hours in the shadows per day and see that they get an inch of water each week.

2. TOMATOES

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According to the National Gardening Association, nearly nine out of 10 American household vegetable gardens have at least one tomato plant. Germinating tomato plants need a constant soil temperature of 65 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and seeds should be planted six to eight weeks before your area’s projected last frost date. Given these requirements, you’ll most likely have to start indoors (or buy tomato plants from your local garden center).

First, you’ll need one container for every two seeds. (While it’s possible to raise all of the seeds in the same pot, this makes the young plants harder to remove when the time comes to transplant them.) Plastic or Styrofoam cups work well; make a couple small holes in the bottom of each one for drainage and fill it with a good potting mix. Then, place the seeds about a quarter of an inch beneath the surface. Mist the dirt with water (make it moist, but not soggy) and maintain a constant 70 to 80-degree room temperature, and within 10 days, the little plants will sprout. They’ll need plenty of sunlight; if possible, put the plants by a south-facing window or, in windowless homes, use artificial grow lights.

As soon as the plants sprout four leaves apiece, move them into bigger containers; pots with a height of 4 to 6 inches will be perfect. Meanwhile, find a nice, sunny section of your garden outside. One week before the last frost date, till the soil until it’s nice and loose. Then, dig a trench about 6 or 8 inches deep. After the last frost date finally arrives and the dirt has warmed, throw in 3 inches of compost. Cover that with some extra soil and then transplant your seedlings there.

Like pansies, tomatoes come in many varieties which offer fruits of every shape and size. Depending on what kind you’re growing, you’ll want to arrange the young plants anywhere from 12 to 48 inches apart. Consult the seed package or a neighborhood gardening store for an exact number. By the way, novice gardeners may want to choose varieties that yield smaller fruits (like cherry tomatoes). If left to their own devices, medium or large fruits may rot prematurely. Preventing this will require tethering your plants to stakes or cages for support. That’s not too difficult, but it is an extra step.

3. BASIL

Tomatoes and basil make for a great combination in spaghetti sauces, and in your garden, the two plants may help each other grow. According to many amateur and professional gardeners, basil serves as a natural bug repellent that drives off unwanted insects that might otherwise eat the herb—or munch on your tomato fruits; some speculate is that planting the two near each other somehow gives the tomatoes a much better flavor. Garden-raised basil needs plenty of sunlight and should be arranged accordingly. Plant the seeds at least 12 inches apart six weeks before the last frost comes along. Water them lightly whenever the soil feels dry and you’ll have a healthy plant that will keep giving you delicious leaves all summer long. Mangia!

4. MINT

Another hardy herb, mint is ridiculously easy to grow. In fact, mint does so well outdoors that the biggest challenge associated with it is keeping the plant from taking over your whole garden. But before we get into that, let’s talk logistics. Mint needs damp soil with good drainage, and it tends to do best when kept in an area that receives a moderate amount of shade during the day.

Under favorable conditions, the herb’s specialized stems—known as “runners”—shoot out in all directions. Left unchecked, the runners will devour every inch of available real estate, sometimes conquering entire lawns in the process. For this reason, many people grow their outdoor mints in clay pots from which the roots can’t escape. But if you want to put yours in a multi-species garden, plant it on the inside of a long, tubular container with an open bottom and thick walls. An 18-inch metal stove pipe buried vertically with its uppermost inch poking out above the surface would be perfect. Patio edges and driveways can also be effective root barriers.

5. SUNFLOWERS

Whether you’re hungry for their seeds or just like to look at them, sunflowers are a terrific choice for first-time gardeners. They don’t need much in the way of fertilizing, they can thrive in all but the soggiest soils, and they’re extremely adept at weathering droughts. As the common name implies, these flowers do require direct, unimpeded sunlight. Plant yours out in the open, and be sure to keep them a fair distance away from any other plants you might be cultivating, as a row of tall sunflowers can throw unwanted shade onto neighboring veggies. To get started, wait until the last frost date has passed in the spring and then plant your seeds in 1-inch holes. For best results, space these at least 6 inches apart—or, if you’re dealing with a larger species, up that figure to 24 inches. Water well after planting.

6. RADISHES

An ideal cool-weather crop, radishes develop spicy bulbs during the chillier months of spring and autumn. Arrange the seeds at least an inch apart in half an inch of loose, moist, and well-lit dirt. They’ll grow fast: Certain radishes may be ready for harvest just 22 days after planting, although other varieties may need up to 70. Once yours begin sprouting leaves, thin out the rows by plucking every other radish. A new row may be planted in early spring or late summer, depending on when you plan to dig yours up and eat them.

7. POTATOES

The average American eats roughly 114 pounds of them per year . With spud cultivation, you don’t have to worry about planting seeds. Instead, the objective here is to find a potato tuber that’s grown a few buds that are around one quarter to one third of an inch in length. Cut the potato into chunks, leaving at least one bud on each segment. Before you move on from there, store these wedges indoors at room temperature for 48 to 72 hours.

If you’ve got a lot of space to work with, potatoes can be grown in vast rows across your backyard. (For instructions on how to do that, go here.) But if space is limited, potato plants can be cultivated in bottomless half-bushel baskets. Alternatively, as Janice Stillman of the Old Farmer’s Almanac explains in the above video, a trash can with some holes drilled into the base also make for effective containers. In any event, you’ll need to start out shortly after the last spring frost. Take your barrel or basket and place it in a sunny locale. Fill it with loamy potting soil and bury the chunks 2 to 4 inches beneath the surface. Give them an inch of water every week and they’ll be ready to harvest by midsummer. Home-made French fries, here we come!

8. SPINACH

Popeye’s favorite food is one of the best cold-weather crops a gardener could ask for. Four to six weeks before the last frost date in your area, you’ll need to kick things off by following a process called priming: Soak some seeds in water for 24 hours. Take them out and let them dry off on a paper towel for a day or two, then seal up the seeds in an airtight zip-lock bag and keep them in a cool room for up to one week. When their week-long stint in a cool room is up, sow the seeds in an inch of tilled soil that has a temperature below 70 degrees Fahrenheit. You can start harvesting your spinach leaves whenever they reach the desired size.

9. MARIGOLDS

As far as flower-growing is concerned, marigolds definitely fall into the idiot-proof category. Wait to plant their seeds until after the spring frosts have come to an end. Just about any bedding type will suit them, although moist, well-drained soils are preferable. Marigold enthusiasts usually get their seeds by purchasing them in packets, which come with specific instructions about spacing and other topics. Cover the seeds with a small amount of dirt, don’t let the soil get too dry, and uproot some of the seedlings as needed. In exchange for this minimal effort, you’ll get vibrant flowers that will stick around until football season.

10. ZUCCHINIS

Not only are zucchinis super easy to grow, they’re also amazingly prolific. Within a few short weeks, your garden will be churning out enough to feed a small army. To get going, dig a row of inch-deep holes in the earth at some point between early spring and midsummer (although in practice, one or two plants will probably be enough). The depressions should be spaced about 3 feet apart, with each crater housing two or three seeds. Make sure the dirt is warm and keep it moist at all times (regular mulching will help you with that). Six to eight weeks later, you can start harvesting. And because new zucchinis sprout to replace the squashes that’ve been plucked, you’ll soon have quite a yield on your hands. Within a single season, a solitary plant can generate 10 pounds’ worth of zucchinis.

All images courtesy of iStock

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