By Elizabeth Federico, Contributing Writer
With spring here and ﬂowers beginning to bloom, kids are ready to get outside. What better way to focus your children’s energy and spark their curiosity while spending quality time with them than to plant ﬂowers together? “But wait,” you cry. “I don’t have the space or time to deal with gardening.” With ﬂower pot planting, you do.
Flower pot planting teaches kids about science, helps them learn responsibility and passes on an appreciation of nature. With basic materials, and just a few simple steps, you and your child can have a ﬂower pot garden of your own.
Steps to Starting Your Flower Pot Garden:
- Select your ﬂower seeds. Pick fast-growing ﬂowers, such as marigolds, sunﬂowers, snapdragons and impatiens, which are colorful and easy to grow in our area. Pay attention to whether the package is marked for shade (no direct sunlight), partial sun (up to four hours of direct sunlight daily) or full sun (more than six hours of direct sunlight daily). Full sunﬂowers will not grow well in the shade. So have some idea of where the garden will live.
- Get your container ready. Prepare your seed container. Your container can be anything from paper Dixie cups to an old shoe, as long as there are holes in the bottom for water to drain out. Have your child ﬁll the container completely with potting soil. Sprinkle the soil-ﬁlled container with water until the water drains out of the bottom. This will settle the soil enough on which to lay the seeds without washing them out.
- Examine your seeds. Take a good look at your seeds. Notice the diﬀerent sizes, shapes and colors. Packed in that little capsule, each seed has enough food to grow a small plant with its ﬁrst two to four leaves and its ﬁrst inch or two of root. After that, the plant will get its food from the sun, water and soil.
- Plant. Lay one to ﬁve seeds in the center of each container. Larger seeds need more space so make sure to read the directions on the back of the package; you don’t want to overplant your chosen container. Sprinkle a light layer of new soil over the seeds to cover, and gently water again.
- Find the right spot. Place your container (or containers) in a proper location based on the amount of sun the plants need. Use a tray to catch any water that may drain out of the container if it is indoors or in an area where slips and falls can easily occur.
■ Let your children make most of the decisions. Kids will enjoy this project more if you let them take ownership. If they feel it is “theirs” they will be more inclined to take responsibility for it.
■ Leave sunﬂowers where you plant them. That’s how they grow best. Sow these seeds directly where they will remain for the season. They come in a wide variety of sizes, heights and shapes so choose wisely. The Mammoth variety will get to its predicted 10 to 12 feet in height.
■ Get dirty and HAVE FUN! Hands-on experiences are just as important to your child as intellectual ones. Protect your counters or tables with newspaper to catch spills, but remember that it’s just dirt. It will wash oﬀ when your project is complete.
Check Out the Plants While They Grow
As your plants grow, periodically check on them with your child to observe the changes and watch as they get bigger. This is a great time to talk about the lifecycle of plants, environmentalism and nature. However, don’t go overboard or your kid will check out on you.
Plant extras so you can examine the roots at diﬀerent stages. You can use a spoon or fork to gently lift the seedling out of its container. Look at the new white roots. If roots are touching the edge of the container, you may need a bigger one. If roots are light brown and slimy, cut back on water. If seedlings suddenly start folding over and dying, this is a mildew problem. Throw them out and try again.
Also keep the soil damp, but not soggy. Do NOT allow the newly emerged seedlings to dry out, but do not permit water to sit in the catch-tray either. Just pour it out onto the ground. Once the plants reach three to ﬁve inches, transfer them to bigger containers if needed.
Fit a ﬂower pot garden into your and your children’s spring and summer, and watch your kids’ interest in nature and understanding of science grow.
Local mom Elizabeth Federico is a degreed horticulturist and a Dale City native. She is a graduate of Virginia Tech’s horticulture program and a lifelong resident of Prince William County.
Where to Learn More about Gardening
Saturday in the Garden
Prince William Master Gardener Volunteers, with the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE), teach programs in the Teaching Garden at St. Benedict Monastery, located at 9535 Linton Hall Road in Bristow. When: 9 a.m. to noon May 18, June 15, July 20, Aug. 10, Sept. 14 and Oct.12. All programs are free; registration is requested.
Local Garden Centers
Locations in Prince William where you can ask a Master Gardener Volunteer your gardening questions include:
■ Lowe’s in Gainesville: 13000 Gateway Center Drive
■ Lowe’s in Woodbridge: 13720 Smoketown Road
■ Merrifield Garden Center in Manassas: 6895 Wellington Road
■ Southern States in Manassas: 9751 Center Street
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 4 and May 18.
Local Farmers’ Markets
You can ask a Master Gardener Volunteer your gardening questions at these Prince William area sites. For more information, call the VCE at 703-792-7747.
Dale City Farmers’ Market
Located at Dale Boulevard Commuter Lot at Dale Boulevard and Gemini Way in Woodbridge. When: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the second and fourth Sunday of the month during May through October, and Nov. 10.
Manassas City Farmers’ Market
Located at the corner of West Street and Prince William Street in the heart of Old Town Manassas. When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. the second and fourth Saturday of the month May through October, and Nov. 9.