Exploring what makes your garden grow this summer

(ARA) – When school lets out for summer, exchange those flip flops for gardening shoes. Add a pair of gloves, good sun-block and get out into the garden.

Teach kids why the garden is so green and plentiful. How does a plant grow? Show and demonstrate what building blocks a plant needs to grow big and strong – just like the foundation kids need to grow tall and stay healthy.

Here are some ideas to help get summer fun started.

Plant part identification – Use a flower or tree in the yard to start with the basics. Work from the ground up, and have children wiggle their toes deep into the soil to demonstrate how roots stabilize plants. Have them wave their arms to show the supporting stems and branches. Sprinkle a bit of water to demonstrate the water coming into the plant through its roots.

Building blocks – Identifying plants ties in well with showing what plants need to grow strong. Here are some places to start:

* Soil – Most plants need soil to find enough nutrients for growth. But, there are some plants that survive well with minimal soil. Take children for a walk and see if they can find plants growing in strange places – a dandelion between sidewalk cracks or a tree that appears to be growing directly out of a rock. If there is a tropical greenhouse in your community, plan a visit and see if you can find fruit growing directly on a tree. This can start a good conversation about where these plants are finding nutrients to survive.

* Food – Plants get food and water through the roots. Food comes in the form of nutrients found in the soil. Many gardeners enhance the soil with plant food like Miracle-Gro LiquaFeed All Purpose Plant Food. This feeder attaches directly to the garden hose to spray plants and flowers with the nutrients needed to grow. It is best when used once a week to once every two weeks during the growing season. Do a simple comparison by feeding one potted plant, but not another. See which one grows bigger, has more flowers, gets greener leaves or produces more fruits or veggies.

* Water – Mother Nature usually does a good job with providing plants the water needed to keep them hydrated and strong. Install a water gauge in the garden to help measure the rain that Mother Nature sends. Let your kids help you water or set up a sprinkling system for the days that lack rain. Why is water important to plants and people? If a plant has drooping leaves or limbs, water thoroughly and see how long it takes the plant to perk back up and recover. Talk about how this is similar to playing a game of kickball or soccer without drinking water: how does that make you feel?

A fun learning fact is that big trees, on average summer days, could lose about 900 gallons of water through their leaves. Hold a glass near your child’s mouth, and ask them to exhale. The moisture will condense on the glass. Explain that the body is losing moisture through breathing and skin, just like the tree does through leaves.

* Sunlight – Photosynthesis is a big word for small children, and the chemical result of chlorophyll in the leaves taking the sun’s energy and converting it into sugar might be a little much for youngsters. But, you can educate them about how plants need sun with a demonstration. If there is a potted plant inside your home leaning toward the window, ask children to rotate the plant so it leans away from the window, then watch the plant for a couple of days. Soon you will notice that the plant is standing more upright, or even leaning again toward the window. What are the leaves doing with all that sunlight they are gathering up? Much the same way a chef takes ingredients to make a meal, a plant uses chlorophyll (the stuff that makes leaves green) to take in sunlight and convert it to energy (sugar). This “energy” can be used by the plant or used by us when we eat the fruits, veggies or leaves of the plant. Eat some plant parts and see which taste more sugary: carrots (roots), lettuce (leaves), asparagus (stems), corn (seeds), or apples (fruit).

There are many other fun lessons to be found when growing flowers and vegetables. If you and your kids or grandchildren want to expand your summer education program, consider starting the youngsters on a small greenhouse so they can easily see how water, sunlight, food and soil help their vegetable plants to grow and produce yummy veggies.