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Give your child flower seeds this summer

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. What flowering plants attract hummingbirds?

    Many good ones are out there and are suitable for planting now. These include the easy-to-grow annual scarlet sage, which is a beautiful addition to a flower bed. Also, consider bee balm, the late-summer flowering cardinal flower and perennial red salvias. This is worth doing because hummingbirds add real interest and flair to a landscape. Plus, you can supplement the flowers with a hummingbird feeder.

With the end of the school year, parents looking for a gardening project for children ought to think about growing flowers from seeds. This is a cheap project that is educational and entertaining. It encourages patience and attention to the details of seeding and watering and results in something for all to enjoy.

Gardeners often start these projects in shallow pots or boxes indoors in the weeks when air and soil are too cold for planting outdoors. But now is lovely. We have warm air and warm soil, just right for some of the easy annuals that germinate, grow and bear flowers rapidly.

Outdoors, in a little corner of a flower bed or vegetable patch, is the right place for a small child’s garden project. It should be sunny, so that these bright flowers will prosper. You could, of course, start off with purchased small plants of annuals such as marigolds, vinca or scarlet sage. That would be fine, but it is not as fine as the magic of growing a 12-inch plant brimming with blooms from a seed.

Certain annuals lend themselves to this for several reasons. Sunflower, zinnia and marigold seeds are big enough that they are easy to handle. Drop one in the wrong place and it is easy to find. They are easy for a child to pick up and study the shape and color before placing them on the soil at the depth and space recommended on the package. That itself is an easy lesson, a bit of arithmetic for summer vacation.

While these plants almost promise that they are easy to grow, a little advance help in soil preparation will do a lot. If the space is already prepared, you can go straight to seeding. But if it is not, some work will be required to get it ready. This means digging up the area with a spade or shovel to a good depth, at least 8 inches. Then, the native soil, which is likely to have a high percentage of clay, must be loosened with the addition of compost. Magical it is not; it just seems so.

Compost will transform rough, tight, red clay into lighter, looser soil that almost seems to welcome the roots of young plants to wiggle their toes and get moving through the ground. This means good growing above ground. There is no substitute for good soil prep. In addition to its other merits, compost helps the soil hold moisture, but not so much that it becomes soggy. Soggy ground is not good.

The advantages of my favorite three annuals for children’s gardening are that they produce rather quickly in warm weather. They benefit from being planted where they are intended to grow, without transplanting. The seeds germinate rapidly in warm, moist soil, typically in seven to 10 days, which allows the dual pleasures of both anticipation and early gratification.

Once seedlings emerge, there may be much hovering about them as they grow taller each day and gradually change in appearance. This is when the little flower bed deserves a daily look to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. A gentle spray is always better than a heavy shower, so go easy with the hose. A strong blast of water may knock over or swamp the little plants.

A small amount of organic fertilizer formulated for flowering plants will encourage growth and bloom, but not too much. This is where paying attention to the amount recommended on the label is important so that you don’t apply too little or too much.

Because little hands are not perfect at distributing seeds, some thinning may be required to meet the distance requirements stated on the seed package. This is not optional. The right spacing will give each plant enough elbow room to develop nicely.

With these gentle skills at work, a child should produce a nice little flower bed this summer and find joy once the buds and blooms appear.

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