To start a garden, you will need seeds or plants, soil, tools, access to water and mulch. Work with the school administration and the district’s physical operations departments and see if they will assist in preparation of the site.
Volunteers can assist in the initial spreading, hauling, and tilling of dirt, or the laying of beds. Let the students assist in the overall design of the garden, including the option of picking certain types of plants. It’s important that the children feel ownership of the garden and involves plants interest the children. The more that children feel they’re making a difference, the more involved they are going to be.
Remember that the bigger the garden, the more resources and upkeep required. It’s okay to start small and build out as needed.
The materials needed for a school garden will vary depending on the size of the garden, and whether or not the garden will be in the soil, or in raised beds. Materials that will be needed to begin the garden are:
Many municipalities that collect organic waste will give out mulch and compost to residents.
Mulch helps the soil retain moisture, especially in warmer, drier climates. Tree removal companies should be contacted as they will sometimes donate wood chips and mulch.
Can be in the form of compost or organic fertilizer.
Plants and Seeds
Seed grants are available. Call local nurseries and seed companies and work to arrange donations.
If planning on using watering cans make sure they are appropriately sized for students to carry.
Tools – Wheelbarrow, Shovels, Rakes, Spades, Hoes, Pots
Make sure the tools used by students are properly sized. Look for durable tools that can withstand a year’s use by children e.g., rubber handled, composite.
If raised beds are going to be built.
Engage the surrounding community and recruit their help. Gardens are a wonderful catalyst to inspiring community activism and identification.
The list and number of tools will also vary depending on the size and scope of the garden, but as a general aid, here are some tools that would be necessary and/or helpful in the building and upkeep of a school garden (in addition to the above materials). As noted above, if they are for students, make sure they are appropriately sized and durable.
- Small trowels
- Watering cans
- Buckets – of smaller size
- Plant labels/classroom labels made by the students
- Storage shed
Gardens need reliable sources of water and if no irrigation system is set up, volunteers or students must provide the water. This can lead to problems of delivery schedule, especially during vacations. While irrigation is more costly to install it will save water in the long run and likely lead to a healthier garden.
- Methods of watering include water canisters, hoses, sprinklers, overhead watering, and drip irrigation.
- Drip irrigation is the most efficient.
- If irrigation is going to be set up, an irrigation plan should be created. If anyone on the committee has plumbing experience, ask for their assistance.
- Be sure to get all codes, requirements, and approvals from the school before beginning.
- Irrigation systems have been donated from time to time, reach out to companies, such as Rainbird, and see if a donation is feasible.
To create compost that can be used in the garden, designate a place for a compost pile. Students can use organic wastes to create nutrient-rich soil perfect for the garden. A compost enclosure can be created out of wood pallets or lumber, just be sure that the compost enclosure has air openings. For more info visit:
If an existing garden site is not already available or if asphalt can’t be removed, then raised beds can serve as a viable alternative. The raised beds can be built and laid on the asphalt and allow for the planting of smaller vegetables such as tomatoes. Should raised beds be desirable for the school location, plastic lumber is an alternative to wood.
- Raised bed frames should be anywhere from 12” to 24” in height and no more than 4 feet wide. The students should be able to reach all plants and garden without having to climb into the beds.
- Ensure that pathways are wheelchair accessible, or at least 36” wide.
- Beds can be constructed out of materials such as cedar, redwood, stones, or concrete blocks.
- Avoid using rot-resistant pressure-treated wood as they are treated with toxic chemicals.
- Line the beds with weed cloth that will hold the soil while allowing for drainage.
It’s important that at least one teacher is dedicated to the school garden and its educational potential. The continuing viability of a school garden absolutely requires the commitment of a teacher or teachers. Teachers should look for creative ways to utilize the garden as a part of the curriculum.
Should teachers need assistance with lesson plans or activities there are a variety of resources available online, most notably the National Gardening Association’s Youth Gardening program at KidsGardening.