15 Tips for Creating an Amazing Classroom Garden

15 Tips for Creating an Amazing Classroom Garden

Classroom gardens are more than just science lessons about the life cycles of plants. A classroom garden will give your students the opportunity to care for another living thing while also learning a wealth of information. In fact, according to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, growing a garden in your classroom will teach your students about nutrition, health, and wellness in a hands-on, experimental way. Students who have a connection with their food are more likely to eat it and enjoy it. Children who grow their own food also form an emotional connection with nutritious food because they do the hard work of nurturing it into an edible plant. Even growing herbs, flowers, or houseplants can be a satisfying and educational way to get your students more connected to nature.

With these 15 simple ideas, starting your classroom garden will be easy, fun, and enriching for both you and your students!

1. Seeds in cups

Classroom garden - seed cups
Source: Neely Spicer

One of the simplest ways to create a classroom garden is to plant seeds in cups. Quick-growing seeds, such as beans, work best for this type of garden. Fill small plastic or compostable cups about ¾ full of potting soil. Have your students press a seed into the soil and gently cover it. Your students will need to water the seeds and place them in a warm, sunny place. After a few days, they will begin to see their plants sprout.

2. Test tube garden

A test tube garden allows students to see the roots of their plant growing. Provide each student with a plant that has roots already starting to grow. You can either gently pull up already growing plants or start new plants from the shoots of house plants you already have. Once the roots begin to grow, have each student place the plant gently in a test tube filled with water. Over the next several days, your students will be able to observe the roots of their plant getting longer. You might even extend the lesson into math by having your students keep track of how long the roots are by measuring them several times over the course of a couple weeks.

3. Outdoor garden

If your school has the space, setting aside a small plot of land to serve as an outdoor classroom is a great way for students to learn gardening skills up close. Your students will also be able to grow things that aren’t as easy to grow in a small space like a classroom. Perhaps your students would enjoy planting pumpkins and nurturing the plants until harvest time. Then they can have the fun of picking and carving their pumpkins! Maybe your students would like to grow an assortment of greens and then enjoy salads for lunch one day. As your students plant, water, pull weeds, and care for their plants, they will learn patience, hard work, and the reward of delicious food!

4. Bulb garden

Bulbs are different than seeds and offer an often-overlooked way to teach children about growing food and flowers. Show your students different kinds of bulbs, such as onion and tulips. They can make comparisons between types of bulbs, as well as compare them to seeds.

Have the students plant several bulbs right side up and several bulbs upside down. Students can make predictions about which bulbs they think will grow better and faster. Once they start growing, your students will learn that bulbs planted right side up don’t need to use as much energy to sprout and, therefore, grow better and faster. Once the bulbs sprout, ask your students to plant them somewhere outside and continue nurturing them, as it generally takes longer for bulbs to produce food or flowers.

5. Hydroponic gardens

Hydroponic gardens require that all the nutrients a plant needs are absorbed through the water rather than soil. The benefits of a hydroponic garden include faster growth time, less space requirement, and fewer resources involved. This type of garden teaches your students about the life cycle of a plant as well as what plants truly need to survive and thrive.

Your students can make simple hydroponic gardens using an empty 2-liter soda bottle. Cut the top off the bottle under the curve at the top. Turn the top over and place it neck-side down in the bottom part of the bottle. Fill the bottom part of the bottle with water just until it touches the upside-down neck. Cut a washcloth into strips and jam a few strips into the neck of the bottle. This will help the plant absorb nutrients from the water. Fill the upside part of the bottle with a growing medium, such as gravel or a medium specifically created for hydroponics, which you can find at a home good store. Then, have your students plant two or three seeds in the growing medium and watch their plants grow.

6. Avocado roots from pits

The pit of an avocado is the seed, and your students can learn about plant growth by creating an avocado pit garden. Show your students how to poke three or four toothpicks into the avocado. Have your students fill cups or jars with water and set their avocado pit over the surface of the water so the bottom one inch or so is submerged. The bottom of the seed is the flat part of the pit. Set the jars in a warm spot and keep the water level covering the bottom inch. Students will see roots begin to grow in less than a week.

Tip: To prevent the pit from smelling, completely change the water every week.

7. Food scrap garden

There are many vegetables that can regrow from scraps rather than having to start with a seed. These are easy gardens to grow and maintain in the classroom. Root crops are particularly easy to sprout. Simply cut the tops of several root vegetables, such as beets, celery, and carrots, along with about two inches of the root. Place the beheaded vegetable in a shallow container filled with pebbles and water. After a couple days, the heads will begin to sprout new growth. Your students can transfer these to potting soil and watch them grow into new vegetables. This method also works for the top of a pineapple.

8. Butterfly garden

Expand lessons about plant life cycles with a butterfly garden – your students will also learn about the life cycle of butterflies and the interaction of insects and plants. You’ll need an outdoor spot that gets direct sunlight for six to eight hours each day. Look for a spot that has bushes or trees nearby, so the chrysalises have a place to attach. Then have your students sow seeds that grow butterfly-attracting flowers, such as violets, daisies, pansies, cosmos, hollyhocks, zinnias, lilacs, and lavender. Borage, fennel, and milkweed will attract the caterpillars that turn into butterflies. Once the flowers start blooming, spend time in the garden so your students can observe the caterpillars creating chrysalises and butterflies eventually emerging.

9. Succulent garden

Source: Alma Jazmin

Succulents are a great way to introduce even the youngest students to the magic of gardening in the classroom. Not only are succulents hardy, but they also don’t require a ton of upkeep, making them perfect for your busy students. Provide each of your students with a pot and have them put a thin layer of gravel on the bottom. Next, they will fill the pot about halfway with potting soil. Show your students how to gently set a young succulent plant on the soil. Then have them fill in the pot with potting soil to completely cover the roots of the plant. Place the pots in a sunny spot in your classroom and remind your students to water them every couple of weeks.

10. Herb garden

Growing herbs is easy and useful, doubling as lessons in nutrition and cooking. Provide your student with small pots. They can even decorate the pots for an art extension. Great herbs to start with include basil, mint, dill, oregano, chives, thyme, parsley, and cilantro. Have the students fill the pots almost to the top with potting soil. Show your students how to sprinkle the seeds on top of the potting soil and water them gently so the seeds mingle with the soil. The seeds will begin to sprout within a few days. As the herbs grow, students can harvest them and incorporate them into classroom cooking lessons or take them home to sample with their families.

11. Garden in a bag

Garden in a bag
Source: Kim Andrews

All it takes to grow a quick garden in limited classroom space is a clear plastic food storage bag, a wet paper towel, and a bean seed. Students will get to see the seed coat open, the sprout emerges, and the root begin to grow. Instruct your students to put a wet, but not soggy or dripping, paper towel in the plastic bag. This will act in place of soil. Then students will add two or three large bean seeds, such as lima or pinto beans. Tape the bags in a sunny window and they will begin to sprout in a matter of days. To help prevent mold from growing on the paper towels, leave the bags unsealed.

12. Discarded seed garden

garden made from scraps!
Source: Mark Avers

Turn what your students would normally view as trash into a classroom garden. Challenge your students to save the seeds from food scraps they would normally throw away, such as seeds from apples, oranges, pea pods, pumpkins, tomatoes, kiwis, corn, and watermelon slices. Provide the students with pots and potting soil and let them experiment with which seeds will grow in the classroom and which ones will not.

13. Nature seed garden

Like a discarded seed garden, a nature seed garden challenges your students to discover for themselves which wild seeds are easiest to grow. Ask your students to bring in seeds they find in nature, such as pinecones’ seeds. Fill pots with potting soil and have your students bury their seeds. Observe which ones grow well and which ones don’t grow well.

14. Glove gardens

Clear gloves are the perfect place to plant a few different kinds of seeds because your students will be able to see the seeds open, sprout, and begin to grow roots. Place damp cotton balls in the fingers and thumb of a clear glove. Have students plant a different type of seed in each, writing the name of each seed on the outside of the glove. After a few days, students will begin to see sprouts. Extend the lesson by having them predict which seed will sprout first and which will grow the longest roots. 

15. Upside down tomatoes

Upside down gardens
Source: Khasmir

Upside-down gardens are a great way to bring gardening into your classroom if you’re short on space. Cut off the bottom of a plastic soda or juice bottle. Fill the bottle with potting soil, replace the cut portion, and turn the bottle over. Have your students gently thread the roots of their tomato plant into the top of the bottle. Turn the bottle back over and remove the plastic bottom. Hang the bottles near a window in your classroom. Students will water the plants from the top of the bottle. As a bonus activity, have your students plant herbs in the top of the bottle for an even bigger and better classroom garden.

One of these classroom gardening ideas is sure to get your students excited about the life cycle of plants and how to grow and take care of a living thing. They’ll be having so much fun, they won’t even know how much they’re learning!

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15 Tips for Creating an Amazing Classroom Garden

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Sara Ipatenco

Senior Member

Sara is a 1st-grade teacher at a private school in the Rocky Mountains. She loves to read, sew, and travel. She spends most of her time away from the classroom with her husband and two children. They love taking long walks, watching movies, and playing board games together.

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