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Grow a Tree Now to Plant Next Year

"Solicitous care for living things affords satisfaction to one of the most lively instincts of the child's mind. Nothing is better calculated than this to awaken an attitude of foresight."
—Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

Children can plant a seed now and nurture the seedling for next year.

Planting an Arbor Day tree they’ve grown from a seed can be even more rewarding for children than planting a store-bought sapling.

As with most gardening activities, planting and watering a tree seedling is purposeful work that resonates with the young child’s interest in caring for living things. The growing tree provides observation opportunities that might inspire children to ask about life cycles, botany, soil, parts of the plant, seeds, and probably insects.

Once the child expresses a particular interest in a tree-related subject, offer a book, puzzle, or activity about the subject. For example, it might be worms and composting that catch the child’s attention. It could as easily be everything about seeds - how they grow, the names of their parts, the different kinds. Watch your child caring for the tree and notice when your child wonders aloud or asks several questions about the same thing. Will these bumps turn into leaves or branches? Why do they grow that way? Will it make a flower?

Children can make their own recycled seedling pots.

Go all the way green and start the seeds in handy pots the children can make with newspapers reclaimed from the household recycling bin. The solid wood Pot Maker is a simple rounded form that allows children to make serviceable paper seedling pots for the trees.

The child wraps several thicknesses of newspaper (cut into 3½ inch strips) around the form, then folds and tucks. No glue required. Children who can cut straight and gauge the measurement will love making strips! Ages 4 and up can manage the folding and tucking. The soil-filled pots will tighten up the first time they’re watered. Let children make plenty - they can choose their best for starting the trees. Use the rest as needed in the garden this spring.

If you have room, consider a native tree.

Natives are generally hardier and provide welcome habitat when grown. A slow-growing species could be happy for years in a container on the patio. WildlifeGardener.org offers a concise and informative case for native species. (Read about native trees here.) Contact your local native plant society, or a nearby college with a horticulture program for help locating native plant seeds.

You may find it easiest to check your yard for “volunteers,” small trees sprouting from seeds scattered by a neighborhood tree. Collect unsprouted seeds; you’ll need 2-3 seeds per pot, and several pots for each child (in case there are casualties). Acorns are a good choice for viewing the parts of the seedling (and tree) as it grows.

How to plant a tree from seed with children this year...

  1. Fill seedling pots half full with moist potting soil.
  2. Gently tap the sides of the pots to settle the soil.
  3. If the seeds are too small to count out, children can mix one spoonful of sand and a pinch of seeds in a dish, then scatter the mixture over the soil.
  4. For lentil-sized seeds, count out two or three per pot and place toward the center.
  5. For larger seeds (acorns, for example), press no more than two seeds per pot (point down) about ¼ inch into the soil.
  6. In all cases, cover with sand to the depth of the thickness of the seed (scatter sand for the smallest seeds).
  7. Water gently, using a can with a sprinkler head.
  8. Keep the soil moist (not wet).
  9. Place the seedling in a sunny window where your child can see it and reach it for watering.

How to plant a seedling on Arbor Day next year...

The Texas A & M AgriLife Extension Service website has detailed tree-planting instructions for adults by a horticulturist.

Young children can help with the digging - they will want to! Dig about half way, then give children a good, long turn. Allow plenty of time for exploring the hole.

Watch the children dig. You'll see a lot of interest in creatures and roots. Let the children take their time. Chances are, the tree isn't going anywhere. It may feel like the hole isn't going anywhere either but be patient. This is a fascinating new experience for children, nothing at all like digging in the sandbox.

Take another turn to finish the job if it seems neccessary. Unless the soil is very hard, children with some experience using a long-handled shovel may surprise you and finish it on their own.

Older children can plant the seedling on their own if provided with instructions appropriate to their ages. There is a great tree planting guide online at EcoKids, a free environmental education program that provides curriculum-linked materials and environmental action activities for Canadian elementary schools.

—by J.A. Beydler for Montessori Services; Ms. Beydler is a nationally published writer, parent, and former day care owner/operator. Her articles have appeared in several regional parenting lifestyle publications and online.

—Originally Published 2010

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