"Green Thumb" Projects for Kids
Martha Maletta, Home Horticultural Consultant
Dated - December 22, 2003

Some special “green thumb” projects may be just what kids need to round out the post-holiday vacation time. Some quick and easy ones are great for very young children. Others, that take a little time and patience, are suitable for the older group. A miniature lentil forest has surprising appeal. Spread a layer of the seeds in a shallow dish, add water to not quite cover them and put the dish in a bright window. The roots will usually appear in a day and shortly a tiny green “forest” will be growing. Add water as needed. The “forest” won’t last long but is provides a quick lesson in how plants grow from seed.

Other fast germinating seeds that make a nice display for a few weeks in a container of damp potting mix are mustard, sesame (un-toasted, of course) and grass. The seeds can be scattered over the mix or sown in simple patterns – try monograms for fun- and lightly covered with more mix. Cover the container with plastic or slip it into a plastic bag and keep a close eye on it. As soon as sprouts appear, move it to a bright or sunny window.

Plant large seeds, such as bean, corn or pumpkin, in a glass container to observe seed germination and root growth. Line the sides and bottom of a glass jar or other straight-sided container with paper towel or blotter paper and trim the top edge. Then fill the container with crumpled paper towel to support the liner. Slide the seeds (four or five are plenty) between the liner and the glass to about 1 and 1/2 inches from the top. Add water carefully until the liner is damp and there is a small amount of water in the bottom of the container.

Place it in a warm spot, keep the liner moist by adding water as needed or covering the container with plastic wrap and check it daily. It should not be long before the roots begin to appear and then the shoots. Move the container to a bright location. As the roots and shoots develop, turn the container on its side for a few days to demonstrate geotropism, the response of roots and shoots to gravity.

Grapefruit, lemon and orange seeds can be grown into attractive houseplants, but patience is needed because they are slow to germinate. Seeds should be planted as soon as they are removed from the fruit. Use a commercial potting mix and a standard flower pot and plant three or four seeds about 1/2 inch deep. Water so that the mix is damp but not wet, cover the pot or place it in a plastic bag and put it in a warm spot. After shoots appear - it may take three weeks or more – move the pot to a sunny location.

Paperwhite narcissus bulbs reliably provide fragrant bloom in a few weeks. Cool temperatures - in the low 60’s – are best for sturdy growth. These tender bulbs can be planted in potting mix but are typically grown in decorative bowls of gravel. Because the plants may become floppy as they mature and bloom, especially if temperatures are warm – try growing them in a glass container such as a fish bowl that provides space for the bulbs and support for the plants. Place a layer of gravel in the container, position the bulbs and add more gravel until 1/3 to 1/2 the bulb is still visible. Add water to the base of the bulbs. Place the container in a cool dark place to promote good root growth, but move it to a cool bright spot as soon as shoots start to appear. Check regularly to maintain water level.