In South Carolina fall is the best of the four seasons for planting trees, shrubs and perennials and food.
The months between September to December have advantages for establishing new trees to provide shade and wildlife homes on campus and shrubs and perennials for the pollinator, bird, and other instructional theme gardens. Plant roots will have months to grow and become established before spring growth above ground begins and summer heat and drought arrive next year.
Why not consider a fall food garden on your school campus? They can be the hub for harvesting school-grown vegetables and seasonings. Growing herbs in the school garden can also be a means of support for the garden program. Herb plant sales are popular with the public.
Cool-season vegetables most common in the southern food winter garden are broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale and the southern greens – collards, mustard and turnip. Children are familiar with eating and even growing these at home.
Since roots tolerate fall and winter soil temperatures, beets, carrots, horseradish, kohlrabi, onions, radishes, and turnips are dependable root vegetables heading into spring. Cool-season herbs include chervil, chives, cilantro, garlic chives, mints, parsley, rosemary, thyme and winter sorrel.
The fun of instructional gardens also is introducing new ideas to children and their families. Leafy greens are easy to plant from seed, fast to germinate, delicious in taste, and if planted in succession and harvested by cutting the leaf rather than pulling up the plant will continue to produce salads, stir fry ingredients and sandwich fillers until the heat returns in May. Introduce youngsters to arugula, celtuce (also known as celery lettuce), corn salad, mizuna, pac choi, radicchio, spinach, swiss chard and heirloom lettuces from around the world. What better way to teach geography than gardening with greens?
Bulbs are one of the easiest plants for children to grip when planting. Fall and winter flowering bulbs include colchicum, cyclamen, autumn crocus, fall snowdrop, sternbergia, and ranunculus. Of course, you will want to engage students in planting spring flowering bulbs: allium, bluebells, crocus, daffodil, hyacinths and more. Old House Gardens at oldhousegardens.org, an heirloom bulb resource started by an English teacher, offers a historical perspective on bulbs to help integrate them into social studies.
Perhaps the easiest part of fall gardening is staging the fall annual flower display with alyssum, calendula, dianthus, larkspur, ornamental kale and cabbage, pansies, poppies, snapdragons, stocks and violas.
Arlene Marturano is an educator, consultant, master gardener, and freelance writer. Read more of Arlene Marturano’s garden writings at suite101.com and www.scgardenlearning.com