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Gardening is a fun family activity that’s also educational. Your kids can learn about different plants and local wildlife while getting dirty and running around outside. If you grow vegetables, kids can even learn where their food comes from and build life skills like responsibility as they care for the plants throughout the growing process.
While planting a garden is fun, it can get frustrating if you have high-maintenance plants that are difficult to keep alive. Consider looking for low-maintenance options that still give you the success you want. Here are a few tips for what to plant in your New Jersey garden.
Buy Native Plants
Native plants are flora that grow within a region without human introduction or intervention. These are plants that have been common in the area for centuries and are used to the climate, soil, water, and other conditions. They are different from flora that you introduce to the area or invasive species that are introduced and take over to the detriment of native species. In New Jersey, native plants include black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed, cardinal flower, trumpet honeysuckle, and wild geranium.
Native plants are some of the easiest to grow and therefore require the least maintenance. Simply put, they feel comfortable in their home environment and can flourish as long as you treat them well. This makes it easier to engage kids in gardening because they will see the plants thrive within a few weeks without needing to put in too much effort.
Native plants come with other benefits as well. They attract local fauna who are familiar with the plants and like them. By planting native flowers, you could attract bees, hummingbirds, butterflies, and other garden helpers. Use various guides to identify other native New Jersey plants that you can put in your garden.
Check the Hardiness Zone of Your Plants
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has divided most native plants into hardiness zones, otherwise known as zones that face different levels of cold temperatures each year. North America has 13 different hardiness zones, but New Jersey typically falls into zone 6 and zone 7. These zones set an average annual minimum temperature between 0 and 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that during the coldest months of the year, the temperatures are likely to reach those levels at least once, but they aren’t expected to get much colder.
Knowing your hardiness zone can help you choose low-maintenance plants for your garden, like catmint, pansies, spruce shrubs, and winterberry. If you pick the right plants, you won’t have to bring them indoors during cold spikes or set up outdoor heaters to protect them. You also won’t have to worry about your plants dying in the cold because of the extreme temperatures.
Additionally, buying plants based on your zone will limit the amount of replanting you need to do each spring because a higher percentage of your plants will have lived through the winter.
Pick Flowers and Trees That Bloom at Different Times
Many gardeners love planting flowers and trees that bloom in the spring. After a long winter of gray skies and packed snow, it’s a relief to see a little green breaking through while pink and yellow flowers start to bloom. However, your colorful spring bloom can quickly lead to a brown summer and dying fall if you aren’t careful about the plants you curate.
To keep your garden colorful year-round, choose plants that grow and bloom at various times of the year. Look for perennials that will bloom multiple times during the summer (like some azaleas and hydrangeas), or place your spring flowers next to summer and early fall plants.
Your garden will always look beautiful when plants bloom at different times or multiple times per year. When one plant stops blooming, another plant will start, so there’s always something new to see. Your child will love exploring the garden throughout the year because it will look different every time they step outside.
When you’re planning out your garden, you should also consider adding some evergreen shrubs or small trees that will keep their leaves throughout the year. This way, you can still see a splash of color in your garden even after the heaviest snowfall.
Learn How Animals React to Your Plants
Starting a garden requires more research than you might think. Instead of going to the nursery and picking whatever plants look nice at the time, research the plants in your area and learn what animals they attract or repel. For example, there are several deer-resistant plants, like daffodils, foxgloves, and poppies. Picking these flowers can protect your garden so that you don’t need to replant every time one of these graceful mammals chooses your backyard for lunch.
Bees and butterflies also favor certain plants over others. Bees love lavender and goldenrod, while butterflies like marigold and Queen Anne’s lace. They can pollinate your garden and help it grow without your intervention. Plus, they allow you to create educational opportunities for your kids to learn about local fauna.
Look for Community Gardens Near You
You don’t need to have a large backyard (or any backyard) to teach your kids how to garden. There are many community gardens in the area that welcome local residents who want to learn how to grow different vegetables or simply create a plot of land filled with beautiful flowers.
For example, in the nearby Hillsborough township, Duke Farms offers community plots for as low as $20 per year. They have an accessible garden area that conforms to current ADA standards, and they provide gardening courses throughout the year to help you and your kids improve your skills.
There are many benefits to participating in a community garden if you are new to planting and growing. You and your family can learn from experts who have been wrangling plants and producing vegetables for several years, and you can meet new people with a shared interest in gardening. Plus, the urban garden makes planting accessible for families who live in apartments or don’t have farmable backyards. Consider this option if you are looking for unique ways to grow plants with your kids.
At Crème de la Crème of Bridgewater, we are always looking to improve our gardens and create learning opportunities for our students. If you have any gardening tips, reach out and let our team know. If you’re curious about how we engage kids in learning through gardening, check out our facilities today.