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Hort in the Home Landscape

A blog devoted to sharing timely horticulture topics and answering the questions of gardeners and homeowners.

School Gardens

You may be hearing the term "school garden" a lot lately and you may wonder, what exactly is a school garden? School gardens are not a new concept, but it's very encouraging that school gardens are a growing movement across the country because they have many great benefits to kids.

Basically, a school garden may consist of any of the following concepts:

  • Cultivated areas around or near to schools, tended at least partly by learners.
  • Provide healthy food to the school cafeteria.
  • Serves as a place for teachers to teach lessons.
  • Offers a place for children to be active in the outdoors.

Whichever the reason for wanting to start a school garden, the first step is to get the support of the community, parents, teachers, and school officials. A school garden cannot be successful without this support. For more information on how to get started and gain support, see the Parent's Toolkit in our School Gardens Resource Packet:

The USDA also has a variety of resources and grant opportunities available here:

Once support and funding has been obtained, the next step is to decide on the placement of the garden. The garden should be easily accessible from the school, in a full sun location (at least 6 hours of full sun), near a water supply, have good well drained soil, the proper pH, and good soil fertility. It's always recommended to get a soil test of the location done as well to check for contaminants and check the levels of nutrients already in the soil.

Next, start planning the garden layout. You want to plan out what you're going to grow and only create a garden as large as you can manage. It's really best to only plant what kids will eat and the cafeteria can use if the goal is to provide food for the cafeteria. Consider doing a taste test to get the kids interested! The other concern with a school garden is the seasonality of the crops. School is only in session certain months of the year, so you want to plant things that you can harvest when school is in session.

Due to the typical school schedule, growing early spring and fall crops is going to be your best bet for a harvest while school is still in session. Plant cool season crops that are frost resistant and mature quickly. Transplants can be started in a cold frame, greenhouse, or indoors by placing in a southern or western facing window or by using grow lights.

The following crops are considered very hardy and can be planted 4-6 weeks before the average frost free date (April 25 in northern IL):

Plant from Seed

Kale, Kohlrabi, Leaf lettuce, Onion, Pea, Rutabaga, Salsify, Spinach, Turnip

Plant from Transplants

Asparagus (crown), Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Cabbage, Horseradish (root), Onion (set or plant), Parsley, Potato, irish (tuber), Rhubarb (root)

The following crops are considered frost tolerant and can be planted 2-3 weeks before the average frost free date:

Plant from Seed

Beet, Carrot, Chard, Mustard, Parsnip, Radish

Plant from Transplants

Cauliflower, Chinese cabbage


The same cool season crops can also be planted for a fall harvest as well. Both can be planted 8-10 weeks before the average first frost date (October 7 in northern IL).

One must also think about how to sustain the garden for the summer since school won't be in session. One option would be to let the garden rest for the summer. Plant a quick growing cover crop and then till in before doing the fall planting. Another option would be to seek volunteers to take care of the garden for the summer. Possibly assign a different family each week to be in charge of the garden. You might even turn the school garden into a community garden for the summer.

A school garden doesn't have to be all about growing produce as well. Think about putting in ornamental plants that dazzle, delight, and evoke explanation. Things with bright colors, strong smells, and interesting textures are great for attracting kid's attention.

All of this information and more can be found in the School Garden Resource Packet: More information can be found on the Illinois Farm to School Website: Also call your local Extension office for more information on school gardens in your area.

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