Getting Down to Earth

Special consideration must be given to plants that have natu­rally shallow root systems, and to those that are designated in his notebook as particularly needing moist soil.

Spraying or dusting is a season-long responsibility for any gardener, young or old. This should be done the moment a sign of either disease or insects is spotted. An even better habit to form early in a garden career, however, is not to wait until trouble appears before using pesticides. Trouble can be held down to a bare minimum if the young gardener will automati­cally dust or spray his garden every two or three weeks. Modern science has made this once-dreaded chore remarkably easy. The so-called all-purpose sprays and dusts take care of most common plant ailments and pests. Packaged in a variety of squeeze cans and aerosol spray containers, they are ideal for a child to use.

It will save you much time supervising and prodding, if, right in the beginning, the young novice is given some idea of why he must follow certain procedures in planting and caring for his garden.

Tell him first that the main things that seeds and plants need in order to grow are: Food, water, warmth, light, air, and protection from enemies. Explain these factors, one by one, something like this:

Food is needed for growth. The plant makes its own, partly from substances it draws out of the soil, through its roots. Sometimes the supply of these materials runs low. Then the gardener must add new supplies, in the form of fertilizers. Most soils need them.

Water is needed for two important reasons. First, the dry seed must have moisture in order to soften, swell up, and break out of its hard shell. Second, plants must have moisture because they literally drink their food through their roots, and can't get this liquid nourishment out of dry soil.

Warmth and light are supplied by sunshine. Most seeds won't germinate until the ground has been warmed. And without light a plant cannot manufacture food and carry on its growth process. A few plants do grow and blossom when air and ground are cold. A few prefer to grow in the shade. But these are exceptions. Most plants need either lots of sunshine, or sun for at least part of the day.

Air is as necessary to plants as to human beings. They use oxygen both from soil and from air, and cannot grow without it. Waterlogged roots cannot get enough oxygen; nor can over-crowded plants.

Protection from enemies refers to the young gardener's role as doctor to his plants. Explain that diseases affect the health of plants, and sometimes kill them.