Tree Planting Project


How to Use Science Content Standards at Home

This article is a companion article to Propagating Japanese Maples from Cuttings.

Do you want to enrich your child’s science education at home? Enrichment activities should be fun and interesting. For best results, hands on projects are best. Consider this simple tree planting project and tie in at least two science standards.

Where to Find Science Content Standards

The department of education website of your state lists the specific content standards by subject for your child’s grade. You can also access the National Science Education Standards at the National Academies Press website. The link takes you to a particular page with a handful of life sciences standards. The way you would use the standards is to choose one. Keep in mind that any project linked to a standard will probably not totally round out the understanding, but it will add to the child’s repertoire of science skills and knowledge.

What are Content Standards?

Content standards are standards that schools use to create lesson plans, purchase curriculum material, and ultimately test their students to see which standards are being met in a school district. States create the standards and public school districts are mandated to use them. Today most teachers are required to link lesson plans to content standards.

How to Link Content Standard to Fun Activities at Home

Take a project with the standard as a goal in mind.

For example for the standard “interdependence of organisms” You could root two Japanese maples and plant them in separate pots. In one, you could add mycorrhizae, compost and  organic fertilizer. In the other add only compost and organic fertilizer.

Since trees take a long time to grow, most likely this is an experience your child could not possibly have in school. Comparing the two trees at regular intervals by either taking pictures or drawing and writing about observations will teach a science process standard as well. (Consider the possibility of tying in the scientific method.) It may peak interest in understanding why one tree is doing better than the other. Maybe you could begin a fun study of mycorrhizae at this point. (Here’s a good start.)

Measuring and Recording Data

Consider measuring growth with a sewing measuring tape. These are made of cloth or plastic and are less likely to damage the trees.

You might choose Mondays and Fridays to measure and observe your trees. Or if you find that progress is slow, choose a longer interval like once a week. Depending on your resources and your child’s talents and abilities, you can record observations in several different ways. Some things that can be measured: a leaf — mark it so you measure the same one each week, a stem or the height of the tree. Other observations: coloration, blemishes on leaves or stem, etc. Always remember to include date and time of observation.

Different ways to record:

Let your child choose the method he or she likes best:

  • Have your child describe into a tape recorder.
  • Your child can take photos and label them with observations and measurements.
  • Your child can draw the trees and label them.
  • You or your child can create a data table and fill in the blanks or check the boxes during observations.

Additional Activities

  • Find interesting books about other interdependent organisms in the library together with your child. It’s totally okay to allow your child to take books out that are below his reading level. The key to making this an enriching experience is that the books should interest him or her and that there is new information to the child. Even college students sometimes read children’s books to get a basic understanding of a complex topic.
  • Your child can create a book or website about the experience. If he or she is artistic, they can create a painting or other craft demonstrating what was learned.

Most important of all, have fun! Let us know if you decide to take on this or a similar project. I’d be very interested to know how it goes. Also, please feel free to post questions here.

(I am working on lesson plan posts that will be linked to science standards. If you subscribe to this blog, you’ll be notified whenever there is a new post.)

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Propagating Japanese Maples from Cuttings


Propagate Japanese Maples to add color to your yard.


There’s a fun and inexpensive way to get Japanese maples for your yard. If you have kids, it could also be a great educational experience. (See end of article for link to science content standards and suggestions. )

I’ll never forget the day my black lab Maxine came up the driveway with a neighbor’s soon to be planted large Japanese maple in her teeth. Thankfully it was not damaged as I probably could not have afforded to replace it. This is definitely not the way to acquire a Japanese maple!

Get a Free Japanese Maple

The Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) is one of the most popular landscape trees. You can buy one for your yard from under $5 for a seedling to up to $200 or more for a good sized tree. You might consider growing one either from seed or from a cutting.

Ask neighbors or friends if you can take a couple of cuttings from their trees, or simply collect seeds from the ground in the Fall. Many plants can be cut and rooted. Some can simply be rooted in water. The Japanese maple should be rooted in soil. Here are instructions for growing Japanese maples for your yard from either cuttings or seeds.

Deciding Between Propagating Japanese Maples from Cuttings or Growing From Seed

If you root a cutting, it will look like the parent tree. However, if you grow from seed, the tree may be a little different. Some nurseries graft Japanese maples but this is a more complicated process than rooting. If you root a cutting, it will be important to either be very diligent in keeping the little tree misted throughout the day by hand, or use an automatic misting system.

Rooting the Japanese Maple Cutting

The process of rooting a cutting from a Japanese maple is very simple.

  • Prepare a pot or flat by filling it with moist potting soil.
  • Find new growth on the tree and cut that small branch.
  • Remove the lower leaves from the branch and leave two or three leaves toward the top of the cutting.
  • Place the branch into the soil being sure to bury at least one leaf node (be sure the leaf has been removed first). Before planting it, you can first dip the branch into water, then in rooting hormone as this may insure the branch will sprout roots. However,  you might have good success without it.
  • Place the pot inside a plastic bag, but leave the bag open for air. The purpose of this step is to keep the plant moist at all times.
  • The pot should be in a warm place, but not direct light.
  • Using a hand sprayer, mist the cutting several times a day and keep the soil moist. If you’re fortunate enough to have an automatic misting system, you won’t need to hand mist.
  • When you begin to see vigorous new leaves growing, that means you have successfully grown roots!

Plant Your New Tree

Hopefully you plant the tree before it becomes root bound in the pot. A plant is root bound when the roots inside the pot begin to go around the pot. If this happens, take a pair of scissors and trim the roots before planting. If you are planting shortly after new leaves begin to grow, your plant will most likely not be root bound.

Dig a hole about the size of the pot your tree is in. Put a little pile of soil in the center of the hole. Gently remove the tree from the pot and shake some soil off of the roots. Spread the roots out over the pile of soil and gently add soil to fill in the hole. Tamp gently. Water. Small new trees need to be kept moist. Their root systems are still shallow and they can dry out and die quickly, so keep a good eye on your tree.

The Soil for Your Japanese Maple

Give your trees a head start by providing rich live soil. One way to do this is to add mychorrizal innoculant into the soil. Mychorrizae will continue to give for the life of the tree, and the cost is so minimal. Do this simple and inexpensive step and your tree will look fabulous in no time at all! Learn how and why it is such an effective soil amendment.

If you want to, you can check the pH of your soil and make adjustments for a Japanese maple.

Growing Japanese Maples From Seed

Check back for a post on this topic.

Science Content Standards

You can use science content standards at home to enrich your child’s science education in a fun way. Here are simple instructions.

What are your experiences with rooting Japanese maples or any other type of tree?

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Sustainable Gardens–Ideas for Urban Gardeners


Even blueberries can be grown in a small space like a patio.

How We Can Create Sustainable Gardens

Yearning to grow your own food or even start a farm but you’re stuck in the city? It might just be possible, thanks to people who think outside of the farm and inside the planting box–or planting spiral. That’s right. I said spiral. And that’s not all. It seems the sky’s literally the limit when it comes to growing food no matter where you live.

Urban gardening and even farming is a trend that seems to have no limits. Meet someone who not only grows her greens, but raises goats for meat in the city.

The set up doesn’t look very pretty. I personally like a farm or garden to have aesthetic appeal, not just practical applications. But this lady looks happy and she shares with her neighbors. She’s modeling sustainable living for the rest of us. We can fashion our own experiences a bit differently if we care to. I think her courage to be different is commendable.

Vertical Gardening

So what do you do when you have no horizontal place to lay out your garden? Go up of course. Vertical gardens take on many forms. There’s the simple tee-pee for allowing peas to climb up–a set of three or four tomato stakes tied together at the top with peas planted around the base.

You can create vertical frames with wood lattice or tomato netting and train many types of plants to climb upwards. Some examples include tomatoes, squash, peas, and yard-long beans. Even heavier squash or gourds can be grown this way. As the fruit becomes heavier the stem grows thicker. Some gardeners help the plant hold the fruit by slipping an old pantyhose leg over it and tying it.

If all you have is a patio, you can still take advantage of vertical growing to make good use of the space you have. Try planting peas or climbing beans in a container. Tie strings from the planter up toward the house–or attach a couple of poles on the edge of the patio to attach the strings to. Train the plant onto the strings. This can become an artistic display or even a privacy screen as well as a supply of food.

Some Innovative Sustainable Garden Ideas

Some of these examples are farms, but they give much food for thought for gardeners looking to become more sustainable in their practices.

  • Whirligro is a UK based company that sells spiral growing tubes. It can be combined with a drip irrigation system, or it can simply be watered by hand. Even if you aren’t in the market for an innovative vertical growing system, it’s worth looking at the pictures.
  • Check out someone’s big idea about farming in New York City and cities around the world. It’s an elaborate idea that might be compared to greenhouses stacked on top of each other with windmills at the top. Vertical Farming Big Idea. This big idea would not only create innovative urban farming practices, but would also create jobs.
  • If you live near a glacier and have to live with a short growing season, plus compete with bears and other critters, don’t despair. You can try the clever idea Suzzane Forsling came up with at an Agricultural Extension Service workshop. She used extra rain gutters as gardens and attached them to her home. You can get help from your extension service agent too.
  • This next one isn’t just a big idea. It’s a reality. A rooftop farm in Brooklyn. I’m not talking just a small garden plot. This is a thriving farm. There’s a science to creating a rooftop garden or farm. Layers of material form a barrier between roots and roof. Rooftop gardens or farms create ecosystems within the city. Plants produce oxygen. The rooftop greenery has a cooling and insulating effect on the building. It creates a source of locally grown food–a rare find in a large city. Local chefs are thrilled to have access to fresh food on a daily basis.
  • If you don’t have a yard, or patio, and you don’t have a roof to work with, don’t despair. You could create a truck farm. Check back here soon for a review of the film.
  • Four Season Gardening is an answer to gardeners in northern areas. Check it out if you’re interested in growing food year round even with snow on the ground.
  • Whatever type of garden  you decide to create, don’t forget to take good care of your soil. Whether you have a plot in your backyard or carry bags of soil onto your patio, it isn’t just fertilizer that feeds your plants. For a few cents per plant, you can infuse your soil with live microbial helpers (mycorrhizae) that will keep on giving. It’s such a no-brainer I wonder how I ever did without them! It’s the only soil amendment that replicates itself. There’s a summer sale on these now too, so it’s a good time to try it out.
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Composting 101: 7 Things to Remember When Making Compost


making compost

Compost is called The Gardener’s Gold because it’s an invaluable partner in keeping the soil healthy. In organic gardening, making compost is part of the gardener’s To-Do List every growing season.

If you’re thinking of using compost that you made yourself instead of buying it from your favorite garden store, here are seven simple things to remember before you start going crazy making compost. :)

#1 What Compost is NOT

Compost is a wonderful recycling facility right at your home. Food scraps need not go to the landfill anymore but you can use it in your garden as organic soil improver. Your soil will love you for it!

But for all its wonderful benefits, compost isn’t meant to be used a fertilizer. It’s relatively low in nutrients that plant need to grow healthy and robust.

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Organic Gardening Basics


organic gardening

If truth be known, organic gardening is an age-old practice. It only bears a new name, but it’s been around for centuries. After all, it was only in the 20th century when modern man started using synthetic fertilizers to increase crop yields and pesticides to protect plants from pests and diseases.

It was only when we learned that these chemical concoctions could have harmful effects on the food we eat, not to mention contribute to global warming, that we started looking for safer, more earth-friendly alternatives in growing our food.

“Going Organic”: What It Means

So what does it mean to “go organic” in our farming and gardening practices?

Going organic, as I soon found out when I started dabbling with it in my own little vegetable garden, doesn’t mean doing away with the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides when tending to my vegetables only.

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Agricultural Extension Service Answers Your Questions


Whether you have 1,000 acres or a patio garden, the extension service can answer your quesitons.

Is the meadow on our property suitable for an orchard? Where’s the best place to plant asparagus here on our land? The hill next to our utility road seems to be slipping. Would it help if we planted trees there? What types of trees? What animal is eating out of our garden and how can we stop it? Can you show me how to prune raspberries?

These are just some of the questions that our local Agricultural Extension Agent answered for us. These are not just general questions about what grows in the local area, but unique questions about a specific property in the local area.

We can find a lot of questions answered on the internet or in a book. This is the information age after all. But there’s nothing quite like talking to a real person. Obviously, local questions like those we asked can’t be found in any database or article.

Luckily for new gardeners, there is a local person willing to answer questions without charge. He or she will not only answer questions, but will likely recommend publications for a deeper understanding of a topic, recommend workshops or classes, and sometimes even come out to your location to give very specific advice.

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The Magic of Mycorrhizae


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So, what’s the deal with mycorrhizae? Why did I call it The Grower’s Best Friend (and in some instance, I believe it’s the Farmer’s Life Saver) in my last post? Simple.

My friend Mycorrhizae, which has been around for eons (maybe even right after the first fish found a way to live on land), is one of Mother Nature’s secret to why rainforests are lush, dense, and so full of life even in the absence of the synthetic fertilizers and pesticides that modern growers have come to rely on.

As a matter of fact, mycorrhizae have become crucial to the survival of some plant species, especially those that have problems with their root systems. (Problems which may include stunted, thick or underdeveloped roots and therefore, inefficient water or nutrient uptake.)

But first, who (or what?) is this venerable Mycorrhizae?

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Patio Vegetable Garden — Chasing the Sun


Nasturtiums Grow Well in a Patio Garden

Think you can’t grow anything because there isn’t enough sun on your patio vegetable garden or in your yard? Why not get creative. Many urban farm projects find intriguing ways of getting around the challenges of growing in city areas.

Creative Ways of Getting Sunlight

All over the world, there are organizations bringing gardening back to communities.

Some grow from rooftops.

Mushrooms in a warehouse? Better yet, in your kitchen cabinet. Since mushrooms need shade, sunlight isn’t much of a problem.

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Unlikely Garden Hero — Eating Slugs in the Garden


An unlikely hero saves the day by eating slugs.

Slugs in the garden? Stop poisoning them with beer and salt. There’s a less time and labor intensive way to deal with this pest. Simply invite a special guest to hang out in your yard.

If you’re having trouble with slugs in the garden, you may have heard some of the typical strategies for getting rid of them. Read on and this may be your first slug-free year. Few have heard of the garden hero that you can invite into your yard.

Do you have any neighbors trying to find a new home for an opossum they think is a problem? (I’m not kidding!)

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Soil pH – Guide to Acidic Soil and Alkaline Soil Adjustment


soil ph testPreviously, we had a brief overview of soil pH, the component in organic soil that defines the chemistry of the soil in your garden.

In this post, we’re going to dig deeper into soil pH—how to check if you’re working in an acidic or alkaline environment, and how to improve soil if an extreme soil chemistry exists in your garden.

What is Soil pH?

Soil pH is simply the chemical characteristic of the soil—its level of acidity or alkalinity measured by pH. The soil pH scale runs from 1 for pure acid to 14 for pure alkaline, with 7 as the neutral midpoint.

Although typical garden soil pH never hit the extremes, slight movements up and down the pH scale can affect the health and hardiness of your plants.

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