Planting a classroom garden to attract hummingbirds is a rewarding experience for your middle school classroom. In the process, students learn important math and science principles.
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Materials and Preparation
The hummingbird garden can be as large or as small as space allows. The garden will need to receive at least 6 hours of direct sun. Partial shade is OK in areas where summers are very hot and dry. The soil should be amended to include lots of organic matter and compost.
Basic gardening tools are required: spades, rakes, garden gloves, cultivators or weeders are all that is need. Other accessories will be a hummingbird feeder. Students will also need a notebook or sketchbook for journal writing. Plants or seeds for the hummingbird friendly plants will be necessary.
Here are some of the plant species that are very hummingbird friendly: Monarda diddyma (butterfly weed), Butterfly bush, Ipomea x multifida (Cardinal Climber), red trumpet vine, fuchsia, impatiens, pineapple sage, lipstick plant, or any plant with bright red, pink or purple flowers.
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Graphing and Designing the Garden
Plan the garden.
Have students calculate the square footage of the garden. Include areas for planting as well as pathways in the garden.
Paths should be a minimum of 36" wide, 60" for handicap access.
For children with disabilities, a raised bed can be planted at wheelchair height.
This can be as simple as constructing an elevated box at least 12" deep for planting.
Do not use sand for pathways. Instead use gravel, decomposed granite, sawdust, wood chips or packed earth.
Once the planting areas have been established, decide on plant selections.
For areas that can be viewed from all directions, plant the tallest species in the middle of the beds. Garden beds that have one side against a wall or fence should have the tallest plants at the back of the planting bed.
Have the students decide on which plants to use and where to put them. Break the class into teams of 3 or 4 and have each team design a garden. Select the best design for the space. If trellises are required see if they can be built from recycled materials such as scrap wood or twigs.
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Germinating Seeds & Growing the Plants
Start seeds indoors.
The fastest way to get germination is to place the seeds between 2 layers of damp paper towels and put them into a plastic baggie. Then place the baggie in the refrigerator for about a week, checking after 3 days for any mold. Then transplant the seeds into pots.
Once the true leaves have appeared the plants can be hardened off. This is when you bring the plants outdoors for increasingly longer periods of time to get them used to the outdoors.
Use this time to do a lesson on the anatomy of a seed and discuss the lifecycle of a plant. Have the students keep a journal of the seeds from when they are first sprouted.
Plant the garden according to the plan. Add a hummingbird feeder or two. These birds should start appearing from late May and into the summer. As a bonus, butterflies will frequent the garden. A flat leaf parsley plant will ensure that caterpillars have food. To attract Monarch butterflies, add a few milkweed plants.
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Visit or Observe the Garden Daily
Have the students write and draw in the journal their observations of what they see. Try to identify any unknown insects or other wildlife. If the garden can be viewed from the classroom window, then it is even better. During inclement weather, the garden can be observed in comfort.
Your students will greatly benefit from the garden; not only will they learn about plant life cycles and hummingbird behavior, they will improve their writing skills through journal entries.
As an added benefit, a hummingbird garden is a fragrant garden. Leaves of pineapple sage are fragrant with a pineapple citrus smell. Observing the garden is a relaxing activity. You may find students more focused and able to work after a visit to the garden.
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Financial Aid: There are ways to get financial help with establishing a school or classroom garden. The National Gardening Association has grants for plants, equipment and supplies. The PTA or PTO may be willing to help as well.
Safety: If you will have young children (grades K-3) visiting the garden, or any age child who might may ingest plant seeds, then avoid using Ipomea seeds. These are also known as Morning Glory. The seeds are hallucinogenic if ingested. Morning Glory plants are safe, but the seeds should be kept away from students who might eat them. Also, be sure to have students wash their hands well after working in the garden.
Planting a hummingbird garden is a wonderful activity that will stay with the class for years to come. Middle school students will learn about plants, insects, hummingbirds and gardening. Learning to sit or stand quietly and observe is a focus skill that will help them in all aspects of their lives.