Pickled Paperwhites

Susan Littlefield - Horticulturist

Paperwhite narcissus are favorite bulbs for winter forcing. Their white or yellow blossoms are a lovely antidote to winter's bleakness. But unlike tulips, daffodils and other hardy bulbs that need to be tricked into thinking they've had a winter sleep before they'll bloom, these tender bulbs need no chilling period before producing their fragrant flowers. This makes them a great, easy choice to add color and fragrance to your classroom windowsill this winter.

You don't even need any soil – just place the bulbs, pointed end up, in a shallow pot filled with pebbles. Add enough water to just reach the bottom of the bulbs, set the container in a cool spot with bright light, and enjoy sweetly scented flowers in 2 to 6 weeks. Start pots of bulbs in succession and you’ll have plants coming into flower all winter long. (Bulbs forced in the fall will take 4-6 weeks to come into bloom; bulbs potted later in winter may bloom in as little as 2-3 weeks.) Forcing exhausts the bulbs and they aren't hardy in most parts of the country, so when the flowers fade, simply toss the bulbs onto the compost pile.

Floppy Foliage

A common problem with forced paperwhites is that, in the warmth of our school rooms and homes and with the short, dark days of winter, their foliage grows tall and flops over. While you can keep leaves from tumbling with stakes and string, some enterprising researchers came up with a novel way to keep plants lower and sturdier – give 'em a drink!

Experiments done at Cornell University's Flowerbulb Research Institute found that when paperwhites were watered with a 4-6% solution of alcohol rather than pure water, the plants were 1/3 shorter and didn't need staking to remain upright, but the flowers were as large, fragrant, and long-lasting as usual. This technique seems to work by causing mild water stress for the plants, enough to stunt their growth somewhat, but not enough to affect flowering.

To try this technique, plant your bulbs and irrigate with water alone until the roots are growing and the green shoots are 1-2 inches tall. This usually takes about a week. Then pour off the water from around the bulbs, replacing it with a 4-6% solution of isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol.

Dilution Math

To figure out how to make a solution of the correct dilution your students will need to use some simple math skills. Note the percentage of the alcohol (rubbing alcohol is usually 70% alcohol). To make a 5% solution, divide the percentage of alcohol by 5, subtract 1, and you have the number of parts of water (13) needed to mix with one part of rubbing alcohol. For a 4% solution, do the same calculation, but divide by 4, and so on for other dilutions. While the higher the concentration of alcohol, the shorter the plants, as with people, excess consumption is harmful. Don't go any higher than a 10% solution to avoid harming the plants.

If you’re forcing paperwhites at home, you may choose to use liquor instead of rubbing alcohol. Any hard liquor is suitable, such as gin, whiskey, vodka or tequila, but don't use beer or wine as the sugars in them can harm the plants. To figure out how to make a solution of the correct dilution, take the "proof" of the liquor and divide it in half to get the percentage of alcohol. For example, "80-proof" liquor contains 40% alcohol. Then proceed as detailed above.

For an interesting and easy experiment, have students start several pots of paperwhites at the same time. Water each with a different dilution of alcohol (be sure to water one pot with plain water as a control). Students can monitor and record the differences in growth and flowering and decide for themselves if “pickled” paperwhites result in a better show!

Indoor Gardening Adventures

Sarah Pounders – Education Specialist
Sarah Pounders – Education Specialist

This past August, when the heat was unbearably oppressive and the mosquitoes were the size of birds in Texas (okay, maybe a slight exaggeration), I decided to set up the grow lights that I usually take up to our my daughter’s school for starting spring plants and enjoy them at home for a while.

Our first activity was to plant seeds for our fall garden. I let the kids decide what to plant and we ended up with broccoli, tomatoes and basil. I wish I had a picture of my son’s face the first time he peered under the humidity tent (which we use to keep a plant-devouring cat out in addition to helping to maintaining a moist environment for the seedlings) and he saw little green things sticking out. The look of both surprise and amazement was priceless. What was more impressive though was watching them grow real leaves and begin to look like the plants he picks out each year at the garden center. Although we have tried growing seeds in windowsill gardens before, even using the window with the best light, they usually end up surviving only a couple of weeks before they meet their end due to the challenges of too low of light and inconsistent humidity/watering.

About 6 weeks later, we were able to plant our seedlings outdoors and are currently waiting for our tomatoes to ripen. In addition to experimenting with vegetable and herb seedlings, we also put some struggling houseplants into our grow lights and have enjoyed watching them flourish. terrariumWe are most excited about our nerve plants that we are planning to use to make some terrariums this winter. Our grow lights also turned into a butterfly observation habitat. Something kept eating the monarch caterpillars on our butterfly weed plant outside (since we closely monitor the caterpillars, we noticed one weekend that we went from having about 25 caterpillars to 5), so we brought a couple of the caterpillars in using an insect cage and continued to harvest leaves to feed them. Watching them get noticeable bigger each day and seeing just how much they consume was a great learning experience for the kids (and the poop--- wow do those little critters poop a lot – great fun for my son). Although we released a couple back outside once we noticed that the caterpillars stopped disappearing from our outdoor garden, we have two that made a chrysalis in the cage and we are hoping they will mature and fly off before cold weather hits.

Yesterday we just received our final project before the grow lights have to head back up to school – amaryllis bulbs. We are going to pot those up this weekend to give away as holiday presents. After the holidays, we will move the grow lights up to my daughter’s school so that they can start tomatoes from seed for their spring gardens and get a chance to observe the full life cycle of the tomato plant (a requirement of their third grade curriculum). Since their classrooms do not have windows facing outdoors, grow lights are the only way they can successfully grow plants from seeds. The plan for the spring is to grow recipe themed gardens with tomatoes as the key ingredient and then celebrate with a harvest party at the end of the year. The students are going to choose their recipe, but possible themes include salsa gardens, pizza gardens, pasta gardens and maybe even a ratatouille garden.

Hopefully from this log of activities, you can see the point I am trying to make which is that grow lights are an excellent educational tool both at home and at school. They allow you to continue gardening activities in challenging weather (which for us includes the summer, although I know many of you are heading into your most garden-challenged time of winter months). Yes, windowsill gardening is possible, but I don’t think I am alone in being greatly limited by optimal available space, so for many of us grow lights are the only way to be successful with indoor gardening pursuits.growlab-2

My favorite reference book for indoor gardening is our GrowLab: A Complete Guide to Gardening in the Classroom (a guide I used even before I worked for KidsGardening). It includes an overview of what you need to get started, practical information about how to keep your plants growing, trouble shooting tips, a recommended plant list and much more. This book is a companion to our GrowLab: Classroom Activities for Indoor Gardens and Grow Lights which offers some of my favorite lessons of all times for teaching basic plant science.

Looking for holiday gift ideas for an educator or parent in your life? The GrowLab Guides would be an excellent choice. I know I would be pretty excited (hint, hint to my family reading…) to receive another set of grow lights so that I could grow at home and school at the same time too!

Giving Thanks to Two Raised Beds

Andrea W - Creative Director

In July, I wrote of my first garden adventure as an adult and talked about “Lessons learned and the little things”. The lessons to learn continued well into the fall harvest season and beyond. I learned how to harvest the vegetables I grew, tried many new recipes and learned how to properly put my garden to bed. In this short garden season, I realize I have so much to be thankful for because of two raised beds!


From garden planning, seed spacing, to thinning, vine borers and garden pests, I faced many challenges in the garden. Despite these challenges, I enjoyed every moment tending to the garden, watching a seed grow to a vegetable and sharing the harvest with my friends and family.


awkg_blogimage-6It was shocking how much food this small garden provided us with. We had more zucchini, squash, cucumbers and tomatoes than we knew what to do with. The peas and beans provided our visitors with an enjoyable snack when they came over to admire what was growing. The lettuce provided the farm owner with a few delightful salads. And while the carrots weren’t the best crop overall, the horses seemed to love every nibble!

awkg_blogimage-5With a harvest this bountiful, it was time to put my cooking and baking skills to the test. I learned how to make many recipes with the help of Pinterest and some of my colleagues! Often, I simply sautéed squash and zucchini with olive oil, salt and pepper for the perfect side dish for many summer dinners. I also tried an easy recipe for pasta sauce from my colleague, Maree, and with some trial and error, finally figured it out. My biggest successes from my cooking and baking adventures were the delectable varieties of zucchini breads and muffins I made. Of course, I started with the Traditional Zucchini Bread, but quickly branched out to try Banana Zucchini Bread, Banana Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread and Chocolate Banana Zucchini Bread.

While I have always doubted my cooking and baking and skills, I learned that a bountiful harvest and a set of good instructions make for an easy learning curve, and that was a great confidence booster when the office said “YUM!” to the tasty treats I brought in to share.


awkg_blogimage-4Kettletop Farm II is not only a place to board my horse, it’s my farm family, my biggest supporters, my teachers and a place where I feel safe and at home. And this year, without their raised beds, I wouldn’t have been able to learn from the garden, try new recipes and learn how important gardening is to myself and the people that benefited from its harvest. I am so lucky to have so many things to be thankful for and I look forward to planning and expanding the Kettletop Farm II Garden next year!

2017 Youth Garden Grant is now OPEN!

Sarah Pounders – Education Specialist
Sarah Pounders – Education Specialist

Since 1982, KidsGardening has awarded Youth Garden Grants to 5436 schools, nonprofits, and youth programs across the United States contributing over 2.9 million dollars in funding to youth gardening initiatives. The 2017 Youth Garden Grant is sponsored by KidsGardening’s generous donor base with contributions from AeroGrow International, Inc., Eartheasy, Fiskars Brands, Gardener’s Supply Company, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Nature Hills, and SmartPots.


The 2017 Youth Garden Grant is an award designed to support school and youth educational garden projects that enhance the quality of life for students and their communities. Any nonprofit, school, or youth program planning a new garden program or expanding an established one that serves at least 15 youth between the ages of 3 and 18 is eligible to apply. The selection of winners is based on demonstrated program impact and sustainability.


A total of 20 programs will be awarded.

Top 5 programs will receive award packages valued at $750 that include:

  • 3 Autumn Bliss Raspberry Plants from Nature’s Hills
  • 3 Natchez Blackberry Plants from Nature’s Hills
  • 2 Harvest Elite AeroGardens from Miracle-Gro AeroGarden
  • 1 Super-Slim Lightweight Hose from Gardener’s Supply Company
  • 1 Smartpot Growing Bag
  • 1 Natural Cedar Raised Bed from Eartheasy
  • 1 Hand Tool Package from Fiskars Brands, Inc.
  • $50 Gardener’s Supply Company Gift Certificate
  • KidsGardening.org Curriculum Package

15 programs will receive award packages valued at $500 that include:

  • 1 Autumn Bliss Raspberry Plants from Nature’s Hills
  • 1 Natchez Blackberry Plants from Nature’s Hills
  • 1 Super-Slim Lightweight Hose from Gardener’s Supply Company
  • 1 Smartpot Growing Bag
  • 1 Natural Cedar Raised Bed from Eartheasy
  • 1 Hand Tool Package from Fiskars Brands, Inc.
  • $50 Gardener’s Supply Company Gift Certificate
  • KidsGardening.org Curriculum Package


Due Date: Applications must be submitted by December 15, 2016. The application is completed through an online survey system.

Click here to begin the application.yggbarnraiserhead3

Please read through the entire application before you begin. This will help you avoid duplicating information and allow you to make the best use of the available space.

Click here to download a pdf file of the questions to view ahead of time.

We strongly advise saving the questions into a Word document and copying and pasting your answers into the application.

Please note you may go back in and edit your document by clicking the "resume later" button; however once you select “submit” you will not be able to edit or access your application. Also note, applications that are started but not submitted will not be considered for the award. You will receive a confirmation statement that the application was successfully received after you select submit.  Applications that are started, but not submitted, will not be considered for the award.

If you have selected the "resume later" button, please write down your user name and password for your return to the application. When you are ready to continue, visit this first page of the grant application and select the "Load Unfinished Survey" button at the bottom left corner to arrive at a screen to enter your name and password.


Winners will be notified via email on January 15, 2017. A list of winners will also be posted on KidsGardening.org on that date. Awards will be distributed in February 2017.


Grant awardees will be required to report on their garden’s progress within six months of receiving the award. These reports help NGA determine the overall impact of the grant program and gather ongoing support for youth gardening. If you do not feel that you will be able to comply with these reporting requirements, please do not apply. Recipients who do not complete these requirements will not be eligible to apply for future awards.

Reporting requirements include:

  • 5-10 digital images of the school garden
  • Parental release forms to accompany images of children
  • Completion of an online survey
  • Provide an updated overview of the garden program 

QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUTH GARDEN GRANT? Contact us at: [email protected]

Why Garden-Based Learning is More Relevant Than Ever

Emily Shipman – Executive Director

Getting kids engaged in the garden is more important now than ever.

Children ages 10-16 spend, on average, only 12.6 minutes per day in physical activity.(1) This physical inactivity has important consequences; it contributes to the fact that nearly 18% of all children and teens in the United States are obese. And one third of all children born after 2000 are predicted to suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives.(2) Related to this, almost a third of children reported that in the last month they had experienced a physical health symptom associated with stress, such as headaches, stomachaches or trouble falling or staying asleep.(3)

Many of these challenges facing our kids can also be seen as opportunities to engage more children in garden-based learning.

The impact of garden-based education is clear. Numerous studies have shown that children engaged in garden programs show improved health outcomes, perform better in school, have superior social and emotional capabilities, and more pro-environmental attitudes.

Studies find that time spent outdoors reduces health problems in children.(4)  Children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fresh fruits and vegetables(5) or express a preference for these foods.(6)

Just being outside in the garden is an antidote to stress. Adolescents report calm and happy feelings and ease in connecting with their peers and adult mentors while gardening.(7)

The benefits of gardening carry over into the classroom. Fifth grade students who participated in school gardening activities scored significantly higher on science achievement tests than students without garden curriculum.(8) Studies in Indiana and Louisiana also found greater science achievement gains among gardening students compared to control groups.(9)

Gardening helps to build a sense of community and belonging, both within the school and with the broader community. Parent involvement, shown to enhance student achievement, increases at schools with garden programs.(10) When third to fifth grade students who participated in a one-year gardening program filled out a survey of life skills, they showed a significant increase in self-understanding and the ability to work in groups compared to nonparticipating students.(11)

Cultivating plants also helps to cultivate an ethic of stewardship for the earth. Second and fourth grade students in a school gardening program in Texas showed significantly more gains in pro-environmental attitudes than students in a control group, and the more outdoor experiences they had, the more positive their attitudes.(12) In an assessment of an intergenerational gardening project, students expressed an increased understanding of ecology, interconnections in nature, and responsibility to care for the environment.(13)

There is no better time than today to begin cultivating young people who are environmentally conscious, community-minded, healthy, and empowered to work together to make this world a better place. The data shows that gardens are a learning lab for many of these skills.  

For 34 years, KidsGardening.org has helped grow a movement, supporting more than 10,500 learning gardens and reaching an estimated 1.5 million kids nationwide. We connect more than 100,000 educators nationwide with garden grants, curriculum, lesson plans, and inspiration to get more kids learning through the garden.
To sustain and grow this impact, we need your help. Please consider supporting the work of Kid’s Gardening and get more kids learning through the garden.


  1. The Alliance for Childhood, 2012
  2. Center for Disease Control, 2013
  3. American Psychological Association, January 2011
  4. Zajicek, 2009
  5. Canaris, 1995; Hermann et al., 2006; Libman, 2007; McAleese & Rankin, 2007; Pothukuchi, 2004
  6. Lineberger & Zajicek, 2000; Morris & Zidenberg-Cherr, 2002
  7. Pevec, 2011
  8. Klemmer, Waliczek, & Zajicek, 2005
  9. Dirks & Orvis, 2005
  10. Alexander, North, & Hendren, 1995
  11. Robinson & Zajicek, 2005
  12. Skelly & Zajicek, 1998
  13. Mayer-Smith, Bartosh & Peterat, 2007