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Make the most of springtime gardening

You might harvest more than flowers and vegetables by working outside in your garden. Research shows that other benefits come from nurturing plants in your backyard, or a school or community garden. For example, people’s attitudes towards health and nutrition improve when they have access to a garden, kids perform better in school, and communities may even grow closer.

“Gardens are popping up everywhere and deserve our support,” says Mary Lestrud, Wisconsin Nutrition Education Program (WNEP) coordinator in St. Croix County. Lestrud has some family-friendly tips for you to get the most out of the Wisconsin gardening season.

Family gardens 

Planting and caring for a family garden can be a great way to bring the family together.

  • Start small. Window boxes or containers (recycled clean bleach or milk containers work well) can become planters.
  • Get some child-sized tools from a local nursery or garden center. Plastic spoons and shovels work well, too.
  • Make your own compost. Find a location in your yard behind a tree, or dig a hole in the ground. Add rinds and peels from fruit, coffee grounds, tea bags, and eggshells—never anything that swam, walked or flew. Wait several months for your compost to turn black and crumbly and then mix with soil and use for fertilizer.

School gardens

  • School gardens offer educational opportunities that span many fields, including biology, chemistry, mathematics, culinary arts, business studies and design. Finding the connections between these topics provides an engaging learning

experience students can continue outside of class.

  • Students of all skill levels can participate in activities from designing the garden to gathering the harvest. Visual, verbal, interpersonal and a variety of other essential skills are needed for a school garden to flourish.
  • School gardens create a means to enjoy healthy food, encourage environmental stewardship, and support active lifestyles among children of all ages.

Be a good steward

“Spring offers an opportunity to be a good steward of the land,” says Lestrud.

She has more ideas and activities to consider as you spend time outdoors this spring and summer.

  • Plant a rain garden to help protect the natural water supply. Storm water may pick up materials that can pollute water. Rain gardens are designed to capture this rainwater before it becomes runoff, protecting the environment and

groundwater. Many plants suitable for a rain garden also attract pollinating insects, butterflies and birds.

  • Plant a pollinator garden. Food crops rely on honeybees, native bees, and other pollinators to survive. Attract and nurture these creatures by planting nectar-rich,

flower-filled gardens. “Planting a pollinator garden in a school area can lead to lessons in botany, entomology, food systems and native populations,” says Lestrud.

  • Plant a tree. You’ve probably heard this one before, but the power of a tree cannot be underestimated. Trees purify the air we breathe, take up and store carbon, and help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They provide food and shelter to birds and other wildlife, help reduce energy needs by moderating winter winds and summer heat, and even provide us with fruit. As some farmers plow down trees to make way for bigger fields, let’s pick up the slack and plant more trees.

For more information, call Mary Lestrud at 715-531-1934, or email