Youth involved in 4-H landscaping project

Youth learn life skills through planning, growing and maintaining a flowerbed for the local fair.

In my recent Michigan State University Extension article “Planning and growing a garden teaches youth valuable life skills,” I wrote about the rewards and benefits of involving children in the garden planning and growing process. For many years I have been working as a volunteer with 4-H youth leading a landscaping project on the Branch County Fairgrounds. This project has two benefits: it gets youth outside and involved in flower garden planning, growing and maintaining, teaching them valuable life skills along the way, and it beautifies the fairgrounds.

Youth pick out their flowerbed spot in early spring. They clean it out and must have their beds planted by June 20. This gives them some time to work on their flowerbeds after school is out for summer. Youth have the choice to plant a flowerbed of all annuals or choose a combination of annuals and perennials. However, flowers must bloom in August at the time of the Branch County Fair.

After cleaning out their flowerbed, youth test the soil’s pH and amend the soil. They do careful research to see which flowers are best suited for their garden spot. In a record book, they note the location of their flowerbed, if it is a sunny or shady spot, soil test results and how they amended the soil. They list information about flowers they researched for their spot and draw an on-scale design of their flowerbed. They keep track of each time they worked on their flowerbed on a landscaping calendar and keep notes about their experiences in their garden journal. After the flowerbeds are planted, youth are responsible for maintaining them, so the beds will look at its best at fair time.

Over time, youth have encountered many challenges, such as drought conditions, when watering was needed daily, invasions of Japanese beetles, plants being pushed out of the flowerbeds by tunneling ground moles and others. Instead of giving up, youth learned team work. They helped each other with watering. They also shared ideas and experiences and came up together with solutions for their challenges. At the same time, they learned tips and tricks on how to get flowers to grow and bloom best. Through fieldtrips to local greenhouses, nurseries and gardens, youth learn about plant groupings, color combinations and the effect of adding different textures and heights.

Every year I am amazed to see youth creativity, which reflects in their flowerbed’s design. It is a joy to see how youth grow within the project over time and the pride and sense of accomplishment and ownership they develop for their flowerbed. In fact, several of the youth have started working in local greenhouses and nurseries as older teens. One former youth, who used to participate in the landscaping project, was a judge for the landscaping project at the last Branch County Fair.

The 4-H landscaping project is only one of the many programs that Michigan 4-H Youth Development offers. MSU Extension strives to teach young people life skills and equip them with the skills needed for successful adulthood. 

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