By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

Back to school: a season of crisp new notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils, and often, overgrown, untended school gardens, wilting from the summer heat. Whether you’re trying to get your garden in shape before school starts or want to plan your first few class garden days to get ready for the year ahead, here are some simple reminders to get you growing in the right direction.

Make a plan. It’s hard to plan ahead, but it’s even harder to plan while juggling everything else that the school year brings. Try to put aside a little time to set some goals for your garden this year: What do you want to plant? When? Where? What can you improve upon from years past? What is a dream you have for your garden this year? Don’t feel pressured to stick rigidly to your plan, but put it somewhere you will see it often and use it as an inspiration and a guiding post when the year gets hectic.

Pull some weeds! I have a love/hate relationship with weeds. I have been known to say of my school gardens: “Who cares what the garden looks like, as long as we’re learning!” Having said this, I have to admit that pulling weeds does make a garden look nice and fresh, and there’s something about getting things in order that just feels right at the beginning of the school year. Start or end each time you’re in the garden with a few minutes of rigorous weed pulling and slowly chip away at any summer weeds that may have taken over your garden. Or better yet, if you don’t get to those weeds before the school year starts, implement some weed pulling contests in each garden class or at recess time until your problem is gone (or at least temporarily managed).

Plant something new. Once your weeds are pulled and your gardens are looking fresh, decide which of the remaining plants you want to keep and which are ready to go. Then, use your plan to get something new growing. Depending on where in the country you live, planting at the beginning of the school year may not yield your best harvests, but just like pulling those weeds, getting something planted sets a good intention for the year ahead.

Include your gardens in Back-to-School Night. Back-to-School Nights are a great time to show off your gardens and engage with families. If you work better with a deadline, the pressure of Back-to-School Night might be just the kick you need to get your garden looking spiffy in a timely manner! And if the garden isn’t looking its prettiest by then, that just might help your case in recruiting volunteers.

Relax! Most importantly, remember that your school garden does not have to look perfect when the school year starts (or ever)! Perfect is rarely fun or interesting. Gardens are living things, and as such, they are constantly growing and changing. Even though you may have a long list of garden tasks you want to complete before your garden is “ready” for students, take comfort in knowing that those tasks you feel piling up are fun and interesting learning opportunities.

Looking for more ideas to keep your school garden growing strong? Find garden lesson plans, garden to cafeteria guides, garden assessment tools and more by searching the “School Garden” topic in our Resource Library.