Photo courtesy of our friends at PS-41 in New York City. Students study plants on their rooftop garden.

In celebration of Farm to School month, we’d like to focus on an integral part of farm to school programs: school gardens. Follow our step-by-step guide from gaining school approval to integrating lesson plans. School gardens offer a multitude of educational opportunities and health benefits, including building food literacy, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children, improving physical activity, forming positive relationships, and promoting environmental stewardship.

This is the third installment of our ‘Starting a School Garden’ series. In today’s post we will discuss the process of planting a school garden. Now that your garden design is finalized, let’s get your hands in the soil. (Click here to read part 2 and part 1.)


The planting process is a great time to get students and the community involved. Promote your planting day to raise awareness about your project. Involve students to instill a sense of ownership and pride.

  1. Clear the land and test the soil

    Start by clearing the site for your garden. Weed the garden and remove rocks and debris. Water the soil and wait for the remaining weeds to sprout. Weed once more. It’s a good idea to do a soil test right away. You must be sure the soil is free from toxic substances that could be taken up into the vegetables—this is especially important for school gardens in urban or formerly commercial areas. Testing for soil fertility will help determine what amendments (or added nutrients) you should add to get the best, most nutritious food.

  2. Lay out the garden

    Before you start planting, lay out your garden. Make sure you allow enough room for walkways and work areas. Try to get away from the boring, traditional layout!

    • Many crops can grow in space-saving clusters.
    • Make paths and beds into interesting shapes. Your garden will be a unique and rejuvenating space that keeps the interest of all involved.
    • Organize the plants to fit and enrich the curriculum.
  3. Add organic soil amendments and mulch

    Amendments are added materials that supply important plant nutrients to the soil. The better the soil, the better the garden! And using organic amendments will ensure the garden is always a safe place for little hands. First, cover the soil with 3-4 inches of amendment. Work the amendments down into the soil by 1 foot. Next, to minimize water waste and weed growth, lay 3 to 4 inches of mulch over your beds. Laying mulch over walkways will also minimize mud and the mess that comes with it.

  4. Plant

    See part 2 for tips on choosing the best plants for your school garden. For planting depth and spacing see the directions found on seed and transplant packaging. Plan fun activities while planting to keep students engaged.

  5. Weed and pest control

    Teach students environmental stewardship by using organic methods for dealing with garden weeds, pests and plant diseases. Organic methods of pest and weed control are the best choice for the health of students and the earth. (Tips for organic pest control.)

Click here for part 4 of this series on starting a school garden, where we’ll discuss using the garden as an educational resource and suggestions for garden curriculum.

More resources for starting a school garden:

Farm to School Garden Fact Sheet

Let’s Move School Garden Check List

Read the full Starting a School Garden Series here.