Today’s flower-growing children’s activity follows on nicely from last month’s butterfly-counting activity. Once again, it focuses on getting children outdoors, closer to nature, and doing some good for conservation and local wildlife — including butterflies. Also, as we know, outdoor play is important and getting closer to nature is hugely beneficial to children.
This time, it’s all about growing wildflowers that help to feed pollinators and encourage them to come to gardens, balconies, patios, plant pots, and window boxes where children live. As well as butterflies, the pollinators include bees, hoverflies, dragonflies, damselflies, and some non-flying insects like beetles. What’s more, you may well find that wildflowers attract birds and sometimes even bats too!
Pollinators are not only beautiful and adorable, but they’re essential for a healthy environment and to pollinate food crops. So, all in all, this is another hugely worthwhile activity for under-fives and older children to get involved in. It’s also great fun and educational. So, without further delay, here is our simple guide explaining how children and families can start growing wildlife-friendly flowers to support and attract these magical little creatures. Enjoy!
When Children Should Sow Wildflower Seeds
It’s possible to sow wildflower seeds from March right through to mid-October or, at a push, early November so long as snow or frost is not forecast. Those sown closer to March and April will generally flower in late spring/early summer. Those sown very late in the year will flower the following year, from spring onwards. Any sown up to and including the middle period, for example during July, should still flower in the same year — wildflowers usually bloom some 60 to 80 or so days later if they’re timed to grow in the same year as they’re sown.
While pollen from the flowers is the main source of food for pollinators, the actual leaves of some late-growing varieties of wildflower plants are also useful as a food source, for example, for caterpillars. These will appear from around September followed by a second generation that will appear in April/May of the following year.
Given all of the above, the main message about timing is for parents and caregivers to plan ahead and also read seed packets and instructions carefully before sowing. In this way, children will know when to expect to see the plants, flowers, and resulting wildlife. Once the flowers and creatures appear, it’s sure to delight children!
Where to Get Wildflower Seeds
There are several ways for children and families to source wildflower seeds. The most obvious way is to buy them commercially, in seed packets. These are available from any number of different outlets including nurseries, supermarkets, wildlife/nature charities, and countless websites online (here’s a good example).
A potentially cheaper way is to scour the Internet for free wildflower seeds and you may have some luck. Timing is important because some of the free wildflower seed schemes are likely to be early in the year — March/April for example. Some environment-centric organisations and companies may also provide free packets of wildflower seeds if you simply cover the cost of postage.
The best and totally free way to get hold of wildflower seeds, however, is to keep your – and your little one’s – eyes open when you’re outdoors around nature and plants. If you time it right, you’ll spot the seed pods of naturally-occurring wildflowers and, so long as they’re ready to be harvested, you can save the seeds for your child to sow later. Perhaps use small paper envelopes, so you can write the name or description of the wildflower being saved. If children help with harvesting seeds, ensure you adhere to our health and safety guidelines at the end of this article.
What Flowers to Grow
There are several ways to decide which wildflowers to grow.
- If you buy your child commercially-available wildflower seeds, the information on the packet will often say if the resulting flowers are bee-friendly, butterfly-friendly, good for pollinators, and so on. So, if you’re sourcing seeds that way, much of the decision-making criteria around which actual flowers to grow is made clear and therefore the choice is easy.
- Additionally, of course, the visual appeal of any flower photographs on the packets will help you with your choice. You may like a mixture of colours, or perhaps you’d rather limit the colour palette to just one or two colours. Cornflowers are blue, for example, while poppies can be red, orange, or yellow, and so on. Choosing by colour also therefore makes selection easier and indeed your child will probably enjoy helping in the decision-making process. Prompting them to choose by colour and pollinator-friendliness will, however, also be educational for them, subtly teaching them the importance of helping wildlife and the environment through the power of their personal choices.
- On the other hand, if you/your child want complete control over the exact species of wildflower you/they want to see growing, then some homework will be needed unless, of course, you are already knowledgeable. The RSPB’s article on growing wildlife-friendly flowers may be a useful place to start and lists several varieties along with details of their colours.
Where to Sow the Wildflower Seeds
By their very nature, wildflowers are generally not very picky in regard to the type of soil they are happy to grow in. Therefore you/your child will have a greater choice of where to sow the wildflower seeds. A fairly clear sunny area is good, whether that’s garden beds, flower pots, window boxes, grow bags on a balcony, or even the lawn itself if you want a wild ‘meadow’ type lawn. Whatever the choice, it’s best if it’s somewhere that won’t be disturbed by you/the family though, as you wouldn’t want the wildflowers trampled once they do arrive.
How Children Can Grow the Wildflowers
Before sowing the seeds, ensure that the soil is free of weeds. Your child may enjoy helping with the weeding process or, if you are using pots and starting from scratch, you can avoid the weeding stage by using peat-free compost afresh. Either way, the topmost layer of soil will need to be loosened and raked neatly so there is somewhere for the seeds to fall and eventually embed. Again, children may enjoy getting involved in this part. If using pots or containers, ensure water can drain at the bottom, so the earth or compost will not become waterlogged later on.
With regard to sowing the seeds, follow any seed-specific instructions on packets in relation to timing and spacing. If you’re using self-harvested seeds or there are no instructions, simply sprinkle the seeds so they’re spaced, fairly evenly, i.e. not too densely sown. This will avoid the wildflower plants having to compete with one another once they start growing. A tip is to sprinkle from a height as this will naturally scatter them more widely. Once scattered, your child can help* to pat the soil surface down, either by hand or using the back of a tool like a spade or a trowel, so that the seeds are secured in the soil. Children can even ‘walk’ them in if they prefer. Once complete, ensure that you/your child keep the soil damp over the coming weeks. The preparation stage really is as simple as that!
Enjoy the Magic of Nature!
Ensure children know that they have now started a natural chain reaction that will result first in tiny shoots, then plants, then later beautiful flowers along with all the visiting pollinators, insects, birds and maybe more.
Don’t forget; following the flowering stage, the wildflowers are likely to ‘seed’ themselves at the end of their flowering season. That’s unless, of course, you/your child harvest the seeds yourselves, ready to sow at a place of your choosing next time. Some varieties of wildflowers will also naturally regrow next year — those are called perennials. — in contrast to those that only live for one year, which are called annuals. That said, even annual plants may self-seed, so their offspring appear next time, and such is the circle of life.
Nature & Forest School at Little Acorns Nursery, Clayton-le-Woods, Chorley
We hope today’s nature-based activity gives children, whether under five or older, an enjoyable time while also learning and helping to nurture the natural world. Nature teaches children a huge amount and that’s one of the many reasons why Little Acorns is a Forest School setting.
Little Acorns Nursery is an outstanding nursery/preschool in Clayton-le-Woods and the winner of an important National Nursery award. These are some of the many reasons why Little Acorns Nursery represents the very best early years childcare and education for babies and children under five in Central Lancashire. We also support Government childcare funding schemes, making it easier to afford for eligible families. To register your child for a nursery/preschool place, ask a question, or arrange a free guided tour of the setting, please select an option below:
For those not actually living in Clayton-le-Woods itself, we may also be a suitable choice if you live or work in nearby towns and villages including Clayton Brook, Clayton Green, Thorpe Green, Pippin Street, Buckshaw Village, Whittle-le-Woods, Farington, Bamber Bridge, Lostock Hall, Euxton, Leyland and Penwortham.
* Health & Safety of Little Ones
Parents/caregivers should supervise and accompany children, especially the very young, at all times to ensure their safety and well-being. For example, special care should be given near hazards including garden ponds, trip hazards and unhygienic areas. Children should be taught good practices around hygiene and self-care including the avoidance of poisonous plants, care around unhygienic soil, non-ingestion of seeds, avoidance of germs and so on. Keeping hands and fingers away from faces during outdoor activities, perhaps even wearing protective gloves when touching natural things like earth and plants, and washing hands with soap and water after outdoor activities, are also good examples to set for children.