University of California

Getting Started

Getting Started Text

How do you begin planning a school garden? What if you have little or no gardening experience? School gardens can be large or small, contain many diverse plants or just a few, and created to fit your school's resources and needs.

Get Permission - Before beginning, get official permission from your school's administration. Ask what space is available for a garden.

Get Organized - Purchase a large binder with paper and pockets to record your efforts, jot down ideas, and keep resource materials and receipts. This "master binder" can be passed along from year to year to provide necessary information for future school gardeners.

Identify Volunteers - Identify and enlist the help of those who can help start a gardening project, particularly those with gardening experience. This can include teachers, parents, or local volunteers.

Get Ideas - Visit other school gardens in your area. Take note of different layouts, locations, water sources, tools, and storage areas. Ask about financialand local resources they may utilize.

Identify Financial Resources - For many schools, financial limitations may be the biggest challenge. But even very limited financial resources and a little creative "scrounging" can be enough to begin an effective school garden:

  • Ask your administration what is available from your own school budget.
  • Solicit donations from the PTA, local businesses, and parents. This can include mulches, seed, soil amendments/fertilizers, and tools & supplies.
  • Identify financial resources.
  • Send thank you notes, updates, and/or pictures to show appreciation and encourage future assistance.

Work with Teachers - Find out who is interested in participating. Discuss the following options:


Be Conservative - Create a garden only as large as your school and its resources can maintain easily. A garden can always be expanded in years to come.

Sketch It Out - Prepare a basic drawing or diagram on paper. Include the garden location, dimensions, walkways, water source, tool storage, and fencing/gate specifications, if applicable. List tasks necessary to construct the garden.

Determine Crops - Prepare a list of crops and flowers that can be successfully and easily grown during the available growing seasons. Determine how much can be planted, planting and harvesting/blooming dates, row spacing, and where to grow each in the garden.

Keep Records & Photos - Record all dates, activities, expenses, and as they occur in the "master binder" to aid in planning for future gardens. Also, take a few photos each year to help document your activities.

Nearby Water Source - source should be as close to garden as possible.

Level Ground - sloping or hilly ground is difficult to work on. 

Good Drainage - location should not be in low spot where water collects. 

Direct Sunlight - 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Avoid shady trees and buildings. 

Accessible & Visible - children should have easy access to observe and work in the garden. Consider wheelchair accessibility. 

Secure, Safe - avoid high-traffic play areas, areas adjacent to sidewalks/streets, and areas near ditches/waterways where snakes/rodents may invade the garden. Consider a fence or border planting and lockable shed for tools. 

Permanent - location should remain fixed. Check future school construction plans. 

Multiple - consider using multiple plots on school grounds to utilize more space.

Soil -avoid areas treated with herbicides, potential plot should have existing weed and grass growth.

  • Workable, Loam Soil - remains crumbly, holds water & well aerated.

Note - San Diego County schools may find it difficult to locate an ideal plot on school grounds, especially in regards to ideal soil. Contact Master Gardeners for a consultation.


Communal Plots - garden space and plants shared among all participants.

  • allows for crops that require more space (corn, pumpkins).
  • responsibility workload spread among all participants.

Individual Plots - garden space divided up and assigned to groups/classes.

  • allows individual groups to design and care for their assigned space.
  • responsibilities for care are clearly and easily defined.

Regular Weeding, Watering, & Maintenance
- gardens need at least weekly attention. Determine if volunteers need to be recruited or if students/teachers can handle the necessary tasks. Do not expect school maintenance or grounds personnel to maintain the garden.

Vacation & Summer - ensure the garden will receive attention during vacation periods. Schools operating on traditional tracks need to determine if the garden will grow during the summer or be dug up and covered with mulch, plastic, or a cover crop until fall.

  • Garden Hoes
  • Iron Rakes
  • Metal Bow Rakes
  • Spading Forks
  • Garden Shovels
  • Trowels
  • Pruning Shears/Scissors
  • Twine/String & Stakes
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Rubber Hoses/Nozzles & Sprinkler
  • Watering Cans
  • Large Trash & Recycling Containers with Covers
  • Thermometer & Rain Gauge
  • Gloves (Rubber & Gardening)
  • Buckets, Pails, Bags, Sacks, or Baskets (to collect and carry garden items)
  • Indoor Storage Area (tool shed or other storage area near garden)
Quality - get the best quality tools the budget will allow.

Care - always clean tools after each use. Cutting edges need to be regularly sharpened.  More Tool Tips

Children & Tools - teach children appropriate and safe use of all tools.
  • Never lift or swing tools above knees.
  • Keep tools out of pathways.
  • Sharp edges should point towards ground.
  • Keep children safely away from all power equipment.
San Diego General Nurseries & Garden Centers - a list of general nurseries and garden centers in the San Diego area sorted by region.

Kids' Gardening Catalog - on-line catalog from the National Gardening Association containing children's gardening resources, supplies, and tools that provide hands-on life science activities.

Let's Get Growing - on-line catalog of environmental science and nature supplies.

Gardener's Supply Company - on-line catalog containing a wide range of garden supplies.
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