Ask Elaine: Ideas for Gardeners and Children During the Pandemic

Dear Elaine,

With schools and businesses closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is Laurelwood Arboretum open for tours or educational programs? Any ideas for the gardeners and children?

Thanks and stay well.


Dear Robert,

Thanks for your good wishes. These are uncertain times and uncharted waters during this pandemic. We need to stay socially connected while being physically distant.

At the time of this writing (3/23/2020), the gardens at Laurelwood Arboretum in Wayne are open, as permitted by Governor Murphy. The Knippenberg Center for Education, greenhouses, office and restrooms are closed. All activities, programs and events are postponed, including Dr. Tallamy and Earth Day activities, Arbor Day lecture and tours, art shows, concerts, Mommy and Me walks, book club meetings, yoga and outdoor volunteer activities.

While people may be working from home or having time to catch up on home projects, I have some ideas for families and children. This could be the year that you have a garden at home with beautiful flowers and delicious fresh vegetables. What could be easier that buying flower and vegetable transplants and potting them up in containers? Every child could have their own container (or two) to take care of. Hardware and home improvement centers are open for business. Garden centers are expecting to be open for business. Try planting some seeds.  Some timely April seed plantings include cool-season vegetables (beets, beans, carrots, chives, lettuce, kale, collards, chard) and cold tolerant annuals (snapdragon, larkspur, stock). Other suggestions include nature walks, bird watching/listening, build a bird feeder or house, make a fairy garden or house, paint rocks, force early flowering shrubs in water, design a scavenger hunt.

For other children’s garden ideas, curriculums and podcasts, please check out the following:

For the grownups, spring is here and so are garden chores and tasks. Included on the “honey do” list:

  • Get a soil test done every 3-5 years.  This is the time of year to fertilize evergreens (except hemlocks, if you have woolly adelgid), fertilize established roses, trees and shrubs
  • Divide late-blooming perennials (mums, Japanese anemone, Joe Pye weed, goldenrod, Nippon/Montauk daisy, asters)
  • Cut back butterfly bush, smoke bush and hydrangeas that flower on current season’s growth
  • Plant roses, trees and shrubs
  • Sharpen and balance the mower blades. Change the oil and spark plug
  • Reseed small damaged turf areas with quality lawn seed
  • Mow only when the grass gets at least 4″ tall, and leave the nutrient-rich clippings
  • Apply pre-emergent crabgrass control (to April 10) HURRY
  • Prune established roses, trees and shrubs (not spring-bloomers)
  • Check stored summer bulbs (cannas, gladiola, caladium, dahlia) and pot them up to get a head start on the season
  • Plant new strawberries
  • Plant Easter lilies and daffodils that were purchased in pots to return next year
  • Control ticks on pets, you and your family

Gardening gets you out in the fresh air while respecting social distancing. It adds positive energy to your life, gives you something fun to do and it is an activity that the whole family can participate in. Gardening is the NUMBER ONE outdoor activity for its physical, emotion and mental benefits for our mind, body and spirit. To quote Ken Druse, an inspiring garden writer, “We will be finding refuge in our gardens and hope in a hoya” (houseplant).

We will get through this health event. Stay well. Stay home. Wash your hands.

All my good wishes for good health. Passover and Easter blessings.

Elaine Fogerty, Executive Director

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