National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix


How Does Your Garden Grow? (Grades 3-5)

Grade Level(s)

3 - 5

Estimated Time

45 minutes plus time to complete project


Students synthesize what they know about soils, plants, and the environment to plan a garden, present their plans and explain why they made the decisions that they did.


  • Master 5.1 (1 copy per team of 3-4 students)
  • Master 5.2 (2-4 copies per class)
  • Master 5.3 (1 copy per student)
  • Glue sticks
  • Optional materials
    • Chart paper
    • Colored pencils
    • Crayons
    • Rulers

Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)

Essential Links


first expected frost date: an average date for a given location for the first freeze, marking the end of a growing season

growing season: the time of year where the weather allows plant growth

last expected frost date: an average date for a given location for the last freeze, marking the beginning of a growing season

Background Agricultural Connections

Growing a successful garden requires knowledge of plants and their environment, including the soil. Gardeners make decisions based on their location, their soil, and other environmental factors.

Read the procedures section of this lesson thoroughly to obtain background information for the lesson.

After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Plan a garden that is appropriate for their area;
  • Explain how understanding a plant’s needs is important for a successful garden;
  • Explain how plants require nutrients they obtain from the soil and how fertilizers can replace lost nutrients.

This lesson is one of a 5 part series.  See the following titles for related lessons:

  • Plants Around You: Students learn about the function of plant parts and the environment plants need to grow.
  • Properties of Soils: Students learn about the characteristics and components of soil.
  • Plant-Soil Interactions: Students learn about function of roots and how water and nutrients move through the plant.
  • Plant Growth Affects the Soil: Students learn how plant growth takes nutrients from soil and how they can be replaced.
  • How Does Your Garden Grow?: Students make a plan for a garden.

Interest Approach – Engagement

  1. Begin discussion with students about gardens.  
    • Raise your hand if your family grows a garden.
    • What are your favorite foods that you have grown in your gardens?
    • When do you usually plant your garden?
    • When do you usually harvest the fruit and vegetables from your garden?



Find out the last expected frost date in the spring and the first expected frost date in the fall for your area. A local garden center may be able to give you this information easily. Alternatively, you can find this information online.

Cut the pieces on Master 5.2, Plant Cut-Outs, apart. Create sets containing parts representing the various plants for each team of students. The height of each cut-out piece is scaled to represent the amount of row space that a plant requires. For example, cabbage plants should be spaced 16 inches apart. The height of the cut-out is scaled so that it represents 16 inches of row on Master 5.1. (The pieces are not scaled in the horizontal direction.) Students will place the cut-outs on the rows on Master 5.1 to show what they would plant in their gardens. Students can line up the shaded line on each cut-out piece with the line representing the row on Master 5.1. They can then glue these pieces down after they have made their decisions.

Activity 1: Planning a Garden

  1. Have students list things that they would need to know to help them plan a garden. Point out that one of the things they will need to know is the last date that frost occurs in the spring in their area. Ask students why this is important.
    • The last expected frost data in an area is important because most plants won’t tolerate cold temperatures or frost well. The young plants are likely to die if they are hit by frost. Also, it gives them an indication of how many days are in their growing season.
  2. Explain to students that you have found out the dates for both the last frost in the spring and the likely first frost of the fall. Write those dates on the board. Explain that you have used this information to figure out the number of days for the growing season in your area.
    • Point out that seed packets often give a number of days that it takes a plant to mature. If that number is greater than the expected growing season in your area, then that plant may not be a good choice for your area.
  3. Ask students to work in teams of 3 or 4. Give each group a copy of Master 5.1, Planning Our Garden. Explain to students that they are going to plan a garden. They will choose the seeds they want to plant and plan where things will grow in their garden. They can also indicate when they would plant different things. Point out that each student will have three ten-foot rows to plan. Explain that they can place the cut-out pieces for the different plants on their template to plan their garden.
    • The cut-outs should be a relatively easy way for students to plan what they will put in each row. The cut-out pieces are sized to match the scale of the rows. For example, broccoli plants should be planted 12 inches apart. The cut-out for broccoli represents 12 inches of row space (without needing additional space between cut-outs).
    • To simplify the lesson, the rows in the student gardens are three feet apart. (Depending on the needs of specific plants, rows could sometimes be spaced closer together, but this makes the math more complicated and isn’t necessary for the purpose of this activity.) This could be a discussion point if students mention that rows aren’t spaced correctly for the plants that they choose.
    • Recommend to students that they put all of their cut-out pieces in place before they start gluing them to the template. In that way, they can more easily make changes if they wish.
  4. Go over the second page of Master 5.1 with students. Explain that they should write the name of the seed/plant they are using, the number of each plant they are growing in their garden, and any extra information they think is helpful to remember about that plant.
  5. After teams have had a chance to design their garden, ask them to post their plan in a place where other students can look at it. Allow a few minutes for students to see what other teams have planned.
    • Students will likely be interested in what other garden plans look like. Each team will likely design a very different variety and arrangement of plants.
  6. Spend a few minutes in class discussion with students about their garden plans. Ask teams to describe why they chose certain plants, how they decided how to plant the seeds, and if there was anything special someone would need to think about when growing some of the plants that they selected.
    • Students will have a wide variety of reasons for why they chose certain plants. For some, it may be that they like to eat that plant. For other plants, students may want to grow it because it is really big (a pumpkin, for example). Yet others may choose small plants so they can grow a lot in their garden. They should relate it to the information provided on seed packets.
  7. Wrap up the activity by giving each student a copy of Master 5.3, Thinking about My Garden. Allow a few minutes for students to answer the questions.

Possible Answers to Master 5.3:

1. List at least 3 ways that you thought about the environment when planning your garden.

  • Amount of sunlight the plant needs
  • Type of soil the plant grows best in
  • The temperature that the plant needs
  • Animals and insects living in the area
  • Amount of water the plant needs

2. What are some things that might be wrong if your garden was not growing well? Explain.

  • Some of the things to consider if the garden is not growing well would be the quality of the soil, the amount of water that the plants are getting, the amount of sunlight that the plants are getting, and whether the temperatures are appropriate for the plants. The goal would be to have students relate their answers to this question to the environment.

3. Explain why fertilizers can be one way to help plants grow better.

  • Fertilizers can help plants grow better because they replace nutrients in the soil. When plants grow, they remove nutrients. If you grow the same plant in the same place, and then harvest and remove the plant year after year, you will use up the soil’s nutrients. This happens because the plants take nutrients from the soil through their roots, then people take the plants away from the soil to use. Fertilizers make the soil more like it was before you started growing the plants there.

Concept Elaboration and Evaluation

After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:

  • Plants need nutrients to grow. The nutrients are provided by the soil.
  • If soil lacks sufficient nutrients, they can be added using fertilizer.
  • Soil is a natural resource that farmers use to grow the food we eat.

We welcome your feedback! Please take a minute to tell us how to make this lesson better or to give us a few gold stars!


Enriching Activities

  • An Indoor Garden If you have space (or optimally a greenhouse), students could plant an indoor garden. Selecting the appropriate plants for this would be key. Many plants will grow well in containers. Usually, larger containers are much better than small ones. Some of the herbs (such as parsley, chives, or cilantro) and some lettuces may grow well. If the site gets enough sun, pepper plants may grow well in a large container. Students can find out more about container gardening through online research. Have students work together to plan the garden, plant the garden, and maintain the garden.

  • An Outdoor Garden If students are interested and there is an appropriate space, consider planning and planting a school garden. This could be a container garden if it isn’t feasible to prepare the soil for a regular garden. Seek volunteer help from parents to prepare the soil. Have students plan the garden, taking into consideration the space available, the local climate, the amount of time available, and so forth.

Suggested Companion Resources

Agricultural Literacy Outcomes

Agriculture and the Environment

  • Explain how the interaction of the sun, soil, water, and weather in plant and animal growth impacts agricultural production (T1.3-5.b)
  • Recognize the natural resources used in agricultural practices to produce food, feed, clothing, landscaping plants, and fuel (e.g., soil, water, air, plants, animals, and minerals) (T1.3-5.e)

Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy

  • Explain how the availability of soil nutrients affects plant growth and development (T2.3-5.c)

Education Content Standards


NCSS 3: People, Places, and Environments

  • Objective 5
    Objective 5
    Physical changes in community, state, and region, such as seasons, climate, and weather, and their effects on plants and animals.


3-ESS2: Earth's Systems

  • 3-ESS2-2
    Obtain and combine information to describe climates in different regions of the world.

Common Core Connections

Reading: Anchor Standards

    Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards

    Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
    Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Writing: Anchor Standards

    Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
    Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

Mathematics: Practice Standards

    Use appropriate tools strategically. Students consider the available tools when solving a mathematical problem. These tools might include pencil and paper, concrete models, a ruler, a protractor, a calculator, a spreadsheet, a computer algebra system, a statistical package, or dynamic geometry software. Students at various grade levels are able to identify relevant external mathematical resources, such as digital content located on a website, and use them to pose or solve problems. They are able to use technological tools to explore and deepen their understandings of concepts.


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