Get children excited about gardening early!
Some parents bribe their kids to do gardening chores. (My dad used a trip to the amusement park in return for an afternoon of weeding.) However, if you take the word “chores” out of the equation, you can forget the bribe. The trick is to make gardening fun.
Getting your kids interested in gardening is important for a variety of reasons, and I’m not talking about saving money on their allowances. First, it gets them away from the TV and video games. And it also gives you the chance to spend some quality time together outdoors. When children are exposed firsthand to gardening, they’re apt to develop a better appreciation for nature and for the Earth itself. As a result, they’ll be more likely to become environmentally responsible adults. And, who knows, they may even get hooked on a great lifelong hobby — just like the rest of us.
Plant kids’ initials in the garden
Everyone wants to feel special. Kids, too. With your help, they can make a personal statement in one of two ways.Dig out a small bed in a sunny area, then let children sow their initials with the seeds of lettuce, radishes or some other quick sprouter. For very young children, you might first lay out the pattern with flour. If they’re older and more artistically inclined, let them get creative. After Memorial Day, you can usually get flats of annuals at a great price, so you might even let them plant their initials with bedding plants then.
Another idea is to let your kids carve their initials in a living pumpkin. Pick out a sunny spot in the yard and plant a dwarf variety like ‘Spookie’, which will take up less space and also intrigue the kids with its small size. When the pumpkins start to ripen and turn light yellow, let each child scratch his or her initials into the surface with a nail. The skin of the pumpkin will scar over as a monogram to decorate the front stoop at Halloween.
Plant a pizza garden
Did you ever notice how kids like to have their own stuff, separate and distinct from everyone else’s? Well, the same could apply to gardening space. Rather than asking them to toil in your patch, it might pay to set aside a special area just for the children. While you’re at it, consider buying child-size gardening tools, which will be less awkward for them to handle. Keep the garden plot small and manageable. After all, you don’t want them giving up on it after a few weeks.
Get the kids involved in the gardening process
Let the kids assume responsibility for planting, weeding and watering. They can also play a role in designing the patch and deciding what to plant. One design kids can relate to is a pizza wheel. It’s colorful and intriguing in shape yet small enough for a child to manage.
How to create a pizza garden
Create a wheel with a circle of rocks, bricks or cement blocks. Use wooden boards or stones to dissect the wheel into equal sections so there’s room for a variety of plants. Deciding what to plant can be fun. If you want to end up with a bed that looks like a pizza, mix clumps of yellow and red annuals (the cheese and sauce) throughout the plot. Small, 6-inch circles of darker red annuals can serve as the pepperoni. Use firewood logs around the edge as the crust.
Plant a cucumber in a soda bottle
Cucumbers are so productive and easy to grow that they’re pretty much tailor-made for a child’s garden. To add an interesting twist to cucumbers, try growing one in a bottle. Take a 1- or 2-liter plastic pop bottle and poke several ventilation holes in it. When tiny cucumbers are just starting to develop, gently insert them through the opening of the bottle. (Leave them attached to the vine, though!) Shade the bottle with some cucumber leaves so the small cukes won’t cook from too much heat. You might have to try this with several cucumbers before you get one to grow to full size.
Create personalized pots with your kids
Container gardening isn’t just for adults! In fact, containers are the perfect way to ease kids into gardening. There’s a small area to work in, and a reduced number of chores (less weeding, for example), which make gardening approachable and easy. Why not make it personalized, as well? Letting kids decorate their own pots can give them an even greater sense of ownership.
Let the kids get creative
Plus, it’s just plain fun! Give each child a terra-cotta pot, some acrylic paints (they weather well outdoors) and a few tools to play with. We played with natural sea sponges, rubber stamps and cardboard, but nearly anything can be used to create fun textures and designs. Have each child paint and decorate their terra-cotta pot any way they see fit, then allow the pots to dry for 24 hours. Now the individual pots are ready to be planted up and put out in the garden.
Have a friendly vegetable growing competition
Turning gardening into a race is a great way to make it exciting. One easy-going competition is a beanpole race! Find a trellis for each child and line the structures up in the garden, or create a simple trellis out of sticks, as in the illustration, above.
Personalize each trellis by adding a name tag or by painting each one a different color. Then give each kid a few bean seeds to sow around their trellis. Each day, have the kids check on their beans, and take care of any small chores (like watering). At the end of each week, measure the new growth and see whose beans are growing fastest. When the season’s finished, get everyone together for a celebration harvest.
Your kids don’t like beans? Try carrots!
If beans aren’t your kids’ thing, try a carrot count. These root vegetables are easy to grow in pots. Give each child its own container, then together, fill the pots with potting mix and plant carrot seeds. Check on the carrots each day to see how they’re growing (push the soil aside gently to see how big the roots are). Finally, when the carrots are about the size of a finger, harvest them! The child who harvests the most (or the biggest) carrots is the winner.
Plants to avoid in a child’s garden
When you're creating a garden with your kids, choose plants that will look great in the garden without causing harm. After all, kids explore the world with their senses, including taste and touch. And some of the most beautiful plants have developed powerful self-defense mechanisms, from toxic flowers and foliage to spiny stems. So, to keep your kids safe, avoid using the following harmful plants.
Poisonous plants to avoid
Plants with spines, thorns or sharp blades