Growing (Green Thumbs) Together: Gardening As a Family

As long as you keep gardening projects simple and rewarding, your kids will love gardening. The following tips will help you match projects to your children’s interests and abilities.

Planting and caring for a garden is a great way to introduce kids to nature, good nutrition and the responsibility of caring for a living thing. Whether or not your youngest children understand the connection between the tiny seeds and growing plants, they’ll enjoy placing seeds in the dirt, packing down the soil and giving seedlings a "drink."

As long as you keep the project simple and rewarding, your children will love gardening. The following tips will help you match crops to your children’s interests and abilities:

Girl_Watering_FlowersStart small. Window boxes or containers, because of their small size, can actually turn out to be rather luxurious gardens. Recycle clean bleach and milk containers. Cut off the tops and use them as planters.

Start some seeds indoors. Start tomato, eggplant and pepper seeds indoors in potting soil. Indoor seedlings need full sunlight or the stems will stretch toward the light and weaken the plant. To ensure proper drainage for your seedlings, use cardboard egg cartons or plastic containers with holes punched in the bottom. Place the containers in a pan of shallow water and let the plants absorb the water.

Get some child-sized tools from a local nursery or garden center. Try to find tools that look genuine, so the kids will feel like real gardeners. Or save your money and put old serving spoons and plastic sand shovels to work.

Leave an area where kids can dig, even after planting. This is often their favorite part of gardening.

Make a secret place in the garden for your kids. Leave a space between the stalks of easy-to-grow sunflowers or bean poles so they can crawl “inside.”

Make a chicken-wire animal and train ivy around it for instant topiary!

Choose colorful plants.
Tomatoes, raspberries, blueberries and strawberries are good choices because they are bright and easy to locate and pick.

Try some fast-growing crops, such as radishes and beans, so children can see the results quickly.

Kids like extremes. Plant huge flowers, such as sunflowers, and small vegetable plants, such as cherry tomatoes.

Plant fragrant flowers or herbs, such as peonies, lavender, and chocolate or pineapple mint. Show your kids how to rub the herbs between their fingers to get a really good whiff. (Note: If you plant mint, keep it in a separate spot or it will take over your garden.)

Teach your kids how to compost. Find a place behind a tree, or dig a hole in the ground. Don’t add anything that ever swam, walked or flew. Toss in rinds and peels from fruit, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells. When it turns black and crumbly (this will take several months), you can mix it with soil and use this for fertilizer for your garden. Don’t forget to put your gloves on first.

Fast Flowers

SeedlingHere are a few flowers that are easy to grow from seed and fast to flower.

• Nasturtiums – These colorful blossoms are a snap to start from seeds. You should be able to plant them by late April or early May. Find a sunny spot and follow the directions on the back of the seed packet. In about a week, you’ll see them poke out of the ground. Nasturtiums are not only beautiful, they are edible. Sprinkle them in a salad for a beautiful and delicious treat.

• Zinnias – Zinnias come in all sizes and colors, and they all love sunshine. Plant tall zinnias in the back of your garden and short Thumbelina zinnias up front for an explosion of midsummer color. Zinnias are great for cutting and bringing inside. An arrangement of zinnias will last a week or more.

• Sunflowers – Like zinnias, sunflowers come in all colors and sizes. The tall ones should be planted near a fence or trellis for support. As the name suggests, sunflowers require bright sunshine. Give them plenty of sun and water, then stand back and watch ’em take off.

Decorative Details

Children love to decorate their gardens. Keep your eyes open for whimsical additions including:

• Pretty glass bottles that can be filled with treasures and displayed.

• Old colored bowling balls, croquet mallets and hockey sticks.

• Outgrown toys – plant flowers in sand pails, use a toy dump truck as a planter, treat a rusted tricycle as a sculpture.

• Old clothing that can be fashioned into a fashionable or funky scarecrow.

• Seashells and pretty rocks.


Look in the children’s section of your library or bookstore for both gardening how-to books and storybooks.

The Kids Can Press Jumbo Book of Gardening, by Karyn Morris, Kids Can Press, 2000. Offers tips for kids ages 4 to 8 on how to attract butterflies, what vegetables to grow, which flowers smell the sweetest and more.

Kids Garden! The Anytime, Anyplace Guide to Sowing & Growing Fun, by Avery Hart and Paul Mantell, Williamson Publishing, 1996. Includes information on gardening and outside activities for kids ages 4 and up.

Grow Your Own Pizza: Gardening Plans and Recipes for Kids, by Constance Hardesty, Fulcrum Publishing, 2000. This unusual activity book for ages 7 and up features garden plans for creating various pizzas, plus how-to’s for “planting” cake and ice cream, carrots stuffed with spinach soufflé and other goodies..

If you’re interested in organized children’s gardening programs, check with your local parks department or public gardens to see what they offer.

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