Get down and dirty in the garden
Spring means it’s time to start a garden! New plants are popping up all over. In most parts of the country, the frost warnings are fewer and farther between. If you live somewhere with a shorter growing season, it might be worth getting a garden started. Most garden centers and even grocery stores are stocking outdoor plants, and seed displays have been out even longer.
Planning or planting your garden is a great opportunity to try getting your kids involved. They might not want to till the soil or weed your growing space, but depending on their age, you can get them interested in gardening and planting on a smaller scale. One way to do this is to start a container garden with your children. You can start growing almost anything in a small pot, and some plants will live the whole season happily in a container. To start a container garden with your kids, all you need are a container, a plant or seed and some quality potting or garden soil.
Photo by Adobe Stock/annanahabed.
People who landscape and garden regularly are usually awash with flowerpots and plastic seedling trays. These work well for container gardening. Pick out attractive pots or containers your child likes. Have them put their names on the pots and label what they are growing. If you don’t have flowerpots and containers lying around, you can purchase some, or use a number of other items.
• Peat Pots
Peat pots are biodegradable flower pots made out of peat moss. They are normally used to start a plant, and aren’t meant to last as a permanent vessel. But they are quite sturdy and should endure weeks of watering before they deteriorate. When the plant is ready to go into the garden, you simply plant the whole pot, making sure to match the soil level of the plant with the garden. The roots of your plant will grow right through the peat pot.The pot will disintegrate and provide nutrients for the plant and the garden as it does so.
• Hanging Wall Planters
Even if you don’t have a garden, you can hang one from your fence or wall. Hanging garden planters can be made with cloth or by stringing together selected containers. Look online for other options. Fill the pockets about three-quarters of the way with soil, then add your seeds or plants. The whole group can be easily watered all at once with a spray from the hose. These can dry out more quickly than plants in a garden, so check them more often. Once the plants grow, you will have a wall of color and fragrances.
• Repurposed Consumer Items
You can incorporate “reduce reuse, recycle” into your gardening as well. Milk cartons, both plastic and cardboard, make great flower pots. Egg cartons are also perfect for starting seeds. You can make garden containers with almost anything — plastic soda bottles, folded newspaper, steel cans, even eggshells. Just make sure there are holes in the bottom of your container to ensure proper drainage.
Kids don’t usually eat plants, but they may be tempted to eat seeds, especially attractive sunflower seeds they may have tried before. Make sure your children are aware that these seeds are to be grown, not eaten. Most seeds will just be a choking hazard and likely wouldn’t cause any harm. However, some seeds are quite toxic, even those you might not expect, like apple and apricot.
Have your children wear gloves when gardening.This will help keep dirt from getting under their nails, and will reduce the risk of them ingesting harmful bacteria. Kid gardening gloves come in many colors and even have cartoon characters on them. Gardening also creates another opportunity to practice good hand washing with your kids when you are done for the day.
As always, when you are out in the sun, take precautions to avoid sunburn. A little sun is a great source of Vitamin D, but too much sun can cause painful burns and increase the risk of skin cancer. Use sunscreen and have your child wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
Plants They’ll Enjoy
Now that we’ve picked out our containers and have discussed some safety tips, it’s time to pick out our plants. Which plants are best for your children? Which ones will keep their attention? There are many suitable plants and flowers your children will enjoy. Here are a few good ones.
Herbs are easy and hardy. They can grow in small containers and won’t have to be transplanted if you can’t or don’t want to. Herbs are not only fragrant and beautiful,you can eat them, too! Children will love mint. Also try basil, which comes in a few varieties, even in purple! Rosemary has tiny little finger leaves which can be plucked, bent and sniffed with delight. You can also cut herbs and use them to add homegrown flavor to your meals. The plants will regrow and stay full throughout the season. You can even plant three or four different herbs in the same pot to create a miniature herb garden. Encourage your children to smell and taste them all and see which ones they like best.
Sunflowers are fun to grow from seeds. They sprout within a week and grow rapidly. Sunflowers come in many different colors, varieties and sizes. Check the seed packet to see which varieties can live in a container. Smaller varieties will do fine in a container, but some reach heights of 12 to 16 feet and will need more space! Sunflowers produce large flowers with edible seeds you can roast and eat with your children. You and your family can enjoy watching the birds and squirrels getting their share as well. If you have room, plant sunflowers in a circle to provide an entertaining play area for your children.
Kids love to eat tiny, sweet grape tomatoes. They are ideal for container planting, though they will need a bigger pot than your herbs. You can plant seeds in a peat pot, but tomatoes are usually sold as plants. Grape tomato plants don’t need much room, but ideally, you want a container to be no smaller than 12 by 12 inches in order to produce a healthy plant and fruit.
Have your child pick out some flower seeds in a store. These are packaged in little envelopes with an attractive picture of the flower in full bloom. Your child may be disappointed when they open the envelope and see only tiny black seeds. However, this is a good opportunity to explain to them that the tiny seeds need proper care — soil, water, sunlight and regular watering — in order to bloom into what the package shows. If your flowers grow successfully, you may want to transplant them into a bigger pot, but most flowers can live their life in the container you plant them in.
These are just a few suggestions and ideas. You can discover more of your own as you consider all the containers and plants available. Maybe you want flowers to attract hummingbirds, or a hanging garden which can produce an entire salad. Your children will start noticing plants more and will come up with more ideas. Have fun planting and gardening. May your harvest be bountiful!