Gardening With Kids
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GARDENING WITH KIDS
Kids and gardening are a natural combination. There's dirt, it's messy, the textures are interesting; you can grow food; there are bright colors and unusual smells, and you get a chance to play with water. Kids like to garden until it becomes a chore, or has too many rules.
Plants and healthy soil attract insects (some pests, some not), spiders, lizards, frogs, toads, birds, worms, and interesting fungus, bacteria, and other creatures. My dad and I built a greenhouse when I was a young teenager, and one evening I found a foot-long slender worm-like creature with a shovel-shaped head snaking through the stepstones. Have you ever seen a
It's a type of flatworm. Gardening with kids presents so many different teaching opportunities that parents often forget it can just be fun, too.
Kids today learn a lot about the environment at school. Your garden can be a
(see the glossary below for highlighted words) of the environment, with lots of opportunities to compare what is going on there with what they see in farms, parks, and wild areas.
Choose a theme:
always appeal to younger kids. Fragrant plants and interesting leaf textures can be enjoyed by people with poor vision. Flowers for cutting appealled to my 10-year old daughter and her friends, who formed a club and made money selling bouquets to neighbors. I used to sell
door to door when I was young, and I think some of our neighbors actually appreciated it.
When gardening with younger kids, use big seeds so they can handle them easily: sunflowers, nasturtiums, beans, beets, melons, cucumbers, corn, and squash.
If you are planting flowers, ask them to pick out seeds from the pictures on the seed packets (and then check to make sure it's the right season to plant them).
flowers that are easy to grow from seed in the spring and summer include cosmos, sunflower, nigella (fascinating seed capsules), marigold, zinnia, aster, cockscomb (bizarre, brain-shaped flowers), nasturtium, and sweet alyssum.
Basil is a very easy herb to grow from seed.
Young kids usually like bright primary colors--yellow, red, and blue--and dramatic secondary colors such as orange. More sophisticated kids learn to appreciate cooler colors like lavender and purple, grey and white, and subtler shades of pink.
Mixing types of plants and contrasting colors in an informal planting gives better results than rigid straight rows.
If you are planting a
border, or just adding some perennials to your existing landscape, look for interesting foliage colors and textures. Plants such as Lamb's ears (Stachys byzantina), Artemisia 'Silver Mound', and the fuzzy-leafed scented geraniums always seem to appeal.
Find a place with at least 4 - 6 hours of sun if possible, because that gives you more plants to choose from. There are plants that will succeed in shade, though. Be sure to describe how much sun or shade you have to your
professionals. To make "dirt" into "soil" you need to turn in some
and a slow-acting organic-based fertilizer will help feed the young plants all season long (these are often sold as "starter" fertilizers).
If you're limited for space a small garden can be created in a container. The bigger the pot you use, the easier it will be to keep it watered in the summer. In some areas, oak wine or whiskey barrels are the most economical large containers. You can mix flowers, herbs, miniature roses, and dwarf varieties of vegetables.
Making it easier:
Spend a little time and money to make it easy to care for your garden later: put in a simple watering system when you start. Run
drip poly tubing
near each plant or group of plants and pop in an emitter every 1 to 2 feet so you can water the whole garden at once and won't have to move a hose from place to place. For large areas mini-sprinklers (also called micro-sprayers) can be installed on the same type of tubing. It's important to run drip or minisprinkler systems for a long time: 1 to 4 hours, depending on the type, to give a deep soaking. My experience has been that mechanically inclined kids, especially between about 6 and 10 years old, really enjoy assembling drip irrigation sytems (younger ones seem to enjoy dismantling them). These systems are simple, easy to modify, and involve no gluing, and mistakes are easy to correct.
Spend a little time each day pulling or hoeing weeds. Otherwise they can take over: weeds grow fast!
Learn about pests before you panic or spray. Most insects are harmless and many are very
, so it's important to identify your pest and learn about its life cycle to determine how, or if, you are going to treat for it. Most kids are interested in bugs, so pests can an education opportunity. Don't worry too much about a little bit of damage; a few holes in the leaves aren't going to hurt.
Mixed plantings will draw beneficial insects and provide cover for them, so don't keep your garden too tidy. For example, sweet alyssum, a popular annual flower, is known to attract tiny wasps that kill aphids. You can barely see these wasps, and they don't harm people, but they can keep aphids under control for you!
There are four things all plants need:
Light, water, nutrients
(soil, fertilizer) and
The key to successful gardening is learning how each plant differs in its needs for these: cactus needs less water, ferns need more. Knowing where a plant comes from can be a useful guide. You may need to learn how to protect a particular plant from pests and extreme weather.
Gardening with kids helps teach them about climate and weather,
, soil science,
, provides them with an appreciation of nature, and teaches them (and you!) patience. Grow together this season!
about beneficial insects
attracting butterflies and hummingbirds
starting summer vegetables
planting a new vegetable garden
= a plant that grows, flowers, and dies in one growing season. Example: marigolds.
= insects that pollinate flowers, or that kill other insects that harm our plants. Examples: butterflies, “ladybugs” (correctly called ladybird beetles).
= the science that studies life.
drip poly tubing
= polyethylene tubing used to move water from a faucet to your plants.
= the science that studies insects.
= plants that we use to season food. Example: oregano in pizza.
= miniature version of a world.
= a store that sells plants and garden supplies.
= decomposed plants, often mixed with soil and fertilizer.
= a plant that grows and flowers year after year. Example: Chrysanthemums.
= a type of squash that tends to produce more than gardeners can eat!
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© 2010 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.