There are few things that match the joy of watching children take charge of little projects, and gardening projects are no exception. Set aside a little patch of dirt for your kids to plant seeds and watch things grow. Make sure it is reasonably fertile and in full sun, you don’t want to make a starter project so challenging that it generates disillusionment rather than the pride of accomplishment. Stick to annuals. Turn the dirt at a spade’s depth early in the spring, to ensure that most of the seeds will germinate. Prepare little starter flats for annuals, if you would like to start some of the plants indoors. Make sure the little gardeners have child sized gardening utensils: a little watering can, a tiny hoe, gardening gloves, a little rake. For some projects, if the dirt is of good quality, a plastic beach set with a bucket, a watering can, a little rake and a small shovel or spade would suffice.
That being said, unless you are starting seeds indoors (see end of article), wait until the day of last frost has passed. If you don’t know what that day is in your area, check out this guide. Don’t plant outdoors before that date. Frost may not occur as late as that date this year, but if it does, it will be a downer for the little ones.
Make sure the ground is moist and finely minced before starting. Take some time with your child to lay out on paper what will be planted where. Use strings or ribbons to separate the areas. Prepare waterproof markers for the new plantings and mark the flowerbeds properly.
Read the instructions together for seed planting depth and spacing and help out with planting if needed. After the seedlings emerge, teach the child to thin them out, so that the new plants have plenty of room to develop. Make a habit of walking around the garden with your child and make daily observations about plant development, water needs or anything else that might apply. This will reap its own reward later, especially if they are starting veggies, when it is produce picking time.
Here is a list of fail proof plants for a starter garden:
– Zinnias: they germinate reliably, grow very fast and have showy blooms. Since children like to pick flowers, zinnias are a great choice. The more you pick, the more they bloom.
– Snapdragons: not very picky about care, as long as they have enough sunlight. They are a favorite play thing.
– Marigolds, or if you want to make it even more interesting, pot marigolds. They are very pretty and easy to grow.
– Sunflowers are always a child’s favorite, because they are so big and grow three times their height.
– Anything with large seeds will be easy to handle during planting, therefore generate a more reliable outcome. Among these, nasturtiums, morning glory and four o’clocks will be great choices. Most of the larger seeds that are somewhat woody need a 24 hour soaking in warm water to ensure faster germination, but they will sprout anyway.
– Try vegetables that are easy to grow and the kids might enjoy, like cucumbers, squash and beans. Make child sized bean tepees so they can reach all the way to the top. Leave an opening at one end, the little shady shelter will be the ultimate Summer favorite. Consider adding furnishings, it will make a great alternative for a tree house. Don’t worry about the beans, they’ll figure it out.
– Try adding something fragrant of flavorful, like sweet alyssum or basil.
– Create a marker to designate that the area is your child’s garden and let them choose what that might be.
– Think about adding a bird bath.
If you want to start the seeds indoors, place the seed starters in a prominent location with plenty of sunlight and a little watering can nearby. Remember, out of sight, out of mind. You would be surprised what four days of neglect can do to small plants. Starting plants indoors is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate the proper thinning of seedlings.
Depending how much you want to enforce teaching responsibility, you might need to give your child reminders about gardening tasks that need done, but remember that this is supposed to be a fun successful project, so if you need to accidentally water it yourself when it doesn’t look too hot, or pull out a couple of weeds every now and then(trust me, that is a chore even grown-ups tend to put off), so be it.