Beginning now, let your youngsters be an enormous help in cleaning out the old, dead leaves and material from the garden. Let them carry off the branches as you do the spring pruning. If you rototill your flower or vegetable garden, let the kids have the pleasure of looking for earthworms in the newly turned soil or let them walk barefoot in a plowed field.
When it’s time to plant, encourage children to plan and then plant their own small plot. Make sure its size is proportionate to their age so that they won’t become frustrated in caring for too large an area. This is one instance where the concept of square-foot gardening can work wonderfully well. If you aren’t familiar with it, the approach is to divide the garden into 1-square-foot blocks using wood or whatever is handy, then planting one variety of flower or vegetable in each block. This makes it easy to maintain and weed as you can care for 1 square foot each day. Children enjoy the bright colors of flowers, but vegetables have the added bonus of being edible, so the fun extends from watching the plant grow to possible cooking lessons to eating them at the kitchen table.
Keep children interested by making a small investment in kids gardening tools. A good, sturdy, plastic set is generally inexpensive and paired with a pair of child-sized gardening gloves and some seeds, these make great gifts. Scaled down watering cans, pails and watering wands are also available, and the kids seem to especially favor the watering wands. Playing in water has always been a temptation on a hot summer day, and this offers an opportunity for a constructive use! Let the little ones help with watering and weeding throughout the summer. It’s a great way to teach the difference between what’s a flower and what’s a weed. But be prepared to sacrifice a few of the real things along the way!
When choosing seeds or plants for children, choose varieties that grow quickly such as beans. Their enthusiasm is maintained if they see instant, or almost instant, results. Slightly older children or the more experienced junior gardeners may enjoy planting root crops such as radishes, beets, carrots or potatoes. It’s a fun surprise to pull up a green top and find a vegetable attached and digging for potatoes in the fall is the gardener’s version of hide and seek for the little ones.
When it’s time to harvest your flowers or vegetables, let your kids help with this chore too. They will enjoy making “arrangements” out of the flowers and collecting the vegetables. Some fruits and vegetables such as strawberries and carrots are great to “eat as you go.”
In the fall, children can be a tremendous help in the yard preparing for winter. Who doesn’t remember the joy of jumping into a pile of newly raked leaves? Aside from raking, kids can help pull dead flowers, top perennials, and carry off pruned branches. Make a game of it – at this time of the year there’s virtually nothing they can hurt by trampling through the garden. Plant some bulbs and mark where they are – young children will enjoy seeing them come up in spring. Try snowdrops or crocus so the wait is as short as possible. Y
ou might also consider planting some fall pansies – they winter well in most areas here and provide a great burst of spring color.
Have fun with children in the garden. It’s a great way to share the beauty of each season with them. Gardening is a great family activity, and even the youngest children will enjoy being outside and can help.
Gail Vanik can be reached at Four Seasons Greenhouse and Nursery at 565-8274 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.