Creating Child-Sized Gardens

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Small-scale gardening can be easy – all you need are planters and creativity! Invite your child to play in the dirt – that’s all gardening really is – and this is the time of year to do it.

Kids’ Play

Gardening with kids can give you time together and allow “teachable moments” that might otherwise be missed. Introduce children to the wonders of plants pushing their way out of the ground, of taking care of a garden and of picking and eating home-grown vegetables. Lane Ewing, an avid gardener, says the benefits of gardening with children are numerous.

“It gives them a sense of self-sufficiency and shows them what is involved in growing [their] own food.” Another benefit is that children may become more interested in eating the fruits of their own labor, thus introducing new fruits and vegetables to them.

Container Gardening

Container gardening is a great way to start on a small scale, and pots that are just the right size for little gardeners are easier to maintain. Weeds don’t grow as quickly, and it’s easier to control watering. You can start by getting a 14-inch pot and planting a small herb garden of parsley, basil, thyme, oregano and rosemary. Just make sure to pick a pot with holes for good drainage, and plant the tallest plant in the center, spacing the others evenly around it.

It’s Easy to Grow Plants!

Not sure where to start? The basics are simple. Plant a seed, give it sun and water and let nature take its course. All the gardener really has to do is nurture the seed’s environment so it can grow into a healthy plant. It’s that easy!

Start with Your Soil

Forget lugging around heavy bags of potting soil – make your own. You want to make sure your potting soil has the nutrients it needs so your plants will thrive, and one way to do this is to use natural, “home made” fertilizer called compost. Compost contains the primary nutrients, minerals and organisms plants need to grow. But do you know what compost really is? It’s that collection of leaves and grass clippings you work so hard to rake and bag. By collecting those, along with organic kitchen scraps such as apple cores and carrot peelings, they will deteriorate into compost, and you’ll have a ready supply of wonderful gardening material.

The composting process needs heat, so making compost is faster in the warmer weather. Mixing compost with potting soil will help your plants develop strong root systems and resist plant diseases.

Pick Your Plants

As you begin your gardening adventure, choose plants you and your family will enjoy. This is a wonderful time to let your child get involved with a trip to the nursery. Small, fast-growing plants may be the most rewarding for your child to start with. Choose plants that have sensory appeal. Children love plants with different textures or a great smell.

By selecting your plants or seeds at your local nursery you can enlist the help of the clerks who’ll know the best growing conditions for each plant, which can help you decide where to place them. Put plants with similar needs in the same container. For example, plants that need full sun would be in a separate container than plants that need partial shade.

Taller plants may need staking. Use stakes in tee-pee fashion to aid the weight-bearing taller plants.

If you are planting vegetables, good ones to plant in the spring include tomatoes, squash, bell pepper, cucumbers, radishes and early spring lettuce. Spring flowers include zinnias, celosia (princess feathers), annuals, marigolds, daisies and bachelor’s buttons.

You can also mix some vegetables and flowers. Marigolds, basil and dill help to deter some pests that attack tomatoes. (Dill also makes great butterfly food. Look on the plants and you’ll find neon green and black caterpillars, which will turn into swallowtail butterflies.)

Seize the Time

Use the time you garden together to teach your child about the world around him. Janet Chapman is the mother of seven children. When her kids were younger, gardening was a family project. “You develop a bond when you work together as a family. Gardening together provides a natural environment in which to talk to each other. It is easy to talk about different things while working side-by-side.”

The key to gardening with your children is to keep it fun and simple. Container gardens are ideal starters to introduce your child to the pleasure of growing things. Gardening together will grow lasting memories for both of you.

Erin E. Ulerich is a freelance writer.

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