Take the family outside for spring planting – it’s easier than you think!
As winter winds down, most parents find that “cabin fever” is running rampant, infecting every member of the household. It’s time to get outside! There’s no better way to unleash months of built-up energy than to dive into a family gardening project.
March is the best time to start working on a garden, provided that the ground is dry. To establish a new garden, choose an area that gets a lot of sunlight and has good drainage. Begin by removing the grass and digging down six inches, adding peat moss to the soil.
“If grass has grown there a long time, the ground may have become compacted,” says Vicki Stewart-Edwards, a greenhouse and flower shop owner.
Soil needs to be turned often before planting, to allow the ground to aerate. Early crops like green onions, peas, beans and Swiss chard can be sown right after the soil has been prepared. Seed packets should be checked to be sure of the best sowing time for each type of plant.
“My grandfather always said to start tomato seeds indoors during the first full moon in February and to transplant them to the garden in May,” Stewart-Edwards says, adding that nightly temperatures must stay above 45 degrees Fahrenheit before putting tomato plants outside.
She promotes the use of natural fertilizers. “Don’t use any chemicals, especially with children, because they are toxic and can cause different cancers. Worms will aerate soil and fertilize if there are no chemicals in the garden.”
Toads will also migrate naturally to a chemical-free garden. Their sticky tongues and appetite for insects will help to keep the bug population down. By simply turning a few terra-cotta flower pots on their sides in the garden, burying the lower side of each one, you’ll have created prime real estate – a toad condo!
In A Kid’s First Book of Gardening (Running Press), author Derek Fell suggests designing a planting plan, arranging the vegetable garden in rows. Building raised rows will make your garden easier to care for. To do this, pile the soil in rows six inches high and 24 inches wide with your spade. The extra dirt for the height comes from digging walkways 12 inches wide between these rows. To maximize your bounty, Fell advises planting smaller plants like beans and lettuces in two lines along the raised rows. Larger plants such as peppers and tomatoes need to be sown in single file.
Making a Strawberry Garden
Children can make their very own strawberry planter garden. Gardening experts say that the multi-outlet clay containers regularly used for strawberries can even hold herb gardens or small flowering annuals. A light planter soil mix should be used to avoid making the pot too heavy.
To build a strawberry garden, pour some potting mix up to the bottom of the first hole. Sow your first plant through this opening. Continue filling the pot in this manner. Top off the planter with your last plant. This mini-garden is watered from the top, taking care that the plants on the sides don’t miss out. Strawberries love to bask in full sun. For these planters, use an ever-bearing ornamental strawberry plant called the “alpine.” It bears smaller, delicious berries and produces a lot more fruit than regular strawberry plants.
Almost anything can be grown in containers – even tomatoes, as long as there’s enough depth to support the top-heaviness of the plant.
Decorate your garden by using interesting containters. Old tires and work boots will work as planters, or paint existing terra-cotta pots with acrylic paints and sealers. Seal the pots inside with a sealer or a clear, waterproof glaze before painting. If your child’s artwork is done in ordinary acrylic paints, use the glaze again to seal the paint after it has completely dried.
Kids are very creative and make the most colorful clay-pot masterpieces. They can be used for years, as long as they’re not dropped! Patio paints are also water-based acrylics, but have a sealer mixed in. Use them on terra cotta or for painting patio stones and rocks. Nothing adorns a yard more splendidly than brilliant splashes of color!
So what are you waiting for? It’s almost time to get going in the garden. Your kids can be more help than you think! Remember, some of the most menial and tiring tasks for a grown-up can be seen through the eyes of a child as a fun, exciting game. Whether you’re transforming your yard into a land of plenty or planting in containers, a little planning and creativity can go a long way.
Leah Behrens is a mother and freelance writer.
When Gardening With Kids …
- Give kids their own container to plant in and let them pick out plants.
- Find garden tools that are child-size.
- Assign tasks for kids, such as watering and weeding.
- Older children can be responsible for caring completely for a certain container.
- Give kids time to explore and be curious. Take time to see gardening from their perspective.