Gardening with kids is a natural pairing - kids seem born with a love of growing things.
Even toddlers watch sprouts poke their little green heads out of the backyard soil with a sense of awe.
Kids start off in the right frame of mind. They want to be in the garden, and they like the work. Our job as parents is to keep them in that frame of mind and not wreck a good thing.
That's tougher than it sounds because gardening can be hard and tedious. We have to devise ways to keep that sense of wonder alive throughout their childhood.
These tips for gardening with kids can help get things growing.
Garden beds need to be prepared. You don't just march out one day, dig a hole, and stick a plant in it. Well, maybe you do. That might explain that brown thumb of yours!
Let's do it right. You want your child's introduction to gardening to be successful.
First, tidy up. Rake up all the debris and dead plant material left over from winter and put it in the compost pile.
Now dig prepared compost into the flowerbeds to reinvigorate the soil for the growing season.
This can be compost from the store, from your compost pile (remove the finished compost before adding new material), or even aged manure that you can probably get for free from area stables. (You haul, though.)
Now it's time to decide which plants go where. Get a big sheet of paper and help the kids draw the garden designs.
If you don't want your yard designed by a 4-year-old, consider giving him an area that's just his.
A little patch under the tree in the backyard, perhaps, or some pots for container gardening. Just let him be master of some part of the gardening universe.
I gave a gardening friend signs for her garden with her name and her daughter's name on them. Her daughter promptly claimed one area of the front yard with her sign and has tended it ever since. Ownership is important.
As you're planning your garden, make it a learning experience. Talk to the kids about how different plants have different needs. Show them how to read plant labels to see how much sun and water particular plants require.
Walk around the yard and discuss which parts look sunny, which sections look shady, and which plants might be happier where.
Talk to the kids about using contrasting textures and complementary colors in their designs for more interest. Explain how putting small plants up front, and tall plants in the back makes it easier to see them all.
Next, make it fun by having your child choose a theme for her garden. Some of our favorites include:
A pizza garden with tomatoes, oregano, and peppers
A salad garden with lettuce, tomatoes, and carrots
A scented garden filled with sweet-smelling plants
A snacking garden of carrots, cherry tomatoes, and celery
A tactile garden bursting with plants with interesting foliage to touch
A butterfly garden of plants that attract butterflies and provide food for butterfly larvae
An exotic garden of fruits and vegetables in unusual colors, such as yellow tomatoes, orange peppers, and blue potatoes; and an edible flower garden.
Choosing a theme makes gardening much more special.
Garden planning is a fun activity for the whole family. Kids love going to nurseries and poking around. Let them help you pick out plants, Give them a budget and let them choose the plants for their own plots.
This will be honing artistic and mathematical skills while they shop. The more that kids are involved in the conceptual part of gardening, the more they will be interested in the maintenance. You need to make them feel responsible.
Once your kids have their own little plots, help them be successful gardeners.
Show them how to dig a bigger, better hole for a happier plant. Teach them how to handle the roots carefully to prevent injury.
Help them gently water the plant and then return to water it some more after the initial watering has settled.
Explain how just-planted plants will need more water until they get established.
If you haven't prepared the soil already, this is your last opportunity to work some finished compost or aged (not fresh) manure into the top few inches of soil.
You don't need to motivate your kids for this one! Kids love to pick veggies and fruits.
This could be one of the gardening chore motivators. Tell kids that they can't pick the produce until they've picked off the pests. (Or weeded. Or watered.)
Be sure to supervise at harvest time, however, or you may be dining on those trendy "baby" veggies. Kids usually can't wait to pick veggies until they're fully grown!
Show them which colors mean "ripe" for which veggies. (A yellow tomato is usually only half-ripe, for example, unless it happens to be a yellow-fruited variety like "Yellow Pear.")
Now for the best part of gardening with kids: Go and enjoy the fruits of your labors!