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Spring Gardening with Kids

KinderGardeners
KinderGardeners

Spring has sprung and every good gardener is itching to get out into the dirt. Don't forget the kids, advises the National Gardening Association. Toddlers may not seem ready for botany, but in fact, it's just the right time to get them started. And for kids who are kindergarten age and older, a season of sowing and reaping makes for a wonderful learning and bonding experience. Good planning and a little research on your part can help your child learn to love gardening, whether it's in your backyard, a community plot, or even a window box. Gardening gives kids a hands-on experience and it's good, dirty fun. "Remember, one of the best things you'll ever grow may be a gardener," says Cheryl Dorschner, author of the National Gardening Association's primer for parents.

How you approach a season of Mommy and Me gardening will affect how your child feels about gardening into adulthood. Is gardening a tiresome chore of weed pulling and trying not to get too dirty? Or is it a venture of new textures and smells and open exploration? You may have your own ideas about how your garden should grow, but when you're introducing your child to the pastime, get down on a child's level and set some small fry priorities. Some tips:

  • Relax your standards. Uneven rows and a few prized weeds won't do any real harm. Neatness is for grown-ups.
  • Involve kids in garden design. Let them chime on what to plant and where to plant it.
  • Pick a theme. How about a Pizza Garden of basil and tomatoes? Or a Butterfly Garden filled with your local butterfly species' favorite plants?
  • Plan some craft projects. Waiting for a planted garden to bloom can seem like an eternity. Pass the time with garden-related craft projects, such as making a scarecrow or painting stepping-stones.
  • Allow for exploration. Your kids may want to do some extra hole digging, check out the bugs, or make mud pies. This is all part of the junior gardener experience. Go with it.

While you should give your budding gardener some say in the season's planting, it makes sense for you to offer some learned advice. Keep in mind that kids get antsy waiting for their precious new plants to bloom. For that reason, it may be smart to steer your child in the direction of some quick-germinating species. In the flower family, the National Gardening Association recommends cosmos, bachelor's button, ageratum, and zinnia. Vegetables that will pop seedlings through the soil in a hurry include cucumber, corn, and lettuce.

In addition to the temperament of your gardener, you should also consider the temperature of your garden. It may be safe to plant early in Southern and Western climates, but much of the Northeast and Midwest is still in danger of frost. Still, no need to sit around and wait for the mercury to rise. Some plants will benefit from an early indoor start. Melons, for example, take a long time to mature, so starting a melon plant indoors in an individual container may result in a lovely crop of summer fruit.

As with any activity, you'll want to be sure your child is safe while participating. The National Gardening Association offers these tips for making your garden safe for little gardeners:

  • Pay attention to which products you use. Keep chemical fertilizers, weed killers, and insecticides away from kids. Better yet, the association advises, don't use them. Stick with natural methods instead.
  • Offer kid-sized tools. Shovels and rakes that are the right size for an adult can be dangerous for your kids. Invest in pint-sized versions.
  • Test your soil for lead. Homes built before 1970 often have lead paint. Even newer homes may have lead in their gardens, since soil is often trucked in from another location.
  • Be careful with water. Remember that a bucket of water can be dangerous for a toddler, so be sure to supervise carefully when water is around.
  • Monitor for allergies. Kids may have reactions to certain plants or flowers. Be on the alert for sneezing or skin irritations.

Ground Zero Garden with Paul Greenburg: Spring
Ground Zero Garden with Paul Greenburg: Spring

No plot to call your own? Don't worry. Gardening isn't just for families blessed with an expansive backyard. If you're a city dweller, check your neighborhood for a community garden. Or do your gardening in a window box -- you'll get almost instant results and there are no weeds to pull!

What you need:

  • A window box -- pick a container at least 8 inches wide and deep
  • Potting mix
  • Watering can
  • Plants ready for planting

Instructions:

1. Anchor the box securely under the window with galvanized L-shaped brackets screwed into the wood or masonry. Remember that it's going to be heavier when it's full!

2. Fill the window box half full with potting mix and add water to moisten.

3. Set plants 2 to 5 inches apart in the box. Slip plants out of their pots without pulling on the stems and gently unfurl the roots before planting.

4. Fill in the spaces between plants with soil mix, and water thoroughly.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.