While we are currently in “deceptive spring” here in Georgia, I can’t help but feel that little glimmer of hope that warmer weather and more sunshine will soon be upon us. After what we call the pollening happens here (which is like snow, but everything is covered in yellow pollen dust), you can guarantee our family will be outside as much as possible until June rolls around and it’s 100 degrees with 100% humidity. But until then, it’s a perfect time to play in the dirt again and get kids started with some gardening. Gardening can be a super fun activity for the whole family to enjoy, and it may even be a wonderful learning experience as well.
A good age to start getting kids to help in the gardening process is between 3 and 4 years old, says Suzanne M. Jiménez, RDN, LND. But younger babies, even if they aren’t able to help garden, can still spend plenty of time outside and observe. Jiménez tells Romper this is still vital for their development “as they will be exposed to outdoor stimulants: sight, smell, touch, and even taste — this can really help with developing their senses at a young age and have bonding time.” The benefits for your older children are great, too — it’s just a matter of finding what they can do. Like watering instead of digging, or helping plant seeds rather than pull weeds. “Kids love to explore and experiment.”
How To Get Kids Gardening
As someone with black thumb, I’ve always dreamed of having garden beds full of fresh produce in my backyard and having my son help me and it be “our thing.” Thankfully, according to Amy Enfield, a horticulturist at Bonnie Plants, it’s usually not too hard to get kids involved in the garden, especially since most kids love to be outside. But she has some initial suggestions to start your children off, like letting them pick what kinds of veggies or flowers they want to grow, having them help with the everyday activities of gardening (watering, weeding, harvesting, etc.), planting a “theme” garden (like a pizza or salsa garden with ingredients for those dishes), and taking pictures of your kids with their plant and their harvests.
Enfield also suggests turning harvesting into a game. “Have them find a vegetable in the garden that’s a weird shape or is as big as a body part — like a tomato as big as their hand. Or have them keep track of how many vegetables you’ve picked in the garden.”
Other activities to get your kids excited about gardening include letting them pick and decorate pots. “You will need some terra cotta pots, acrylic craft paint, decorations like glitter and gem stones, and clear acrylic spray. Have the kids decorate the outside of the containers. Once they’re dry, an adult should spray them with clear acrylic. Then let your child plant their new decorated pot with a flower or herb,” Enfield says. This creativity can also expand to painting rocks, which you can then decorate your garden with after they dry.
Creating plant markers is another fun activity you can do to get your kids excited about gardening. “Decorate chopsticks, popsicle sticks, paint stirrers, wooden spoons, metal jar lids, or even rocks with colorful duct tape or craft paint to create plant markers to identify the plants in your garden,” Enfield suggests. This gives your children the reminder of how important what they’re growing is, why it matters, and what it can do for our bodies and the environment.
And for me, I’m definitely looking for easy plants and veggies to grow, inside and out.
Kid-Friendly Outdoor Veggies
“Families can start with some easy-to-grow veggies such as spinach, French beans, tomatoes, or carrots. They are low maintenance and can be grown either on the ground or in containers if space is limited,” says Jiménez. “Salad leaves like spinach, for example, are easy to get started on, grow fast, and can easily be harvested by the kids. And spinach is very nutrient-rich and it is ready to eat once harvested and washed.”
“As a general rule, help kids grow foods that you know they love, and the more variety of colors, the better. Research shows children living in a home with a food garden eat significantly more vegetables than those without access to one,” Jiménez says.
Kid-Friendly Indoor Veggies
If you live somewhere without a backyard or a lot of outdoor space, there’s no reason you should miss out on the springtime fun of gardening. There are some easy veggies to grow indoors, too.
“Leafy greens, like spinach, leaf lettuce, and arugula can easily be grown indoors. Greens don’t require as much sunlight as fruit-producing plants like cucumbers, tomatoes, or peppers. They will grow happily in a warm spot near a sunny window,” Enfield says. “Compact varieties of tomatoes and peppers are ideal for growing in containers and can also be grown indoors. They will need to be provided with additional — or supplemental — lighting in order to grow best.”
“Compact varieties that stay under 2 feet in size are even smaller than traditional bush-type varieties, meaning they won’t take up too much space in your home. Bonnie Plants offers several great compact pepper options like Early Flame Jalapeño, Fresh Bites Orange Pepper, Hot Burrito Pepper, and Snackabelle Red Pepper,” she says.
“Avocados are also an easy-to-grow plant for indoors and it’s a great way to get kids interested in gardening. With just the seed, some toothpicks and a jar of water, kids will be amazed at how a plant will start to grow in front of their very own eyes,” says Jiménez. She also suggests herbs such as oregano leaves, mint, basil, and cilantro. “They provide great flavor and aroma to foods and are an excellent way to get kids to be acquainted with new smells and taste buds.” Enfield agrees, and says that most herbs are very easy to grow. They key is to give them lots of light, and don’t overwater them.
You can’t forget about the plants that are just really pretty to look at, but with an added bonus that they provide a learning opportunity as well. Plants that attract pollinators, such as lavender, borage, pineapple sage, nasturtium, oregano, marigolds, snapdragons, cosmos, zinnias, calendula, and butterfly bushes are not only pretty easy to maintain, but your kids can see pollination at work, Enfield says.
“When we think of pollinators, we usually think of bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds,” Enfield says, “But bats, moths, beetles, and some small mammals are also responsible for pollinating plants.” And it’s so important to teach kids about pollinators because they are responsible for a third of the food that we eat.
“A single honey bee has the ability to pollinate what can equal 25 pints of blueberries in a single year,” she says. “Planting pollinator plants in the garden attracts visiting butterflies, bees, beetles, and other pollinators to your garden by providing a food source — nectar.”
Today I learned that pollinators are also attracted to different colors. Enfield says that bees respond to blue, yellow, white, and purple, hummingbirds respond to red tones, and butterflies respond to red and purple. “Planting a diverse group of plants leads to a diverse group of pollinators. Choose plants that bloom at different times so there are flowers throughout the growing season. And, plant flowers in large clusters to make them easier to find.”
Help For Parents On How To Get Started
Seed packets will tell you the best times to plant different crops and get the best yield. An important step such as seeding could easily be done inside and then transplanted once a seedling is available. You can start seedlings inside and transplant them to outdoor containers at the right time, says Jiménez. And as always, there’s your friendly neighborhood Google and fun gardening books you can share with your kids.
Amy Enfield, horticulturist at Bonnie Plants.