Gardening can create peace in even the most tormented of minds. There have been so many studies that show spending time in nature can encourage your body to produce dopamine, a key “ingredient” in happiness. Of course, if your home is in the middle of the city, finding a way to get back to “nature” might seem hard. It doesn’t have to be, though. Even creating a tiny butterfly garden in your small yard or container garden on your balcony can be enough to trigger those calming feelings. And, it turns out, naturing and gardening aren’t just beneficial for adults — kids can benefit, too. Aside from doing wonders for your kiddo’s overall mood, gardening is a chance to teach healthy eating, Earth science and, well, patience.
If you’re here, you’ve probably already weighed the benefits of gardening, though. What you need now is some hard and fast tips on making gardening feasible, interesting and rewarding for your kids, right? Luckily, we have just the guide for you.
Before Your Start
Where will you garden?
Before you can decide on what to grow, you need to decide where your garden will live. If you’re working with a windowsill garden, your best bet is to stick with some herbs, succulents or other small potted plants. If you have a balcony to set out some larger containers and planters, your options open up exponentially. With a container garden, you can grow everything from berries to potatoes and tomatoes. And if you can garden a small plot of land (even something as small as 3’x3′), you open yourself up to even more possibilities. Squash, anyone?
Take note, though: Another important factor in gardening is sunlight. Spend a day or two tracking how much sun your garden-space receives each day. Every seed pack will tell you roughly how much sun your plants will need to flourish. Keep that in mind, too.
What will you plant?
The absolute best way to keep your kids interested in your garden is the make sure you’re growing things they love. If your kid hates peas, for instance, they’re obviously not going to want to grow them. If you have a kid obsessed with spaghetti and meatballs, however, they will “eat up” the idea of growing their own ingredients. Nearly everything you could want for a salsa garden also works for a “spaghetti garden.” Just replace some of the peppers with more tomatoes or extra herbs in the Italian herb family. If you have a fruitarian, don’t be discouraged. Strawberries can be a fairly hardy option to plant and, as an added bonus, spread significantly each year. Grapes will, of course, require some fencing to climb (you can try a tomato cage, but it doesn’t always work well).
If growing food isn’t cutting it? Don’t rule out flowers as a viable garden option, even though you were hoping for something more sustainable. Your kiddo’s first garden might need to be a “fairy garden,” instead. Flowers like marigolds are nearly impossible to kill. Use some popsicle sticks to make your fairies some furniture and part of the fun each day will be to come back and try to catch one. There are also tons of ideas on how to turn a garden plot of growing sunflowers into a clubhouse for your own fairy princess.
Once you’ve decided on where and what you’ll grow, you’ll need to figure out when you start your garden. This will depend largely on what you’re planting, but the seed packs usually tell you the optimal time for planting. While you can start your seeds directly in your containers or your garden bed, it’s easy to lose track of what you planted where. It also makes your seeds more prone to outside enemies, like birds and squirrels.
A better option is to start your seeds inside. Save several egg cartons and clear out the space in front of a window. Fill each egg cup with soil and plant a seed or two. Your best option is to use a whole row or whole carton per each kind of plant you want to plant. Don’t worry — you probably won’t end up with twelve tomato plants. Set your egg carton planters in the window and have your little bug spray them almost daily to keep them moist. Once your seeds sprout 2 to 3 inches above the soil, you can plant them in your larger containers or in your garden plot. Just make sure to label everything as you plant and move them.
Tips For Staying Engaged
Gardening requires a ton of patience — there’s just no instant gratification. What can you do to keep your kiddos interested between planting the seeds and eating the spoils? There are a few options.
Find Teachable Moments
How much do your kids really know about gardening and Earth science? As the weeks creep on, use your blossoming garden as a chance to explain things like pollination and photosynthesis. For older kids, plant some hydrangeas and study how the chemical additives can make the flowers change colors. You can even incorporate a history lesson by planting the “three sisters” and walking your child through the history and process of planting corn, beans, and squash in the same plot.
Buy The Cute Gear
While gardening with kids doesn’t have to require extra tools and gear, that doesn’t mean you have to ignore the super cute kid-sized and fun-colored gardening gear, either. If your kiddo starts to seem disconnected, consider if a fun new pair of gardening boots or tools might just reignite their interest. Amazon has very super cute options.
Play Some Games
Weed Eaters – Very few people love to weed, but it’s a necessary evil of gardening. Make it a contest to see who can pull the most weeds. It’ll go by so much faster and with so much more fun.
Snail & Slug Race – Similar to weeding, removing snails and slugs can also be beneficial. Your kiddo will probably have a little more fun with this game because, let’s face it, our children like disgusting things.
Water Fiiiight! – You have to water the garden anyway, right? Make it a little more fun by throwing on swimsuits and jumping around in the hose and sprinklers alongside the garden. It’ll be hard, but try to have patience if wild feet come down hard on precious plants.
Find Recipes For Your Picks
On rainy days or those long days where it feels like nothing fun is happening in the garden, look for ways to stay excited while inside. Maybe do a lesson on hydroponics. Or do the old colored water and celery experiment. Or, hear us out, meal plan. So, you have some giant bell peppers that will be ready to pick any day now and some oregano and rosemary that needs trimmed tomorrow. Use one of the many recipe databases on the internet to find something you can make using those ingredients.