Gardening with Kids – The most common questions answered
Written by Noreen Greimann
Gardening with children can both be very rewarding and enjoyable for you and your child. However, it can also be rather frustrating as you many have already experienced. The advice and tips you read online or hear from friends and neighbors often makes it sound easy. And then you get started and suddenly you have more questions than before.
I have gardened since I was a young child and love passing this skill on to my children. I have also worked with many beginning gardeners, both children and adults, and can tell you that anybody can learn to garden successfully.
To get you on the path of success, I’m answering the most common gardening questions today. (Thank you to all who submitted questions for this post.)
Answers to the most common gardening questions
When can I plant vegetables in my garden? How early can I plant my tomatoes? When is the best time to plant flowers?
The first thing you want to do is determine your growing zone is. This information will tell you when your first and last frost date is. Some vegetables (e.g. radishes, peas, lettuces and spinach) grow best in cool conditions and should be planted in very early spring. Other vegetables (e.g. tomatoes, beans, cucumber and melons) need warmer temperatures to grow and should be planted after the last frost date. As for flowers, perennials will come back year after year and will grow once temperatures are warm enough. Most other flowers should be planted or sowed after the last frost date. All this information can be found on the back of seed packets or plant labels.
Some vegetables did okay last year but others never produced anything. What am I doing wrong?
All plants need soil, water, air and the right temperature to grow. Looking at those four variables will help you determine why some vegetables didn’t grow. Were they not planted at the right time (too early or too late)? Did they get not enough or too much water? Is poor soil quality the cause? For each vegetable the answer will be different. Be curious, ask questions and enjoy getting to know your plants. It’s like figuring out what works and what doesn’t work for your children. Though, vegetables are a bit easier.
What kinds of vegetables can I grow in containers?
In theory, one can grow any vegetable in containers. However, for beginners I always recommend herbs (chives, parsley, basil, oregano, thyme, etc.) lettuce, spinach, carrots, radishes or peas as they are easy to grow in containers. Larger vegetables such as tomatoes, pumpkins, and cucumber require more watering and more fertilizing but it’s definitely possible.
What will grow in the shade?
While most vegetables need 6+ hours of direct sunlight every day, many will still produce a decent crop under less ideal conditions. Full shade areas, however, will need to be utilized for shade-loving plants and flowers. Vegetables that don’t require full sun and actually benefit from partial shade include lettuces, spinach, kale and carrots.
What’s a good sized garden to start with? I want it to be worthwhile but not so much that it ends up being a full-time job.
I always recommend to start small. While 2 or 3 vegetables in a small bed may not seem much at first, they will require more time as they grow. In the middle of summer, watering and weeding are the most time-consuming activities. With only a small number of vegetables to care for, it’s also easier to troubleshoot when something goes wrong. Each plant has it’s unique requirements and challenges. Learning them all about many different vegetables can quickly become overwhelming. So, put the odds in your favor and start small. Sharing this experience with your child makes it worthwhile no matter how small your garden is.
It’s challenging to garden with my toddler. She wants to pull out whatever is growing, is digging right after I put seeds in the ground and so on. What can I do to make her and the garden happy?
Oh, the curiosity of young children. Such a wonderful trait that sometimes makes life rather challenging, doesn’t it? With a very curious toddler, I have found three tactics that are helpful. 1) Provide them with their own gardening spot…a patch of dirt or a pot will do fine. Give them the freedom to sow seeds, pull out seedlings, plant weeds, add sticks…whatever they may desire. And when they interfere with other vegetables redirect them to their spot. 2) Talk about what is happening in the garden and make up simple stories. This helps children better understand what is going on and is therefore, much more effective than a repeated “No, don’t do that.” 3) Relax. Sometimes, your toddler will still pull out seedlings or an entire bean plant in an attempt to harvest one bean. It’s part of the experience and an opportunity to learn something new.
My kids are always so excited when we start the garden but then quickly loose interest and I end up taking care of it myself. How can I get them more involved throughout the entire season?
While some of us thoroughly enjoy watching our vegetables slowly mature, others get impatient and that includes children. As children go through the stages of becoming an independent gardener, they will naturally spend more and more time in the garden. In the meantime, stories are always a wonderful way to engage children. Make up a story about the caterpillar that’s nibbling on the carrot greens. Talk about how you used to garden with your grandparents. Draw together in a garden journal. Or read a book about gardening.
Three facts to keep in mind when gardening
People sometimes tell me they have a black thumb and can’t grow anything, not even houseplants. My reply is always this…Houseplants can be more challenging than gardening. After all, plants are at home outdoors and not inside our air-conditioned or heated homes with limited sunlight.
Keep this three facts in mind as you are gardening…
- Gardening is a skills that takes time to learn just like any other skill. Even experienced gardeners have plants that die from time to time.
- Enjoy your time with your plants. Know that you are passing on a wonderful skills to your children. And there is nothing better than learning together.
- When you get stuck, ask questions. Ask your neighbor, gardening friends, or local extension, local garden club or post your questions below.
So, head outside and you might be surprised what you can grow.
Let the gardening begin…
Still have a question? Ask it in the comments below.