By Deborah J. Benoit
Deborah J. Benoit is a UVM extension master gardener from North Adams, Massachusetts, who is part of the Bennington County Chapter.
Spring is in the air, and what better way to celebrate a return to gardening than to share its magic with children? It’s not too early to start planning now.
Consider dedicating a small piece of the garden this summer as a spot where the kids in your life can experience the magic of gardening firsthand. To keep things simple, consider limiting the plant varieties from which they can choose.
They can help pick out seeds to start indoors in early spring or join in choosing starter plants at the garden center later. When planting time arrives, guide them through the process and show them how to care for their plants. A small watering can and kid-size garden tools will make it easier for them to take part.
If there’s no space for a tiny garden plot, containers are good alternatives for a child’s first garden. After planting, place the containers in good light where your child can easily observe the wonder of plant growth.
Whatever form your child’s garden takes, it all begins with a seed. A tray of seed-starter mix or pellets that expand with the addition of water are readily available at garden stores and easy to use.
Creating your own seed-starting blocks is a project you can do together. Using a soil block maker, press moistened potting soil into the device, then eject onto a seed-starting tray. It takes a little practice, but that’s half the fun.
When helping your child choose what to plant, consider something easy to grow to help ensure success. Sunflowers are quick growing, showy and sure to bring a smile.
Local stores should have a number of varieties available. Seed packets contain growing information, including when to plant outside, how tall the sunflower will grow and how long it will take to flower.
For a bit of garden magic, check young sunflower blooms at different times during the day during the growing season. They begin the morning facing east and slowly turn toward the west, following the sun. When mature, the sunflower’s seeds can provide a welcomed meal for local birds or roasted as a tasty snack for the young gardener.
For another gardening idea, what could be more fun for kids than growing their own jack-o-lantern for Halloween?
Pumpkin seeds can be started indoors about three weeks before the average last frost date for your area. Or purchase starter plants from a local nursery.
Transplant outdoors or direct sow seeds in the garden after all danger of frost has passed. Information regarding your average last frost date can be found at garden.org/apps/frost-dates.
Bush beans and snow peas also are fun options for kids to grow. They’re quick growing and can be eaten right off the vine. Other possibilities include radishes (harvest in less than a month!), cherry tomatoes and marigolds. For more on seed starting, see go.uvm.edu/startseeds.
Whatever plants you choose, be sure to involve your children in planning, preparing, planting, growing and harvesting the garden. If you’re so inclined, save some of the seeds from this year’s harvest for next year’s adventure so they can see how the magic continues.
When you venture into the garden with children, introduce them to the magical presence of nature: fat bumblebees buzzing among the blossoms, the sound of birds singing as they go about their days and devouring insect pests and even the persistence of weeds. Don’t forget the frogs, toads, salamanders and garter snakes that help with pest control. How many can they identify?
Introducing the magic of gardening to children can be rewarding on so many levels. Along the way, you just might reawaken your inner child and find yourself smiling at the magic yourself.