Gardening is one of the most satisfying and therapeutic activities kids can tackle relatively independently. Children love creating something from (virtually) nothing. What begins as tiny seeds which germinate into something that’s living and bearing edibles is almost tantamount to magic. Planting vegetables and flowers is an exciting activity, regardless of age.
And whether your family owns or rents your living space doesn’t matter. You don’t necessarily need a large plot of land to make the most of a particular growing season to teach your children how they can enjoy this most fulfilling outdoor activity.
If you think that you are limited in your gardening endeavors because you live in an apartment or because your yard is microscopic, take heart! The “garden” space can be adjusted for what you’re working with. An urban garden can easily be created using pots, bags, or vertical growing methods like troughs and window boxes.
Another small-space idea is to try an over-the-door shoe organizer garden for herbs or flowers. You might have an extra one of these around the house.
If you own your home and you don’t mind sharing some of your ornamental space, help your kids in the yard by digging up a square foot garden bed and then getting to sorting and sowing those seeds! One of my favorite parts is the planning and sorting of seeds. Make sure to follow the directions on the back of the seed packets and adhere to the planting recommendations for your climate.
And if you are really motivated and tired of wasting water on an ornamental lawn, you can join the permaculture movement, rent a rototiller, and utilize your entire space for crops!
Depending on your locale, there are specific planting recommendations for Summer to Mid-Summer, but they aren’t all that kid-friendly, that is, unless you’ve got a bunch of okra-lovin’ children and, in that case, I tip my hat to you. The guide suggests mostly squash, eggplant, beans, corn, cucumber, and the like. And guess what? Squash Blossoms are Edible!
5 Super-Easy Plants Your Kids Will Love Growing Themselves:
Sunflowers are a great choice because they produce edibles: sunflower seeds, they are a novelty: they grow very, very tall, and they are eye-catching: they are brightly colored and beautiful.
All of those reasons make this flower and interesting and worthwhile choice for children’s planting garden.
A few important things to note are that sunflowers need a lot of water and sunlight. Because these flowers are so visually striking, your children might like to cut a few and put some in water inside to serve as a reminder of a job well done.
Better yet, they could be transplanted very carefully into appropriately sized pots and given to friends and neighbors as gifts. I have done this and had very pleased neighbors as a result!
2. Cherry or Plum Tomatoes
I would recommend buying seed packets in several varieties of the bright colors in which Cherry tomatoes come. There is literally a sunburst rainbow to choose from. This type of tomato grows easily in less than ideal conditions and you can start it anytime throughout the summer for a late harvest.
Marigolds are a great choice because they are easy to grow, super-hardy, and they act as a natural pest repellent against the parasitic bugs that want to feast on the tomatoes, radishes, and sunflowers your kiddos worked so hard to raise. Specifically, marigolds repel nematodes, tomato worms, slugs, and other pests.
If you start companion planting the marigolds and using them as a “plant border”, they can help ward off those nasty pests.
Besides, do you really want to be spraying pesticides around your kids and edibles? Think about what the warning labels say: “CAUTION! HARMFUL TO HUMANS, PETS, AND LIVESTOCK. DO NOT INHALE OR LET PRODUCT COME IN CONTACT WITH SKIN. DO NOT USE VEGETABLES TREATED WITH THIS PRODUCT FOR ONE WEEK AFTER APPLICATION…” -MotherEarthNews
Radishes begin germinating very fast, so impatient children do not have to wait long for gratification. They can be ready to harvest in as little as 25 days, and kids love plucking them straight from the soil. Like the cherry tomatoes, radishes come in fun colors as well. There are even some called “Easter Egg” variety that are purple, red, and white and shaped just like eggs!
If you’ve got children with a patience level that extends beyond that of radish level, then you might consider launching the longer-term, but very rewarding and very cool Pineapple Project.
This can take up to 2 years for a pineapple plant to bear fruit, so it’s good to have the annuals (plants that you replace and replant year after year) going on the side while you are waiting on your perennials to finally come to fruition.
If you’ve piqued your kids’ interest with gardening activities, and they’ve developed a bond with their plants and the earth, the next exciting project could be to get a pineapple plant started! All you do is cut up a pineapple the way you normally would, separating the crown from the rest of the fruit. Before planting the crown (A.K.A. pineapple top): Keep the crown from getting moldy! You should either dry it out completely before planting or start its roots in water before planting–just don’t let it molder in between the two.
Once a pineapple crown is in the ground, it is extremely low maintenance. The plant won’t need a lot of water or high quality soil, so if you’re worried about the long-term commitment, you can literally set it and forget it. That’s what I did, and I’ve got six pineapples that will be ready in September.
One caveat: If not residing in a southern state, have your plant potted and be sure to bring it indoors when temps reach below freezing.
I’ve given you five great ideas for planting, now here’s five essential reasons you’ll want to incorporate this summer gardening project into your plans.
Five Benefits of A Summer Garden Project:
1. Relatively Low-Cost & Accessible
Their future “plot” awaits them right in their front or backyard, usually where there is the most sustained sunlight, or on a patio or porch. And at the cost of a few seed packets and some potting soil, this is a super cheap summer activity that will keep on giving for about eight to ten weeks.
2. Teaches Responsibility
The children will have to be diligent in watering the plants regularly, checking to make sure they are looking healthy, and keeping them in direct sunlight (or shade) as directed. They will take pride in their “green pets” and the fact that they are thriving thanks to their hard work and dedication.
3. Reinforces Healthy Eating Habits
Practically nothing beats fresh produce, and definitely not artificial, pre-packaged foods full of preservatives. It can be easy to eat unhealthily when fresh food isn’t readily available, but what if it were right outside your front door? A successful summer garden project gives your kids an opportunity to get excited about eating the right foods in the most organic, fresh, and eco-friendly way possible!
4. Lowers Stress and Anxiety Levels
You don’t have to be an adult to benefit from the anxiety reduction benefits of gardening. The repetitive cadence of raking, digging, or even weeding can be meditative and soothing for children of all ages. Gardening and “Plant Therapy” are on the list of Lifestyle Change Recommendations for reduced anxiety and improved mental health, according to PsychologyToday and The National Center for Biotechnology Information.
5. Promotes Self-Esteem
A Summer gardening project can be the beginning of a self-esteem revolution for children. It promotes positive personal identity: one rooted in hard work, strength, and perseverance. Gardening yields a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, especially when there’s suddenly head high sunflowers or that first tomato ready for picking. It’s a great feeling and they’ll know they’ve worked hard for it!
Are you ready to help your kids get their Summer Gardening Project started?
As hot as it’s been this season, I recommend having the sprinkler going while you’re working so you can water your plants and yourselves simultaneously.
About the Author
Kristen M. Polito is freelance writer based in Florida. Besides writing, she loves running, reading, organic gardening, and dogs. If she ever grows up, she wants to be a Stigma Fighter, an Eating Disorders Awareness Champion, and a Mental Health Advocate.