Gardening with Children: What to Grow (Part 2)

(If you missed it, Part 1 was a few weeks ago.)

When choosing plants for children to grow, remember that kids like to have fun.

Physostegia virginiana_Obedient Plant_DBG_LAH_7141How about flowers that do something? Every child loves to pinch the sides of snapdragon blossoms to make them snap! And Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana, left) earns its name because the individual flowers stay how you bend them.

Pole beans can be planted around a bamboo teepee. So can vining flowers such as scarlet runner beans or morning glories. Plant corn in a square with a hidden room in the middle. (Be sure to leave a door opening.) It’s all right if the corn isn’t fully pollinated. The goal isn’t dinner, but rather having fun—and how fun is it to grow your own house?!

Pumpkins_WineParty-Tacoma_20091017_LAH_4236It’s hard to go wrong with flowers, but when growing vegetables, try to pick something your child likes to eat. Most kids love corn on the cob, and green beans can be spiffed up with some crumbled bacon. Peas are best straight from the pod, eaten raw in the garden. Or grow sugar snaps and eat them whole. Who cares if you never have enough for the table? Of course, pumpkins can be carved, not necessarily eaten. Make sure your growing season is long enough for them to ripen.

Komatsuna seedlings needing thinning 728s-001Another consideration is how fast the seeds germinate. Children have short attention spans. While radish seeds are a bit small, their size is more than compensated for by the speed at which their seedlings appear. Some radishes will be up and growing in three to four days!

Sprout some alfalfa, clover, or mung beans indoors while you’re waiting for the seeds in the garden to come up. It’s easier to wait if you can see what’s happening, and sprouting seeds for sandwiches or stir-fries might keep the kids from digging up the ones outside.

Finally, try to space the seeds so that they won’t need thinning. What child, thrilled with a row of baby plants, is going to want to pull some of them out? Even adults struggle with thinning! I use a board with large-headed nails hammered in partway to create evenly spaced seed holes. A ruler will also help children plant seeds far enough apart.

It’s all right if not all the seeds germinate. They may have been buried too deeply, or allowed to dry out. You might have clumps of seedlings in one spot and bare ground in another. Baby plants can get stepped on, or crushed by small hands, in addition to all the other hazards normally present.

More important than a blue-ribbon harvest is the whole idea of playing outside, getting dirty, and having fun. When you garden with children, they are your main crop!

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