Gardening with Deb: Gardening with children |

Gardening with Deb: Gardening with children

Deb Babcock

Check out the Children's Garden area at the Yampa River Botanic Park for more ideas on ways to interest children in gardening.

Now that school’s out and the kids and grandkids have more free time, let’s get them outdoors doing something fun and physical. Invite them to join you in creating a garden plot just for them. Throughout the season, they can tend the garden and enjoy watching the plants they put in grow and flower or produce delicious things to eat.

A first step in gardening with children is to remember that the younger the child, the shorter the attention span. So break down the gardening project accordingly so it is a fun experience for them that won’t become tedious.

Here are a few projects you can enjoy with them:

• Prepare a garden plot for planting. Let them break up the clods of soil with small garden tools or their hands so that roots of their plants can easily move through the soil and become established. Keep the plot small so it is manageable for your little one. And if you don’t have yard space for a garden, consider container gardening. Get a pot or several of them, and fill them with soil for your seeds or plants.

• Go shopping for child-sized garden tools; something that will fit their little hands will be much more enjoyable to work with and will give them a sense of ownership. Plus, you’ll be able to teach them how to care for garden tools, keeping them clean and putting them away after each use, etc.

• Check out the plants and seeds available in local garden centers. Help your kids learn to identify which plants will grow here in our Zone 4 environment, how big the plants will become and how long it will take the seeds to germinate or the plant to mature and produce vegetables or flowers. Have fun selecting your plants or seeds based upon color, texture or shape — or aroma and taste (edible flowers or veggies or fruit). A stroll through the Yampa River Botanic Park will also give you great ideas on which plants do well here and how they will look once the seedlings mature.

• Design the plot or container so you can obtain a pleasing design for the plants by grouping complementary colors together or placing tall growing plants in the center or back of the plot with graduating heights down to the front of the plot. Show them how to choose locations based upon the plants’ needs. Those plants needing lots of water should be grouped together and away from those plants that are more xeric and will not grow well if the soil is too wet.

• Begin planting, showing your children how deep to plant the seeds or plants you’ve chosen. Seed packets will tell you how deep and how far apart the seeds should be placed. Often, the grown plants you purchase will also give you an indication of how far apart to space them and how large they will grow.

• As the season progresses, let the children check the soil with their fingers to determine if the plants need watering, and help them determine the difference between weeds that crop up and the early stages of a plant you want to keep in the garden. They can help weed and water, but since kids tend to put their fingers into their mouths, it’s best to have the adults handle any fertilizing or insecticides. This is also a great time to have the children observe any insects in the garden and teach them about good bugs and how they pollinate and help plants, as well as those bugs that harm plants.

• As the plants bloom and the flowers fade away, the children can help deadhead plants and learn to build a compost pile with the discarded blooms and foliage. And as the vegetables and fruits begin to ripen and mature, kids can harvest their bounty and work with you to prepare a delicious meal from food they’ve grown themselves.

• Finally, as the season winds down and school is about to start, kids can help put the garden to bed for the long winter months ahead: covering tender plants, pulling up annuals and vegetable plants that have completed their cycle and neatening up the garden plot so it’s ready to be planted next spring.

What a great way to enjoy the outdoors with your kids and grandkids this summer. Have fun.

Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or email

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