Ten Tips for Gardening with Children

  1. Start small. It’s OK to dream big and start small. Whether you grow in containers, in a school or community garden or in your front or back yard, make the best choices for you and your family’s growing space, interest and goals.
  2. Learn about plants. If you are new to gardening, or it’s been a few years, review some basic plant science. At the very minimum, all plants need light (sun), water (approximately an inch a week from rain or supplied by the gardener) and nutrients (from a healthy soil). For your benefit, learn about the plants you would like to grow, including knowing potential challenges and possible solutions. Know your local resources like the Horticulture Hotline for Lucas County. Keep safety in mind. This is always important but especially with young children who are inclined to “explore” by putting things in their mouth.
  1. Keep it simple! You don’t have to be an expert on gardening. Just like doing other new things with children, you get to learn together. If they have a question, talk it through and discover the answer. Use the resources listed above, children’s books and youth garden websites
  2. Decide on plants. What plants to grow? Gardens are as diverse as the people who grow them! You can grow whatever will work in your space and your kitchen. When gardening with youth, consider growing some radishes, sunflowers, cherry tomatoes and mini-gourds. Why? Radishes grow fast. Even if you or your kiddos don’t love radishes, they are one of the first vegetables to harvest. Sunflowers are bright and tall (or chose a small variety for smaller spaces) and edible! Miniatures like cherry tomatoes (for an easy snack) and mini-gourds (for fall decoration and crafts) are fun because they grow plentiful and are just the right size for smaller hands.
  3. Up-cycle household items for garden tools and supplies. Use kid-sized tools for planting and digging. Even spoons will work well when held in small hands. Before sending common household items to the recycling center, consider up-cycling them into garden tools. An empty milk jug can become a watering can or cut into a scoop for garden soil. Plastic knives can be used as plant labels and stuck in the ground.
  4. Keep chore time short. Make a game of weeding, or limit to five minutes. Watering (or water play) is usually the fun part of gardening, especially in the hot summer!
  5. Let them play. Follow their lead. If they’d rather play in the soil or look at bugs than pull weeds, it’s OK. They are still learning while playing.
  6. Let them have growing space. Give children their own spot or container to garden and let them grow their own way. A preschooler may want to plant and re-plant, dig and explore similar to a sandbox. Include containers with pebbles, sticks, seeds, small tools, and other garden-related items to explore. Set up a Mud Kitchen with bowls, buckets and plastic kitchen tools. For elementary-aged children, take a 4-H garden project or use a small space to create a miniature garden such as fairy garden or dinosaur garden.  In large garden spaces, create a play space by planting a Sunflower House and Beanpole Tepee. It is helpful to mulch wide paths to define the walking and playing space from the garden growing area. Add benches or straw bales for seating.
  7. Enjoy! Enjoy yourself and your fresh produce. It’s a great time to explore and learn together, reconnect with nature, observe daily changes and growth and prepare new recipes.
  8. Share your garden story and share your extra produce. Use social media to post your garden pictures, sneak a zucchini on your neighbor’s porch on August 8th and consider donating extra produce to a local emergency food pantry.


Our “Maybe” Family Garden

Updated Spring 2021.

Not surprisingly, gardening was a popular activity in 2020. Here’s to another good growing year.

The Theme Garden handout (with links to additional resources) has been updated for 2021. Please use this as a starting point to dream about your “maybe garden”.

From Spring 2020:

  • With Ohio’s Stay-at-Home to help flatten the curve of COVID-19, gardening is a good activity to get outside, learn from nature, and enjoy fresh vegetables, herbs and fruits.
  • As of April 2020, OSU Extension will not be scheduling any face-to-face classes until after July 6th. We are working and want to meet the needs of our community members. Many options have moved online and to phone calls and conversations.

Summary of what’s the same for my household in 2020 compared to 2015: it has to be low-maintenance, low-cost and high-impact. In addition, as part of the stay-at-home order, we’re trying to follow the three Rs:

  • Reduce trips to the store. The good news is that many larger grocery stores sell vegetable seeds in addition to fresh produce. One way to reduce our trips is to keep a detailed grocery shopping list so we can purchase what we need while shopping less frequently. One other way is to …
  • Reuse what we already have. We are fortunate that gardening is not a brand new hobby so we have some basic tools, seeds from the spring Toledo GROWs Seed Swap and we started a compost pile last year.
  • Recycle. We’re viewing our spring recycle bin in a new way. Are there items that we would normally send straight to the recycle station that we can use in a new way? We are careful to keep just a few items but some examples are cardboard egg cartons, plastic milk jugs and cardboard boxes. They will come in handy to start seeds, protect small seedlings from a late frost and help mulch pathways.

2015 Maybe Garden

Earlier this year Family and Consumer Sciences Extension staff promoted the Manage Your Money online challenge.  I wrote “Why I Am Bringing Work Home” to show how I value FCS programming professionally as well as personally.

The “Maybe” Family Garden program, in addition to some of my current backyard dreams are inspired by the book The Maybe GardenThe Maybe Garden was written by Kimberly Burke-Weiner and illustrated by Frederika P. Spillman. The book cover describes, “A beautiful, poetic story about a young child’s quest to become an independent and creative thinker. The child uses Mother’s ordinary suggestions for a garden as a springboard for unique and original ideas. Through the child’s creativity, the spirit of the rest of the neighborhood is also sparked and the magic blooms in other gardens as well”.

Gardening is a great activity for all ages. Gardens can be simple or elaborate – choose the best options for your interest, time and space. Looking for Theme Garden Idea Starters? In this list, some of the gardens have edible plants, some focus on learning; some are for beautification and most are for sharing. What will you grow? Theme Garden handout 2015

For ideas on gardening with youth, read the Garden Ideas for Kids, Parents and Teachers from the National Gardening Association. For tips on planning the family garden, click here Planning Garden 2015 (2020 note: horticulture hotline information might be outdated)

Spring cleaning in a drizzle. Leaf covered herb spiral in foreground.

Spring cleaning in a drizzle, 2015.  Leaf covered herb spiral in foreground.

On the first full day of spring 2015, I spent some time with my family in the yard pulling out some toys that were in storage and raking some wayward autumn leaves.  Although we’re not far into the steps of “turning family dreams into reality” in regards to our backyard plans, we did start discussing and mapping out some future projects.  For a new project to work in our urban backyard (with two full-time working adults) it has to be low-maintenance, low-cost and high-impact.  I’m posting this “before” picture with some apprehension.  Basically, the “before” indicates there will be an “after” and as a family we haven’t set SMART goals for this “maybe” garden space yet. (2020 update – we did enjoy a mud-kitchen for play and new perennials but I did not post an “after” picture)

Ohio State University Extension, Lucas County offered a lesson titled The Maybe (Family) Garden. This class will be offered in partnership with the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg, Ohio. Not only does the 577 Foundation offer excellent classes for all ages on all topics, they are also a free community resource (although there is a cost for classes) with too many opportunities, activities and tours to list in this paragraph.  The Maybe Garden will be offered on May 3, 2015 for adults and their children in grades two through five.  Please register with the 577 Foundation.