Teaching children to grow their own plants can set them up for a lifetime of healthy living. Not only does gardening get them out into, well, the garden. It also teaches them about growing their own food, if that’s the kind of gardening they want to get into. Alternatively, they could simply learn about flowers and plants, which may lead them towards an outdoor life of a different kind – like landscaping or simply a healthy interest in the great outdoors.
How do you get them started though? There’s a lot of advice about and we have collated some of it for you here.
First stop should be the Royal Horticultural Society, which offers a wealth of information, from making a home for bees to how to grow tomatoes. The RHS also sponsors the Campaign for School Gardening. There isn’t much on that you won’t find on that website to help children get into gardening. There is a lot of it though and it will take you ages to wade through it.
Meanwhile, here are some other tips for child gardeners from other specialists.
Which are good first flowers for a child to grow?
Louise Edgeworth, writing on Gardening for Kids, says, “You need something that has seeds big enough to see and handle easily. Something that will germinate easily into a sturdy and robust plant. Something that will not keel over and die when transplanted into the garden and is not overly fussy about soil type. For me, the flowers that fit this bill are undoubtedly sunflowers. They tick all those boxes and develop lots of seeds to feed garden birds through the winter – brilliant!”
You should also make yourself aware of which plants to avoid. The Fix.com blog says, “As with most things, you can find both the good and the bad when choosing plants. Some plants are downright toxic to kids (and dogs), so they should be avoided in a child-friendly garden.”
You could also try bedding plants. Bedding plants are generally short lived or annual plants that last for a few seasons only. Classic examples are pansies, primrose, petunias, and geraniums.
How to grow a tree
This BBC guide on growing a tree suggests you should take your children to the park or local woodland to look for seeds. “It is worth planting up several of each variety of seeds they collect, in case some don’t work. Some are difficult because they need complex temperature conditions of alternate frost and warmth to germinate, but they may get that in your garden.”
Choosing the location of your tree is an important factor. The Woodland Trust advises, “If you’re planting a single tree think about where you’re planting it in relation to your house. Some roots and branches may spread beyond the boundaries of your property and trees can sometimes cause structural damage. Be aware of places where limbs may fall or roots might grow.”
This is especially important if you want to plant an acorn to grow a mighty oak tree. The RHS says, “Acorns need cool conditions in order to be able to begin to grow (germinate). Follow the instructions below to plant your acorns and then place the pots outside where they can be watered by the rain.”
If you plant a sapling rather than a seed, use a large hole and fill the hole with native soil. Kids Gardening advises, “Your first impulse may be to add lots of fertilizer and organic matter to the soil you put back in the hole. But stop! Your tree will do best if you use only the native soil to refill the hole.”
Helping children to grow vegetables
Even if you aren’t a greenfingered adult, there’s load of advice to get you started teaching your child to grow vegetables.
The first thing to learn about is preparing the soil. Kids Gardening says, “Plants in poor soils will struggle to grow, even if optimal water and light are available. In contrast, plants in good soils will grow stronger and experience fewer problems with insects and disease.”
The RHS has some detailed information about soil and growing media, like fertiliser.
You will probably start out planting in seed trays. Sarah Raven says, “Seed-tray sowing suits plants that don’t mind a little root disturbance. Seed-tray sowing is quick and easy initially, but everything then needs to be pricked out and potted on at least once before they end up in their final pot or position, which is time-consuming.”
Why not try growing your own salad. Says Kids Gardening: “Growing greens indoors not only provides you delicious salad ingredients, it can be a conversation starter about where food comes from. Compare the taste of store bought greens to home grown greens.”
Or, if you want to be more adventurous and go for the popular fruits, have a go at growing strawberries.
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