Fun Home Activities: Container Gardening For Children

You don't need to live in the suburbs or on a farm for your children to enjoy their very own garden.

There are many benefits to getting children involved in gardening. They observe the cycles of nature more closely. They learn about the growing process. Planning a garden takes basic mathematical and scientific reasoning. They get to see the fruits (or flowers, or vegetables) of their labor and reap the rewards. They learn to take responsibility for a living, breathing thing. They may even learn that vegetables can be tender and delicious when they are fresh. City children especially will benefit from growing a small container garden if the only other plant life they see is in the local park.

Even if you live in an apartment building and don't have an inch of soil that you can claim as your own, you can grow many flowers, plants, vegetables and fruits in a container garden. A small back yard can house enough containers to give your child the feeling of having their own little farm. If you have a patio or porch, you can grow a small salad garden on the ground and some flowers and herbs that hang from pots or railing holders. Even if you have nothing but one sunny window, your child can enjoy the treat of growing colorful violets and impatiens, some basic herbs for cooking and seasoning, and an aloe-vera plant for medicinal purposes.

If you have a large, sunny window you can spare as your "greenhouse," put a couple of glass or clear plastic shelves across it and stock it with small pots. You can also place a long window box planter in every window, using the sunnier windows for herbs and sun-loving flowers, and the smaller ones for shade-thriving varieties. When choosing seeds, check the back to see what the plant prefers, or ask your garden center associate for help.

If you have a doorstep, porch, patio, balcony, or even a small back yard, measure how much room you can spare for containers and begin to stock up on them. You can find a variety of container sizes at your local gardening store. Small pots can accommodate herbs and small vegetables that take up little space, such as baby carrots, loose-leaf lettuce varieties, and cherry tomatoes. Most medium sized planters (12" square pots, or 12" diameter round pots) can hold larger vegetable plants: tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, zucchini, and snap beans, for example. Larger pots, such as whiskey-barrel planters or planter boxes can house several of the plants mentioned above, or larger varieties, such as eggplants, squash, corn, or even dwarf fruit tree varieties. Hanging pots are also a great option when space is minimal.

For virtually any sized pot, there is a flower or a plant that can fit into it. Medicinal plants, edible plants, and plants that attract butterflies and birds make excellent choices for children. Kids will also enjoy flowers with colorful blooms, especially those that can be dried or pressed and used for arts and craft projects. Dwarf sunflower varieties make a great choice as well, since children can gather the seeds for replanting, or snacking. Carnivorous plants, such as Venus Flytraps, can be very amusing and interesting to watch, as well as keep the bug population down.

When choosing containers, try to be creative. Many common items can be converted to a planter. Plastic or wooden crates, empty food containers or coffee cans, beach pails, baskets, old toys (the back of a large dump truck, a plastic boat), outgrown shoes, a wagon, a toy box no longer in use, a wheel barrow- the possibilities are endless. Basically, if something can hold dirt, it can grow a plant. Children enjoy these innovative planting options, and it makes the process and the result more fun. Growing cacti in a pot may not spark their interest, but growing them in dad's old cowboy boots might! Just make sure to put a few holes in the bottom of any container that doesn't already have some, and a layer of gravel, shells or packing peanuts for drainage.

Allow children to participate in all stages of gardening, from planning to harvesting. Let them help pick out the seeds and choose the varieties. Older children may enjoy space planning or calculating soil/fertilizer ratios. Younger children might like to paint or decorate your containers before beginning, or make markers for the pots so you know which plant is which. Children of almost all ages can help fill containers with soil, plant seeds and water the plants. Every child will enjoy clipping some herbs for dinner, or harvesting fresh vegetables.

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