By Emily Murphy
Gardening is a fun and easy way to get kids outside. Instill a love for the wonder of nature, even at a very young age, when you show kids the joy of plants that are easy to grow. Taking care to research flowers and vegetables that require minimal care and produce abundantly will ensure kids feel rewarded for their efforts and get the most out of their first gardening experience. Learn more about the easiest plants to grow in Gilmour’s Plants for Kids guide.
Calendula petals add a wonderful pop of color and unique flavor to salads. Children appreciate the large, prehistoric-looking seeds that resemble the vertebrae of long-lost animals. Add the flowers to make herbal oils once they are dried. Herbal oils can then be added to homemade candles, soaps and lotions for fun DIY projects. Direct sow calendula during fall in mild climates or in spring as soon as soil can be worked. Plant it with your veggies as a companion plant to thwart aphid-attacks. Water calendula three to four times per week, depending on the weather and temperature.
Known to some children as sour grass, French sorrel is a thrill to the taste buds. Its sharp, tangy flavor is unlike anything else in the garden. Like calendula, it is a plant for grazing as much as it is for the kitchen. Sorrel is a perennial, so grow it in a container or a dedicated spot in the garden where it can come back year after year. French sorrel grows best in rich, well-draining soil and requires regular watering. Use the Flexogen Super Duty hose and Thumb Control Watering Nozzle to complete the task.
Unlike sorrel, cucumbers are mild in flavor. They are excellent producers, giving kids something to harvest nearly every visit to the garden. Their seeds are big enough for small hands to sow, while their furry leaves (and sometimes prickly fruits) are full of character. Best of all, when children grow plants like cucumbers, they are more likely to care for them from seed to fruit, giving them the pride that comes from a seed-to-harvest experience. Plant cucumbers in rich, well-draining soil, fertilize them in mid-summer using compost or manure tea and water them three to four times per week.
Some sunflowers grow from seeds with stripes, but others come from seeds that are black, white or somewhere in between. However they come, sunflower seeds are fun to plant and watch grow. It won’t be long before varieties like ‘Mammoth Russian’ are taller than anyone in the family or school. Let them self-sow from one season to the next or plant them in spring as soon as the soil is ready. Tuck sunflowers in along the northern ends of beds or give them a patch all their own. Sunflowers do best in rich, well-draining soil and they need regular water.
Who doesn’t love finding red ripe strawberries hiding under leaves or cascading over the sides of containers? Strawberries are easy berries to start with because they don’t require much room, and they nearly always find a way to grow. Plant in rich to medium soil in an area that receives ample sun. Water regularly using a garden sprinkler. If strawberries are growing in containers, watering is easy with Gilmour’s Thumb Control Watering Wand.
Some kids may not love kale (yet), but chances are that will change once they grow it themselves. Kale’s beautiful leaves are often colorful, like on red Russian kale. It can be picked along with French sorrel for an easy outdoor snack. Grow kale on the north side of sunflowers to give it much-needed shade on the hottest summer days. Or, wait to plant kale in August, so it grows into the cooler temperatures of fall. Kale likes rich, well-draining soil and plenty of water. One quick watering tip: if kale leaves start to become tough, it needs more frequent watering.
Nasturtiums provoke a sense of wonder. Their round, lily pad-shaped leaves and vase-shaped flowers often become the building blocks of fairy homes and make-believe play. Encourage children to use leaves in art projects to create leaf prints. Planting nasturtiums at the edge of garden can lure aphids away from other fruits and veggies. They also do well in containers where they can fill a corner with flowers. Add spicy leaves and flowers to salads and pickle the seeds to make homemade capers. Nasturtiums like sun but will tolerate part shade. Plant them in rich, well-draining soil whenever possible, and water two to three times per week.
Like cucumbers, snap peas are excellent producers. They yield sweet, juicy pods for weeks on end, and their shoots and flowers are great in salads. Children love to eat them right in the garden for a quick snack. Best of all, their leafy vines create a shady area to play and explore. Snap peas like the cooler temperatures of the shoulder seasons, so plant them in early spring for spring harvesting and again in late summer for fall harvesting. Snap peas like rich, well-drained soil and they should be watered three to four times per week using Gilmour’s Thumb Control Watering Nozzle.
Children love pineapple sage because of its bright red trumpet flowers and the fact that it attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds in the fall months. The plant grows quickly and has a striking pineapple scent that is often a surprise at first, given its red blooms. Plant in a space that gets abundant sunshine in well-drained, rich, moist soil. Fertilize consistently during the growing season but take care not to over-water. Water regularly the first few weeks after planting, but once established, pineapple sage really only needs water during drought-like conditions.
Mint is known for its wild appearance and strong, vigorous scent. It is a hardy perennial that needs very little care once established. Kids love it because it will establish quickly, rewarding them with quick results. Mint likes well-drained but moist soil. Most varieties do very well in full sun, but typically can tolerate a bit of shade. Full-grown plants will be 1 – 2 feet tall, but keep in mind, left untamed, mint spreads fast. Prune regularly if a well-shaped plant is the end goal. Water enough to keep soil moist.
While it is not uncommon for many children to dislike the taste of radishes, most kids do love to grow them. They grow very fast, and the small, bright red round roots that appear popping out of the soil are both fun and exciting. Since radishes are ready to harvest in less than 4 weeks, they are extremely gratifying for young gardeners. Plant in the spring or fall, but in the hottest part of the summer, they will bolt – which means they will not produce the edible radish part of the plant. They do like sunny areas and if they do not get enough sun, they will begin putting energy into producing larger leaves rather than a vegetable to harvest. Plant in rich organic matter and water consistently.
Every kid loves growing carrots. There is great satisfaction in pulling the long, brightly colored root from the ground. Carrots can grow in several climates and are generally a cool-weather vegetable. Plant in light, loose soil. Most of the time, soil will need sand added for optimal growth. Be sure to till deep into the ground, as carrots simply will not work hard to grow deep, instead giving up if they hit any clumps in their path. Do not try to transplant carrots – they should be planted directly in the soil where they will grow. Plant in full sun to light shade. Extremely shaded carrots will not grow as abundantly. Soil should remain moist, but water shallowly while seeds are germinating. Do not allow top soil to dry out or crust over.
Borage’s delicate, drooping, star-shaped pale blue blooms that come from hairy, bristly buds are a kid-favorite mostly because the plant is different and fun to watch grow. It is a quick-growing annual but will self-seed and return in future years if left to do so. It produces cucumber-flavored leaves and will attract bees to the garden. Borage likes well-drained soil and full or partial sun best, but this easy-to-grow plant will do well in any type of soil. Keep in mind, though, borage does not tolerate transplanting well. Water evenly until established, and once established, it is fine to allow soil to dry out between waterings.
Squash is by far one of the most thrilling vegetables for kids to grow. It will sprawl, and huge green leaves and vines can spread wide and far, tripling or even quadrupling in size, making squash fascinating for gardeners of any age. Squash grows best in warm weather, and it should be planted in fertile, rich soil. Virtually all varieties of squash, whether growing summer squash or butternut squash, need consistent moisture throughout the growing season.
Pumpkins are a delight to grow. When timed right, it can be easy to harvest your own jack-o-lantern this Halloween. Whether growing small pumpkins for pies, or hoping for a huge pumpkin to carve, pumpkins of any variety take the same amount of time to mature to harvest. Anywhere between 90 and 120 days after planting, pumpkins will be ready to pick. They like full sun but can thrive even if planted in partial shade. Water frequently and deeply and take care to keep leaves and foliage dry to avoid mildew.
Children love to grow lettuce for the simple reason that it is easy, it will grow in both spring and fall and it matures very quickly. While there are many varieties of lettuce, all are fairly easy to take care of, and since it does not need to develop deep roots, lettuce can succeed in a variety of locations around the yard. Lettuce won’t tolerate extreme heat and it should be planted in loose soil. Consider adding organic material to provide it with necessary nutrients and to improve drainage. Water lightly but be consistent. Be careful not to overwater.
Violas are available in many different species, but all are very easy to grow and take care of, making them an ideal plant to use in gardens that children will tend. Viola flowers are edible and the bright, vivid blooms that come in white, yellow, blue, cream and that classic deep violet are a fun and pretty addition in salads, frozen in ice for summer drinks or just as garnish. Plant violas in full sun in rich, well-drained moist soil. Keep soil moist, but do not overwater.
Most herbs are easy to grow, and parsley is no exception. Its lush, full foliage makes it a great companion plant that looks nice when contrasted against brightly colored flowers like petunias. Parsley grows in abundance from spring until the first frost, although in more mild climates, it can be even be frost proof and survive winters. Parsley likes partial shade or full sun, and it should be planted in rich soil. Water thoroughly whenever the topsoil is dry.
Gardening is a life-long hobby that brings people old and young outdoors, and it can be a year-round, relaxing and rewarding activity. Exposing children to it can not only instill a love and appreciation for the outdoors, but also expose them to new and healthy foods that they may be more inclined to try (and love!) since they had a part in growing them. Choosing the right plants, that are easy to grow and will have the best chance at putting on a show for kids to appreciate, is a good way to ensure the garden, and the children’s excitement, pays off.
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