Nurturing a love of gardening in kids

I have never been much of a gardener. And when I use the term “gardener,” I mean it in the traditional, vegetable sense — someone who grows things like cucumbers and lettuce for consumption. Though we grew a zucchini to gold-ribbon-winning size during our first summer of marriage, the tomatoes and carrots and strawberries we have attempted to nurture in subsequent years have failed to thrive.

Fortunately, we have fared much better planting annuals into containers, and raising children to help with this yearly task.

A pot of dirt itches for little hands.

I’ll admit when they were younger I was loathe to involve the kids in anything involving dirt and water. It was a huge, messy, Jackson Pollock-inspired brown splat-down on the patio after the petunias found a home. But now that Avery can submerge a marigold into soil without prematurely dead-heading it, and Bennett can use a small watering can to water mostly plants (with only the occasional drenching of Crocs and concrete), it’s almost a pleasant experience.

Gardening gloves at least keep the dirt out from under fingernails.

Not only are you beautifying the yard, you’re teaching your children about caring for something. And if they help plant the flowers, you’ll get buy-in — they’ll help water them and dead-head them too.

The best part about planting is watering the end result.

Still, you need to supervise this whole process, or you may end up with all 24 marigolds in one tiny pot, or your son might unceremoniously “plant” a four-pack of snap dragons inside the potting soil bag, or the hose will likely stay on and dribble water onto the wood chips for 30 minutes. (To put these hijinks out of your mind, I highly recommend planting a container with mint. One word: mojitos.)

I’ve been doing the annual flower plant with kids now for six seasons and suggest the following tips to keep them engaged (and you sane):

  • Let them water. So your two-year-old waters the lawn and the rocks. As long as he’s not dumping the can over your head, it’s all good.
  • Let them get their hands dirty. Plan ahead and dress the kids in play clothes and have them wear gardening gloves. They will love it and you won’t worry about them ruining an outfit or catching some weird soil bacteria.
  • Along those lines: banish the mess from your mind. There will be A LOT of loose soil that becomes mud on the patio or deck. Chill. Mix another mojito. You can sweep up the dirt after it dries.

Now, doesn’t that look nice? Do your kids help you “garden”? Do you prefer the process or the end result?

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