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In the Garden: Help children cultivate interest in gardening

UPDATED: Mon., March 4, 2019

Radishes are a good choice for children’s gardens because they come in fun colors and are ready to harvest quickly. (Shutterstock)
Radishes are a good choice for children’s gardens because they come in fun colors and are ready to harvest quickly. (Shutterstock)

It’s interesting how early childhood experiences can impact a person’s entire life.

In my case, the norm for my family was to be outside, planting and tending a garden. I learned about gardening from my parents and especially from my grandmother, whose love for growing gorgeous flowers and tasty produce was contagious. My three sisters – two of whom are Master Gardeners – grow amazing gardens every year. And here I am, a Master Gardener who’s doing the same and feeling privileged to share my love of gardening with you.

All of us have the opportunity to involve kids in the garden. This year, I’m challenging you to do this with your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews or neighbor kids, because gardening will become a lifelong passion for them.

A child’s first garden should be small and simple so they won’t feel overwhelmed or that tending it is a chore. No matter how you proceed, make it fun.

Choose a sunny location that gets at least six hours of sunlight daily. If the sunniest spot you’ve got is on a deck or patio, use a large container for your child’s garden. Make sure there’s a water source nearby. Plants need to be watered regularly, but the soil should never get sopping wet. Conversely, plants shouldn’t be allowed to completely dry out and wilt.

Let your young gardener pick out some vegetable and flower seeds at the garden center, plant those seeds and watch them grow. Show them how bees pollinate the flowers, or how ladybugs eat aphids. Teach them how to problem-solve if a challenge comes along.

Here are some examples of easy vegetables to grow:

While one might not think of radishes as something kids typically eat, they’re a good choice: radishes come in cool colors, the seeds sprout very quickly and the plants are ready to harvest in about three weeks. Zucchini squash plants are very productive. Cherry or grape tomatoes make great pop-in-your-mouth snacks. What about letting kids grow their own pumpkins? Or consider building a wooden teepee structure that your child can sit inside while pole beans or snap peas climb all over it.

Sunflowers are easy to grow and they’ll attract pollinators. There are giant varieties such as Mammoth Grey Stripe or Titan, which can grow 6 to 14 feet in height. What child wouldn’t love to enter their tall sunflowers in the fair?

While kids might think playing games or using cellphones is a lot more fun than growing a garden, let them use the camera on a phone to chronicle the plants’ growth and provide them with bragging rights. Have them use the phone to help you identify bugs or locate more information on growing specific vegetables.

Seed packets and plant tags provide growing information but you can also ask your local Master Gardeners for advice. Contact them in Spokane County at (509) 477-2181 or in Kootenai County at (208) 446-1680.

If you have never grown a garden before, this is the perfect opportunity for you and your child to learn together. Growing a garden is not difficult and, even if you make a mistake, you can rest assured that your skills will improve each year.

Above all, remember that you are positively impacting a child’s life. And watch for that proud smile when you serve what they grew at a family meal.

For more information about kid’s gardens, watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow A Garden” video on my YouTube channel,

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at

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