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My three-year-old daughter wants a garden.

Last summer, she loved helping me water the flowers, and it was a special treat to pick one. (Although, she was just as happy with a dandelion out of the lawn.) This year, she wants to grow her own. The more I think about it, the more excited I am to plant a children's garden.

I don't have a green thumb. But even if the project fails, the basic materials are simple and inexpensive: Seeds, dirt, and water. And, I am not above sneaking out to the garden center one evening for some imposters, if we end up killing everything. Here's my plan for planting a children's garden, plus eight gardening activities your kids will enjoy.

Why plant a children's garden?

If she has her own garden, my daughter will be out in the sunshine, enjoying nature while she learns how it works. The project will last all summer, unlike a trip to an amusement park. And she will have to be patient while her garden is growing.

As my daughter helps water and weed her plants, she'll learn responsibility. She will also learn how to care for something besides herself. And I can't wait to see the smile on her face when her flowers bloom.

Where to plant?

You can plant a children's garden without a flower bed, or even a yard. A long planter on your porch or deck, or a couple big pots inside, are almost as much fun. Check at a garden center to see what kind of plants grow best in the containers you will use. We're going to plant our children's garden in a small flower bed beside the garage.

What to plant?

Pint-sized gardeners do best with plants that have large seeds, sprout quickly, and grow fast. Avoid plants that are fragile, prone to pests, and have thorns. Don't plant anything that is poisonous when eaten, since your kids may not care whether it's meant to be salad.

Besides flowers, your children's garden can include foods your child likes to eat, such as beans, tomatoes, strawberries, or pumpkins. (Okay, kids don't like to eat pumpkin. But they'll like having one for Halloween.) Of course, you have to pick plants that will grow well in your space and light.

Beans have large, fast-sprouting seeds, as do sunflowers. And both are very tough. Kids like to grow big things, so sunflowers are a good choice. And, they also attract birds for your little birdwatcher. Sunflower blooms follow the sun from East to West during the day, which is a neat feature for your children's garden.

In this article, I can't cover all the different plants you could choose for your children's garden, so I'll focus on sunflowers.

In the resource box, I've included a link to Burpee's site, where you can check out many different sunflower breeds. We're going to try "Sunflower Elf" plants. These grow to only sixteen inches tall, and have blooms that are four inches across.

When to plant?

This depends on where you live. You can plant seeds directly into the ground, but only if there is no risk of a freeze. In my part of Ohio, that's in May.

You can also start the plants indoors about a month before the weather is warm enough to plant outside. This makes the project even more fun for children — they can check for progress every day. And your sunflower seeds will be safe from squirrels and birds, who like to eat them as much as people do.

In the resource box, I've included links to two sites that describe how to start seeds indoors.

Transplanting seedlings

Once your seeds have become seedlings and there is no danger of frost, it's time to plant them outside. This is a big day for your little gardeners! They can help you prepare the soil by digging and turning it so it is loose and ready for planting. Let them go crazy with their shovels and watering cans.

You can mix some compost, potting soil, or Miracle Grow into the soil if you want to, but sunflowers are tough and do well in most types of soil. Follow the directions on the seed packet for planting. Most sunflowers need full sun for at least six hours a day, and grow best if planted a foot apart.

If you are planting germinated or ungerminated seeds, plant them about an inch deep. Cover ungerminated seeds with a berry basket to protect them from animals. Your kids will be sad if nothing grows in their garden.

Sunflower leaves, stems, and leaves produce a substance that inhibits growth of other plants, so don't put them too close to other flowers. The substance is harmless to animals and people.

Maintaining your children's garden

Help your kids water and weed around your sunflower plants until they are about a foot tall, then mulch around them to hold in moisture. Make sure your eager little gardener doesn't overwater.

Depending on the breed, sunflowers take about 100 days to grow to maturity.

Eight gardening activities for kids

It's hard for small children to wait for "something to happen" in their garden. The more activities you can add to the process, the more they will learn and enjoy.

  1. Show them pictures of the plants they will grow — seed packets are handy for this. Have them draw their own pictures of the finished children's garden.

2.The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle is a great book to get from the library, to explain the life cycle of a seed.

  1. Take the kids along to the garden center to shop for supplies.
  2. Consider using the paper towel method to germinate the seeds, so the kids can see fast results. Talk about the fact that not all seeds grow.
  3. Pick a regular time when you and the kids will care for their garden. As you supervise the watering and weeding, talk about how the baby plants need help from the little gardeners. They are taking care of their plants the way you take care of them.
  4. On hot days,have the kids put on their bathing suits and water themselves along with the plants.
  5. Consider buying a kid-sized set of gardening tools. They'll have a blast.
  6. If your kids are growing food plants, have a harvest party. Your kids will be proud of growing food for the family.

Above all, let them get dirty! That's more than half the fun of a children's garden.

Sources

Seeds That Are Easy to Grow! from Redwood Barn Nursery, Davis, CA.

The Sunflower Guide

Fun Facts about Sunflowers

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