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Gardening Fun for Kids

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By Becky Russell, Colorado Master GardenerSM, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, Denver County

If children's first experiences with gardening are fun and successful, chances are good that they'll develop a green thumb that will stay with them for life.

Children delight in the unexpected. Many of our favorite garden vegetables are now available in unusual colors or sizes. Speckled beans, yellow pear tomatoes, red carrots, miniature cucumbers are all fun even for experienced adult gardeners. It is very rewarding for adults and children alike to eat
produce harvested out of their own garden. The funny colors just add spice to the experience.

Bean seeds are big enough for children to handle easily. They can go directly into the garden after the last frost date when the soil is warm. "Purple Queen" is a bush bean variety that doesn't require support. Its beans are purple when ripe so it is easy to spot them at harvest time. They turn green when cooked.

Radishes have small seeds, but they germinate and mature quickly so they might be just the ticket for an impatient child. The variety called "Easter Egg" produces a mix of red, purple and white radishes and matures in just 30 days. The seeds can be sown directly in the garden. Let the children scatter them and then cover the area with soil if lining up rows is too tedious. Thin them out after they germinate if the sprouts are crowded. If the family can't eat them all, share extras with a rabbit!

"Yellow pear" is a cherry tomato that produces loads of sweet, bite-sized yellow fruits. Children enjoy picking and munching them right from the plant. Tomato plants are available at this time of year in nurseries and garden centers. Be sure to "harden off" your plant purchases at home by keeping them outdoors in a sheltered area for several days before transplanting them into the garden.

"Jack Be Little" is a variety of miniature pumpkin which produces lots of 3-4 inch orange pumpkins. They are edible and also make great seasonal decorations for fall. The seeds are big enough for young children to handle and they will enjoy making a planting mound for them. They will also be proud to harvest all the little pumpkins at the end of the season.

Birdhouse gourd, Lagenaria siceraria, produces fruits 10 to 12 inches long that can be dried and kept for decoration. This plant can be grown on a trellis as a vine or can sprawl on the ground. There are also other gourd varieties available in different colors and sizes which might appeal to children who would rather look at their vegetables than eat them!

In the flower department sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, are a rewarding crop. Variety "Mammoth" will grow to 9-12 feet tall and produce huge flower heads loaded with edible seeds. Put them up against a fence and tie them up for support if they get really top heavy. Show the kids how the flower faces turn during the day to follow the sun.

Four o'clocks, Mirabilis jalapa, are another plant that is sensitive to the sun. They are bushy plants with trumpet-shaped flowers of pink, yellow or white that open in the late afternoon. They are also fragrant. The seeds are big enough for children to plant easily. Seed packets and catalogs advise planting in full sun, but they will do well in our climate with an eastern exposure that gets morning sun. Four o'clocks reseed easily so you can enjoy them again next year while you and the children move on to a new plant project.

Nasturtiums, Tropaeolum spp., are edible flowers of red, pink, orange, or yellow. They aren't too particular about sun exposure or soil. Seed directly in the garden. Just be sure to explain that edible blossoms are the exception and not the rule before you add a few blossoms to the evening salad!

And don't forget snapdragons, Antirrhinum majus, a flower children have loved for generations. It is fun to pinch the blossoms gently to make the dragon's mouth open. Snapdragons come in many colors and sizes.

Two easy and appealing perennial plants might fit your space and tickle your child's fancy. Lamb's ear, Stachys byzantina, with its fuzzy succulent leaves and silvery green color is a nice edging plant for a flower garden or path. Children love touching and stroking it because it really does feel like a lambıs ear. It will come back next year, a source of pride and enjoyment for the young gardener.

Hens and chicks, Sempervivum tectorum, is a succulent plant that spreads by producing offsets that look like miniatures of the mother plant. It is hardy, doesnıt require much water, and will grow to fill in nooks and crannies in almost any sunny part of a garden. Before you know it you will have an extended family of hens and chicks and your child can consider herself the proud parent!

These plants appeal to the kid in any of us. Let new gardeners start with fun and easy plants and let curiosity and wonder about growing things naturally take root. Before you know it you'll have enthusiastic assistants for future gardening projects.

Photograph courtesy of Carl Wilson.

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İ CSU/Denver County  Extension Master Gardener 2010
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Date last revised: 01/05/2010