Down and dirty family fun everyone will dig

Focus on the fun aspects of gardening and kids will learn, too.

Usually the dirt kids carry in on their hands or clothes and shoes is unwanted. But when the dirt is from a garden, it is an amazing lesson of what can be created when hands get a little dirty.

We asked some gardening pros throughout the region to share with us ideas on how to cultivate a love for gardening at a young age. Here are their ideas:

1. Seek their ideas

“I always tell customers looking to get their kids interested in gardening to lead by example. Have them help when you are planning your gardens. Whether it is vegetables, annuals, trees, shrubs or perennials, having the kids be part of the decision is a great way for them to get involved in the garden,” said Patrick Flanagan, landscape manager and designer at Knollwood Garden and Landscaping Center in Beavercreek.

2. Teach them about nature

Showing them where it all begins will appeal to kids’ curious minds.

“Kids are sponges. They soak up everything around them. They want to learn, so let them. Show them an acorn and then show them a large oak tree, show them a flower seed and then show them the beautiful flower that seed produces,” said Jeff Dorton, landscape designer and salesman at Berns Garden Center and Landscaping in Middletown and Beavercreek. “They will want you to ‘prove it,’ and there is your chance to get them started. Use their senses to get them interested: the sight of a beautiful rose, the smell of a fragrant viburnum, the fuzzy soft leaf of Lamb’s Ear.”

3. Let them watch seeds grow

Jaynellen Dobberstein, second-grade teacher at Parkwood Elementary in Beavercreek, and former adviser of the Nature Nuts Club at the school, said kids love to plant seeds and watch them grow.

“Starting seeds indoors and then transplanting helps kids have a more intimate connection with their plants,” Dobberstein said.

4. Plant a garden they can taste

Starting a garden where kids can eat the fruits or vegetables of their labor will spark their interest and appetite.

“I think vegetable gardening is probably the best way to get kids interested in gardening,” said John Anderson, president of Andy’s Garden, with locations in Piqua and Troy. “They are easy to start, and they can taste the results. If started from seeds, it also gives them a chance to see the growing process from start to finish.

5. Attract butterflies, hummingbirds

“Another way to interest them is to start a butterfly or hummingbird garden. There are lots of plants that will attract either, and both are pretty neat. With butterflies they can see everything from the adults that fly to the cocoon and larvae stages if the garden is done right,” Anderson said.

6. Make it fun, not a chore

Gardening is work, but turning it into a chore will make kids lose heart.

“Don’t make your kids do all the weeding. That’s not the fun part. They need to be involved in everything from selecting the seed or plants to preparing the soil to planting to weeding and fertilizing. You need to be involved in all aspects, also. Don’t make it sound or feel like work,” said Kathy Matousch, manager at Siebenthaler’s in Centerville.

Starting slow is the way to go, especially if you want your kids to grow as gardeners.

7. Celebrate the end result

And at the end of the season, include them in celebrating the results of their hard work.

“Harvest time is what it’s all about; involve them in picking, cleaning, preserving and meal preparation using your fresh veggies. Let them host a Fresh Veggie Party for their friends,” Matousch said.

What to plant

Choosing what to plant can depend on skill level or personal preference.

“Easy-to-grow seeds would be bean seed, lettuce, carrots and tomatoes,” said John Burkhart, owner of Burkharts Nursery and Landscaping in Miamisburg.

Dobberstein suggests pumpkin, lima bean, lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes and flowers like marigolds, daisies, pansies and crocus.

Ideas for nonplanting garden projects

Inspiring kids to garden does not have to be just about plants. There are plenty of crafts or projects that can complement gardening.

Kids can even build a home for whimsical creatures.

“Fairy gardens and evergreen miniature gardens are still very popular. The miniature evergreen garden is somewhat new, and it is a unique take on container gardening. This type of gardening, as with the fairy garden, will make kids think of how best to plan their gardens. Since both gardens are on smaller scales, they are very easy to maintain and fun for the kids to be creative with,” Flanagan said.

Matousch suggests creating a “Bean Teepee.” “Take six to eight stakes and put them in the soil in a circle any width you want. Tie together at the top. Plant Pole Beans around the base of the poles. Water, care for and watch them grow. They get thick enough to crate a ‘tent’ after some time,” Matousch said. “The same can be done with Morning Glories for a cute ‘fairy house’ for little kids.”

In a garden, the sky is literally the limit for decorations.

“Water features such as small or self-contained pools or fountains are easy to install and operate,” Anderson said.

“One of the newest projects is vertical gardening. These are plantings that you actually can hang on a wall. You can build a simple frame or purchase one that is already assembled. Easy to plant and easy to maintain, the vertical garden is an innovative way for kids to see gardening in a totally different way, adults as well,” Flanagan said.

The options for getting kids interested in gardening are varied and abundant, and when it comes to gardening and kids, a little dirt doesn’t hurt.

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