Gardening with Kids

Turn digging in the dirt into a lifetime of love and respect for nature with your children.

By Marti Ross Bjornson

Photography by Eric Hurlock

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Top Tips for Novice Gardeners

1. Choose a site with as much sun as possible! If there is no sunny space, you can still plant a garden. Simply choose plants that thrive in shade.

2. Have your soil tested so you know its acidity or alkalinity. (Contact your local extension office.) Treat your soil and garden organically. Don't use chemical pesticides or fertilizers.

3. Do not plan too large a garden. It is far better to begin with a small plot and increase the garden's size when the gardener is ready.

4. Dig the earth in your chosen garden site to loosen the soil. Add some compost to enrich it. Rake it smooth.

5. Keep the garden plan simple. Allow plenty of space for paths (at least 24 inches) and easy access to each plant (no more than a 24-inch stretch).

6. Choose only a few varieties of plants to begin. Add others as you and your young gardener learn how much space and how much attention your garden requires.

7. Choose plants and seeds that are appropriate for your site- sun-loving plants for sunny areas, shade-loving plants for shade. Ask before you buy plants; read the instructions on the seed packet before purchasing.

8. Choose good-quality tools that fit your young gardener's hands. Plastic "toy tools" are not adequate. Many garden tool manufacturers make child-size tools. Ask at your local garden center or check mail-order catalogs. Use tools properly. For safety's sake, never leave a shovel, hoe, or rake with its "working side" up. When it's not in use, stand or lean it securely against a vertical surface, such as a fence or building. Or lay it down, turning the blade/tines toward the ground.

9. As you and your companion(s) begin to plant, offer reasonable instruction, but do not be too particular. Seeds do not need to be planted in a straight row. Plant them in a circle or in a free-form design, or scatter them. Never cry over spilled seed.

10. Try not to walk in the garden right after it rains. It compresses the soil and makes it hard.

11. Wait until the soil is moist before you try weeding. Then pull each weed gently, from its base, to remove the whole root.

12. Another option for those with limited space is to plant in containers. A flowerbox or large flowerpot can brighten your deck, balcony, windowsill, stoop, or stairway. Choose seeds and plants appropriate for the size of the container. (See "Sprouts for Sprouts" below.)

13. Harvest the fruits and blossoms of your garden with wonder and love—and share them with family and friends.

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