Ask the Expert: Starting a Garden with Your Kids

Spring is coming and one of your 2016 resolutions was to start a garden. You'll save money on groceries, eat healthier, and--with any luck--get your kids out in the fresh air (you almost forgot what they look like without a screen in front of their faces). But if you've never gardened with your kids before, it can be hard to figure out just how they can help. We asked expert David Ellis from the American Horticultural Society how to get started. 

Make a plan.

When you involve your kids in the planning process, you start to get them excited about gardening. Go online or order seed catalogs and let your child help choose which plants you'll grow throughout the season. Once you decide what to plant, you can sketch out where each plant will go and how much space you'll need. Even if you don't have an outdoor space, there are still plenty of vegetables--like tomatoes, radishes, and cucumbers--you can grow in window boxes or in pots on a patio or balcony. 

Give them control. 

Give each kid their own area of the garden and let them grow whatever they want there. Watching their vegetables grow will instill a sense of pride and help them feel more confident. You can also let your kids make their own labels for the plants. Just give them a wooden stake and have them draw a picture or and write the name of the vegetable on it. 

Take notes.

Any lined notebook will do for a great nature journal. Ask your child to look at the garden each day and take notes about what they see. If you garden year after year, your child can start to see patterns, like when you normally deal with problems like pests. Instead of being surprised by the infestation, you can be ready to deal with the insects before they arrive in the garden, thanks to your child's notes. 

Read all about it. 

You keep your kids excited about gardening all year around by reading with them. The American Horticultural Society partners with the Junior Master Gardener program to help promote understanding and appreciation for gardening, nature, and the environment. The Junior Master Gardener site even curates a list of great children's books about gardening

Dig in the dirt. 

Of course, gardening involves some digging in the dirt. That's probably why your child was excited about it in the first place, right? With all the digital technology kids have access to today, kids don't always get many opportunities to unplug. Getting your kids outdoors and connected with nature is great because it breaks that cycle of the mind being engaged by the screen. And research shows the earlier a child starts making those connections, the more likely that connection will stick with them throughout their lives. 

David J. Ellis is director of communications for the American Horticultural Society (AHS), a 20,000-member national non-profit gardening organization based in Alexandria, Virginia. In addition to overseeing the Society's communications, he is editor of its bimonthly magazine, "The American Gardener", and has coordinated publication of more than 15 gardening books, including the "AHS New Encyclopedia of Gardening Techniques" (Mitchell Beazley/Octopus, 2009).

Photo by Allen Rokach. 

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