When you’re working in your garden, time tends to float away like leaves on a breeze.
Many of us remember gardening with our parents or grandparents when we were children, but not all of us have kept up on the hobby because of our frantic lives. If you want to get your child more interested in the beauty of the outdoors and gardening just like when you were a kid, here are a few month-to-month tips on gardening and getting your child growing on the path towards gardening.
January can be a bit of a lonely month for gardeners in Indiana. It’s cold, snowy, and gray outside, and all we have are plans for the future. Most of us, kids included, would rather sit inside and stream movies. But for gardeners, this is the month where it all begins.
This month, start talking with your children about the concepts of gardening: the process of how a seed grows and matures, the nutrients needed to grow, and the different types of pests that will attack each plant.
Start a gardening journal with your children so they can look back at it and the end of the year and make different gardening decisions next year.
Decide what you want to grow and if you want to start from seeds or sprouted plants (if you do want to start with seeds, now’s the time to purchase them).
If you’re a first-time gardener, it may be best to stick with pots, but if you have an established garden, start plotting out what you’re going to plant and where it will live in the garden and how much spacing each plant will need.
Now that you have your seeds ordered (do it before February ends and it’s too late!), you can create fun signs with your children to help you remember which plant is in which in each pot or in the garden (when they’re growing and leafy, they can all look the same!). Get creative and colorful!
Prepare or repair any tools you may need for the coming season. If you’re planning to start seeds indoors, now is the time to get started with cool-season seeds. The Purdue Extension website is a great resource for more information on this.
Work with your kids to learn about proper soil mixtures and nutrients for plants, and learn how to recognize plant ailments such as over-fertilizing, insect bites, bacterial infections, and overwatering.
If you’re starting seeds indoors, now is the time for warm weather seeds. If you have an established garden, this month you’ll be removing winter mulch and old, dead, damaged, and decaying growth from last year’s plants in your garden. If you have flowers growing outside, look for these to start sprouting and show your kids what they look like. This is a great opportunity to discuss plant life cycles.
Playing in the rain can be fun, and kids definitely love stomping in puddles, but when it comes to gardens that’s a no-go. April is typically rainy in northern Indiana, and while it’s going to be tempting to get out in the garden, make sure the soil isn’t too wet or you’ll risk compacting the soil and making it harder for plants to grow. Work with your kids to understand that patience is key when planting in the garden.
If you’re planting in pots you can start putting some of the hardier cold weather plants outside this month, but watch for freezing temperatures at night and remember to bring them inside.
The last frost date in Michiana can sometimes go into the first part of May, so watch the weather with your children and discuss how the weather affects your actions in the garden and how you can use it to plan your daily and weekly gardening.
The Purdue Extension has a great guide for planting dates in northern Indiana.
Continue planting the rest of your garden! Depending on the size of your garden, this can be some of the toughest work (okay, weeding is the toughest), but this can also be the most fun. Figure out the best day for planting and have fun!
In May, pests will begin to appear. Check your plants each day for pests such as insects and diseases. If you find something, use the opportunity to teach your children about insect and disease life cycles and how to treat pests. Organic pest control methods are the safest for both kids and pets.
JUNE TO SEPTEMBER
Some of your plants will start becoming ready to harvest this month (strawberries, anyone?). Watch with your children as harvestable vegetables begin to grow on plants, and they’ll begin to see the fruits of their labors.
Weeds start to become more of a problem these months (ugh, and they never stop). Continue to mulch through these months to prevent weed growth, and pull young weeds early before they become a problem (or don’t and show your kids the importance of weeding early!).
Water and fertilize as needed.
OCTOBER AND NOVEMBER
Start removing plant debris from your garden or pots for next year, and compost the debris. Continue the discussion of plant life cycles with your children and how removing this debris and putting it in a compost pile helps reduce the carryover of weeds, disease, and insects for next year. This is a great guide to starting a compost pile.
Continue harvesting until frost hits.
The season has finally come to an end. Use this month to properly store any chemicals or tools you may have used during the gardening season. Give your garden (or pots) a once-over and remove any remaining plant debris or extra materials such as synthetic mulch.
Now that the gardening season has ended, review the year with your kids. Talk about your child’s gardening journal and talk about what you will do differently next year: what worked, what didn’t, what plants did they like, what plants did they not like.
Of course, there’s much more to gardening than words on a page; it’s about the experience and the time spent doing something worthwhile. So get out there with your kids and get some dirt under your fingernails!