Gardening with Kids

Gardening with kids can be done at any age, in any size yard (or apartment!), and requires very little equipment to start. The benefits of gardening with kids are nearly endless. They learn patience, biology, where food comes from, how to try new things, and studies have shown that gardening can even improve health!

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Father and daughter planting seeds in a raised bed garden
Gardening with kids can be done at any age!

Benefits of Gardening with Kids

Time Spent Outside

Research has shown that spending time outside reduces stress, teaches kids risk assessment, reduces obesity, improves executive function, and has many other benefits. Many research studies have been done in this area, including systematic reviews.

Patience

Fruits, vegetables, and flowers take weeks to months to grow. Watching the small changes over time and daily caring for what is planted helps develop patience.

Exposure to Healthy Foods

Kids are more likely to try a food if they have put in all the work of growing it themselves. I have seen our kids turn down grocery store carrots but happily try one they picked on their own. To have kids be even more invested, let them help choose what things they would like to grow.

Learning About Biology and Sustainability

Encouraging kids to participate in gardening allows them to see how much work goes in to growing things, the amount of time it takes, and that food really comes originally from the ground – not the grocery store.

Toddler in a green dress reaching for a raspberry
When kids harvest their own food they are more likely to taste it!

Getting Started Gardening

Basics

Determine what space you have for a garden and then decide what you want to grow. Most fruits and vegetables will require a decent amount of sunlight, so keep that in mind when choosing your location.

You can start small with some potted flowers like marigolds or potted cherry tomatoes. If you have the space and budget for it, raised garden beds are great because you can control the soil, water, and pests more easily than a garden in the ground.

Equipment

Your equipment will depend on what and how much you want to grow. To start, you really only need a few plants, a little space, water, and sunlight. If you start to garden more, you may consider getting things like gardening gloves, gardening tools, and timed watering systems, but to just start gardening with kids you really need very little!

Finding Your Planting Zone

The USDA has a map where you can type in your zip code and it will display what plant hardiness zone you live in. Knowing your zone will help you determine when to plant various fruits and vegetables. Look on the back of seed packets to determine temperature for sowing, spacing, sunlight requirements, and days for germination.

Girl in a blue puffy coat planting potatoes
Planting potatoes in early spring

Protecting Plants From Critters

There is nothing more disappointing than working hard on cultivating special plants and then coming out one morning to find they have been eaten by slugs, deer, caterpillars, or even in one case at our house – escaped chickens. When you plant, think about what animals live in your area and steps that can be taken to prevent them from destroying your work.

Physical barriers like fences, raised beds, or netting helps with deer, squirrels, and rabbits. Repellents like mint or cayenne can help keep some creatures away, and physical things like scarecrows or motion-activated sprinklers also work to deter animals. Hungry pests can be pretty persistent in trying to eat gardens though, so often physically protecting the plants somehow is the best option.

Girl in a flower dress standing in front of raised garden beds
Raised garden beds and high fences help protect plants from critters

Composting

Food waste is the largest component of US landfills (24%!) according to the National Environmental Education Foundation. They report that 30-40% of food goes uneaten in the US. Composting leftovers reduces that discarded food being transported to a landfill using energy and also means it won’t take up space in a landfill. Compost is also incredibly beneficial for gardens.

Composting does not have to be complicated! We keep a 1.5 gallon garbage can with a lid in our kitchen for kitchen scraps. When the container is full, we dump it in our stand-alone compost bin outside. The compost bin naturally compacts over time and we take out the compost from the bottom and add it to our garden each year before we plant. It is important not to compost meat or dairy products. The EPA has guidelines for getting started with composting.

Toddler in a yellow rain suit holds two seed packets
Compost covers the garden bed as it is getting prepared for planting

Tips for Gardening with Kids

Start Small

My number one piece of advice for gardening with kids is to start small! If things go well you can always add more things the next year, but if you plant too much and it becomes overwhelming to take care of, everyone will be disappointed and it stops being fun. If this is your first time growing things with kids, just pick two or three things to grow.

Two kids dump out a wheelbarrow of mulch in a flower bed
Even helping with flower bed mulch gives kids a sense of accomplishment

Best Things for Kids to Grow

The best things for kids to grow are plants that grow quickly, look or taste good, and do not take a lot of tending. Here are some of my top picks for starting out with kids:

Sunflowers

These are popular to grow because it is easy to grow just one, they can start in a little cup, are easy to transplant, grow so tall, and have an amazing flower! The seeds are also edible or can be used for bird feed!

Carrots

These can grow in most climates, sprout in 2-3 weeks, and have a long season of harvesting. It is so fun for kids to choose which carrot to pull and see the long orange vegetable that has grown! Carrot seeds are very small and it is important to thin them as they grow to make sure the remaining carrots have enough space to grow.

Beans

Beans should be planted outside, not started inside. Bush beans are short enough for kids to harvest and are a lot of fun for kids to search for and harvest.

Pumpkins

Pumpkins do need more space than some of the other plants, but watching them grow over the summer and slowly turn orange is very rewarding. Smaller pie pumpkins can be made into a delicious dessert or growing large jack-o-lantern pumpkins can be carved at Halloween and the seeds eaten as a delicious treat.

Snap Peas

These usually sprout within 10 days and are ready to harvest earlier in the season than other crops, usually only 6-8 weeks. A quick sprout and harvest makes snap peas rewarding for kids to grow!

Cherry Tomatoes

Bright and juicy, cherry tomatoes can be grown in pots, raised beds, or garden beds and can produce throughout the summer so they can continue to be harvested. These are easier to buy as starts than to start them from seeds for beginners. Cherry tomatoes can be planted as part of a pizza garden too!

Radishes

These are great for kids because they come up quickly after being planted – within 5-10 days! They are ready to harvest within only 3-5 weeks. You can enjoy eating radishes or use them to make a natural pink or red dye.

Blonde girl with glasses holding two large carrots
Carrot harvest

Kids Gardening Tools

Kids need very little for gardening tools, but it can be fun to get a few tools to get them excited about gardening. I always recommend getting real tools that can actually do work rather than flimsy plastic toy gardening sets, no matter the kid’s age.

Gloves

Many garden centers carry child-sized gardening gloves but you might need to order online for extra small sizes. You can choose either cotton gloves which are easier to move hands in or rubber coated gloves that are better for gardening activities that may have thorns/thistles or a lot of carrying to avoid blisters. It is also totally fine for kids to just get their bare hands dirty too.

Watering Cans

If you start getting more into gardening, setting up a sprinkler or irrigation system with a timer can save you a lot of time. If you just have a few plants for the kids to take care of, kids love getting to use watering cans. Once adult-sized watering cans are filled with water they are usually too big and heavy for kids to carry so getting a child-sized watering can is better for kids (and safer for the plants so they are not over-watered or crushed!) We usually fill up a 5-gallon bucket so the child-sized watering can is easy for the kids to refill by themselves instead of needing to go back to the hose or faucet over and over.

Toddler girl waters marigolds with a small watering can
Child-size watering cans let kids help more easily!

Boots

Sturdy rain boots are perfect for gardening since gardening can often turn muddy. We love both Bogs boots and Stonz Boots. Of course, if it is a warm day and you live in an area where you don’t need to worry about snakes or scorpions, kids benefit from just going barefoot in the garden!

Crocs

If the weather is warmer, crocs are a fantastic gardening shoe for both kids and adults. We don’t recommend crocs for hiking, biking or more intense outdoor activities, but our whole family likes them for gardening. They can be slipped on and off easily and can be hosed down to clean off dirt and mud. We’ve found name-brand crocs hold up quite a bit better than knock-off Amazon ones.

Other Garden Equipment

I recommend getting real metal and wood tools for kids because flimsy plastic toy kids are incredibly frustrating and can break easily. Kids will feel more empowered to participate in gardening if they have real tools. This set is child-sized but still made from quality materials. We own this Stanley kids wheelbarrow and our kids have used it to help with yard work and weeding.

Hats and Sunscreen

Anytime kids are out in the sun they should have proper sun protection. Check out our favorite sun hats and natural sunscreen recommendations for gardening or any fun you have in the sunshine.  

Garden Journaling

Two months can be a long time for kids to wait to harvest what they have planted. In order to track the progress of their plants and to keep them engaged, keeping a garden journal (similar to a nature journal) can be a great tangible way to see that their plant has actually grown. There are pre-made garden journals for kids, or you can make your own out of a plain notebook.

Two kids dump out mulch with a gator
Helping fill the flower beds with mulch

Themed Gardening Ideas for Kids

If kids are having a hard time choosing what to grow, deciding on a themed garden can be a fun way to have ownership of their project. These are just a small sampling of ideas for themed gardens.

Fairy Gardens

Fairy gardens have endless opportunities for imaginative play and kids can be very involved with planning and modifying the garden. Choose a spot in your yard to set aside for a fairy garden. Choose some greenery to plant – hostas, ferns, and moss varieties all work well. To add some color, plant flowers like marigolds, impatients, petunias, or alyssum.  

Fairy houses can be made from loose parts found in your yard or they can be purchased from a craft store. The dollar store even has fairy garden décor from time to time. Use small pebbles to make fairy walkways, tie or glue twigs together to make ladders, and use moss for the roof of a house. If you want your fairy garden to last year-round, you might consider planting it in a container so it can be taken inside during the winter.

Girl holds two twigs creating a fairy garden
Using things found in the yard to create a fairy home

Flower Gardens

If space is limited or you want to keep things simple, help kids choose a few kinds of flowers to grow.

Marigolds are hearty and can be started indoors or planted directly outside when it is warm enough. They can be planted in the spring all the way to the middle of summer. They do best in the sun but can also be grown in some shade. They can be grown in pots or directly in the ground.

Zinnias are also hearty – they prefer not to be transplanted but can be planted directly outside after the last frost. If you plant new seeds every week or so, you can extend the amount of time you will be able to have flowers. Zinnias are wonderful flowers to cut for a bouquet in a vase! You can save zinnia seeds for the next year by drying the seeds in a paper bag and storing them through the winter.

Sunflowers are exciting for kids because varieties like American Giant can grow up to 4m tall! Sunflowers should be grown in full sun but can be started indoors or directly planted outside. Sunflowers that grow tall might need to be tied loosely to a stake next to them so they don’t tip over.

Girl standing in front of plates of vegetables at a country fair
Our kids enter their vegetables in our local fair

Herb Gardens

Herbs like oregano, thyme, cilantro, parsley, chamomile, chives, mint and more are handy to have available to enhance flavor in dishes, typically don’t take up a lot of space, and can often be grown indoors or outdoors. Kids may enjoy making their own homemade mint tea, adding fresh basil to their pizza, or chopping up some chives for their baked potato. If you want to keep it really simple, you can buy a kit or if you want to save money, getting some dollar store pots and herb seeds works just as well. 

Pizza Gardens

Growing a themed pizza garden can be exciting for kids because they can be involved from planting all the way through baking! It can be as simple as growing some tomatoes and basil for a margharita pizza or as complex as growing onions, garlic, and oregano for creating a homemade sauce.

Kitchen Scrap Gardens

Kitchen scrap gardens are made from things that you would typically throw away in your kitchen. Oranges, lemons, limes, avocados, mangos, potatoes, garlic, and more can be tried. Warn kids that often seeds from grocery store fruit will not actually produce more edible fruit, but can be a fun thing to try to grow. Sometimes non-organic produce is treated specifically so it will not sprout.  There are some vegetables that do really well re-growing from scraps. Our family has grown several avocado plants from seed. Our climate is too cold for them to be outdoor in the winter but they are great indoor plants. 

Avocado pit in a container of water with toothpicks
Avocado pit in water that will hopefully sprout

Butterfly Gardens

A butterfly sanctuary not only is a great way to support these pollinators, but is great fun for kids to observe. Choose a sunny location and plant flowers that butterflies enjoy such as black-eyed Susans and asters. Including rocks or broad-leafed plants for the cold-blooded butterflies to warm themselves on encourages them to stay along with providing a water source of damp sand in a bowl. You will need to research what caterpillars and butterflies are native to your specific area. Kids may also enjoy making a DIY butterfly feeder to include near the butterfly garden.

There are endless ways gardening can be done with kids, the trick is finding what works best for your family! It can be as simple as growing a single sunflower in a paper cup, or planting rows and rows of all kinds of fruits and vegetables if you have the time and space for it. No matter what, it should be a non-stressful learning activity. Give yourself and your kids a lot of grace as you learn about gardening together!

Girl in a pink dress planting marigold seeds
Planting marigold seeds on the edge of the garden

Have Fun and Get Dirty!

Getting into the garden with kids is a great way to spend some time together and enjoy the earth around you!

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Gardening with Kids

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Author

  • Kara and her husband Seth are a Pacific Northwest family of 5. They enjoy camping, hiking, mountain biking, and getting outside in all kinds of PNW weather. They enjoy homeschooling, visiting National Parks, and growing some of their own food! You can follow along on their adventures on Instagram @karalswanson.

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