PUBLISHED IN THE RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
Becoming a parent changes your whole world, and it changes your garden too. With little ones at home, it is a challenge to find time to work in the landscape. And, the landscape itself is different. Play houses and sandboxes encroach upon garden beds, and monster truck rallies and tea parties that occur with reckless abandon may damage garden plants. It can be frustrating to garden around children, so try gardening with them instead.
Make children a part of the planning, planting, maintaining and harvesting process to spend quality time with them and your garden simultaneously. The benefits are endless. Life skills such as responsibility, planning, communicating and problem-solving can be taught in the garden. This outdoor classroom also allows children to make scientific discoveries like how seeds sprout and plants grow; how soil, water and sunlight interact; how beneficial and pest insects impact the garden; and where our food comes from. A love for gardening and the outdoors, as well as the values of patience and hard work, can be passed down from generation to generation in the garden.
To involve children in garden planning, offer kids aged five and younger two choices to grow from, and increase options as they age. Offer plants with larger seeds when they are younger and graduate to plants with smaller seeds as motor skills develop. Have them plant in their own growing space to instill a sense of ownership, responsibility and respect for the garden.
As you develop your kid-friendly landscape plan, do not panic if space is limited. Carve out growing areas with window boxes and containers, or install a vertical garden along the fence or house. Giving into the play-equipment chaos is also effective; build window boxes and green roofs for play houses and dog houses. Or, create living play areas by planting sunflowers, corn or beans in a semi-circle and loosely tying them or trellising them together at the top.
A traditional 3 foot by 3 foot garden bed would also provide more than enough space for your child’s garden. It does not have to be fancy either. Great fun can be had in staking a hula hoop to the ground and planting in it like a pizza with “slices” for each type of plant. Stimulate the senses with a rainbow garden by arranging plants of all colors of the rainbow in a pleasing row or shape.
Plant options for touching and munching include sturdy plants like bush or pole beans, sunflowers and marigolds; sensory plants like begonias (rubbery) and peppers (smooth); and delicious plants like cherry tomatoes or snow peas. Protect plants, and your sanity, from little feet by providing plenty of clearly-marked pathways for walking and playing. Colorful rock or carpet squares work well to direct foot traffic.
Remember, children explore the world around them, including the garden, with all of their senses. Protect curious little gardeners; make sure prickly and poisonous plants are not incorporated into your landscape, and read and follow all label directions on fertilizing and pest-controlling products. Practice food safety principles at all times for safe and healthy harvests.
Ashley Andrews is the Horticulture Assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. For questions about your plants, contact a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.growyourownnevada.com.