Introduce Your Grandkids to Gardening

Spend quality time in the garden and grow something beautiful together.

By Elizabeth Encarnacion

Gardening can seem like magic to children, and involving them in planting, weeding, and watering offers a wonderful opportunity to spend time together. But antsy youngsters can lose interest when plants don’t put on a show by growing, blooming, or producing fruit rapidly. These helpful tips should put your garden on the fast track to pleasing even the most impatient little sprouts.

Vegetable Gardening

Vegetable gardens provide junior farmers with the added excitement of harvesting their crops, and might even inspire them to try new foods. The spring and summer varieties of radishes are perfect for speedy results; the kids can harvest them within a month after sowing. Other fast-growing veggies include beans, carrots, and many leafy greens, which usually take about 45 to 70 days to go from seed to table. To complete your salad garden, add a few cherry tomato seedlings; they produce delicious fruit with minimum fuss and maximum speed.

While They Are Waiting …

Gardening grandmother Karen Miller of San Jose, Calif., says, “Kids love to see what happens to the seeds they are going to plant, but most of the early action happens under the dirt.” She suggests folding a few green bean or sugar snap pea seeds inside a damp paper towel and having the grandkids spray them with water a few times a day to keep them moist. Let them open the towel daily to check on the seeds and watch the roots grow. Once the first set of leaves is folding out of the seeds, the kids can plant the beans in the garden, gently covering even the leaves with dirt. (The leaves should pop above ground in a day or two.)

Growing avocado vines is another fun way to watch nature at work indoors. Remove the large, brown avocado seed and clean off the fruit residue. Using a toothpick, poke three or four holes into the seed, forming a circle of holes around the middle of the seed. Insert a toothpick into each hole so each toothpick extends an inch or more outside the seed. Use the toothpicks to suspend the seed from the mouth of a clean jar. Fill the jar with enough water so that about a half inch of the seed is submerged. Place the jar in a warm location that gets lots of indirect light. While the seed should begin sprouting roots in as few as ten days, it could take as long as five weeks. Have the kids watch closely for the seed to begin to crack like an egg. Don't worry, that is what it is supposed to do. White roots will shoot downward and green sprouts upward — a living visual to teach the kids about how plants grow.

Sunflowers Sprout Quickly

Big yellow sunflowers are crowd-pleasers that have the added benefit of a short germination time. Most varieties of sunflower seeds sprout within a week or two, giving eager young gardeners a swift return on their investment. These giant plants will take two or three months to fully mature and produce flowers; to keep your grandchildren engaged in the flowers' growth, have them measure and chart how tall the plants grow each week.

Design Something Beautiful Together

To get the beauty of spring flowers without the months-long wait, buy potted bulbs such as tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths at a local garden center. Find healthy-looking plants whose flowers have not opened yet. Have the kids repot them in pretty ceramic pots for indoor display or transplant them in your garden for a speedy crop of spring flowers perfect for cutting.

Together, fill in summertime flowerbeds with trays of cell-packed annuals like pansies and impatiens. Take the budding gardeners to the local nursery, where they can help choose seedlings with dark green leaves and a combination of flower buds and open flowers. Plant the annuals in your garden for an instant color explosion, and keep the grandkids involved with frequent deadheading (pinching off the dead flowers) that encourages more buds to form.

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