Dakota gardener: Work in the garden with your kids

Carrie Knutson
North Dakota State University Extension Agent, Grand Forks County
Gardening can be a fun learning experience for kids.

Do you have fond memories of gardening?

Or do you avoid anything to do with gardening because of unpleasant experiences, maybe related to garden chores?

My gardening memories are good: weeding on hot summer days listening to my Walkman (yes, I am that old), picking green beans and harvesting sweet corn. The “rosy glow” around my memories explains, in part, why I work with plants and garden at home.

So what are some ways to prevent unpleasant gardening memories with your kids or grandkids, so they continue to garden as they grow?

First, keep in mind that kids will take to gardening in different ways, depending on their age and personalities.

For example, preschoolers like to explore things. Kids ages five to eight like to create, have their own ideas and just do things no matter the result. Don’t expect this age group to accomplish as much in terms of chores. These kids also might require close supervision to prevent any gardening disasters. Sometimes, a garden fence isn’t just to keep the rabbits out!

Children between nine and eleven years old like to do things. Have them make and design plant markers or help build structures such as fences or trellises. They work best with smaller tasks given with short, simple directions.

Give teenagers leadership roles in gardening. Have them research plants, plan the garden, and buy seeds and plants. Help them choose tasks in which they can succeed.

Second, remember when working in the garden, time seems to pass at a different rate for kids. They get hot, thirsty and, frankly, bored more quickly than adults.

Weeding is an unpopular task for any gardener, so don’t be surprised if kids don’t want to weed, either. Encourage kids to do their share of garden weeding. Try setting small, obtainable goals for weeding. Have them take care of one row or bed or a certain number of weeds. Turn it into a contest; the person with the most weeds gets to water first.

Speaking of water, kids love playing with water, but they can require a lot of guidance to get water in the right spot. Teach them how to water correctly: water the soil and not the leaves.

Sometimes, a hose can be hard to manage for younger kids. Fill a large bucket with water and let them scoop water into a smaller container they can carry. For an example, a yogurt cup and a gallon milk jug with the top cut off.

Finally, focus on having fun, rather than working. Remember that involving kids in your gardening chores likely will not reduce your work. In fact, it might even increase the work. But watching them enjoy the fresh peas and tomatoes that they cared for is well worth your efforts. Happy gardening!

For more information about gardening, contact your local NDSU Extension agent. Find the Extension office for your county at www.ag.ndsu.edu/extension/directory/counties.