Summer Gardening Projects Let Kids Get Dirty and Keep Parents Happy

Posted on Jun 9, 2016
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Kids are counting down the days until school is out for the summer. Don’t we all remember that feeling?

If you’re a parent, you have a different perspective. Something like, “oh no, how am I going to keep the kids busy and out of trouble all summer!”

Why not encourage your kids to do something that comes naturally? Encourage them to get their hands dirty in fun gardening activities. Take advantage of San Diego’s summer weather to work on projects outdoors when it’s cool enough, and indoors when the sun is a little too strong.

Kids can enjoy simple gardening tasks like watering at an early age.

Kids can enjoy simple gardening tasks like watering at an early age.

There are many age appropriate opportunities for gardening and art projects that will instill a love of nature that will last a lifetime. Watching a seed grow seems like magic to a kid. I’ll never forget the grapefruit seed my grandfather and I planted and grew a small tree from it. Watching hummingbirds and butterflies visit flowers they’ve grown, or eating fruits and veggies from their own garden is amazing stuff to a kid.

You want your kids’ first projects to be successful. Choose plants that are easy to grow. There is no sense in growing hard-to-please plants with specific requirements, or plants not suitable for our climate. Low-maintenance is a plus.

We hardly need to remind parents how impatient kids can be. They want it all now! Quick growing plants will keep your kids involved. Think sunflowers and cherry tomatoes, for example.

For a start, let your kids do all the dirt digging. Shovels or hands, it doesn’t matter. Teach them how deep each planting hole needs to be. Add mulch or whatever soil amendments are right for your area. Ask your local nursery.

Sunflowers are an ideal flower for kids to grow.

Sunflowers are an ideal flower for kids to grow.

Some of our favorite plants for kids:

Sunflowers. Sunflowers are easy to grow, fast, and inexpensive. They’ll grow nearly anywhere with enough sun and a little water. There are many kinds. Grow from seeds. Plan them in a sunny spot protected from the wind. Against a fence or wall is perfect. Get your kids involved in a competition to see whose sunflower is tallest! Watch birds visit the flowers, but save a few seeds to grow your next crop. The main pest is slugs, so watch for them.

Strawberries. What kid doesn’t like strawberries? It’s easy to plan a terracotta strawberry pot and they are easy to find. You get great results from just a little effort. Strawberry pots are the perfect project if you don’t have any garden space. They fit on a porch, patio, or even a balcony. And one of our most successful edible plants for living walls are strawberries. Ask for help at the nursery to buy different types of strawberry seedlings that produce strawberries at different times and you will have a crop all summer. Many have pretty leaves and flowers too.

Don't you think your kids would get excited seeing all the different colors of cherry tomatoes? You don't see this in the grocery store.

Don’t you think your kids would get excited seeing all the different colors of cherry tomatoes? You don’t see this in the grocery store.

Tomatoes. Tomatoes are nearly foolproof. You can grow them in the ground, in pots, or even with an aquaponic Tower Garden or edible wall. Choose cherry tomatoes for the youngest kids. Get a headstart with seedlings. Have your kids check the plants daily for pests like tomato worms and slugs, eww. They can drop them into soapy water. Or feed them left over beer from the bottom of the can.

Catnip. If your family includes a cat, grow catnip. Most cats go crazy for it. It grows both from seeds which can be started in small clay pots inside. When the plants spout, you can put them outside in the ground or on a patio. When the catnip is eight to ten inches long, cut it and tie it into bundles. Hang it upside down to dry in a dark, dry area like a closet. It will take a few weeks to dry. Then cut open a small cat toy, stuff it with catnip leaves, seal it and watch kitty go crazy over its treat.

Herb gardens are an easy and satisfying project for kids learning how to garden.

Herb gardens are an easy and satisfying project for kids learning how to garden.

Herb Garden. Explore the senses with an indoor herb garden. All you need is a sunny spot. You can transplant starters from nurseries nearly anywhere. Choose herbs for fragrance, for texture, for color, and shape.

Other types of summer nature projects:

Nature Scavenger Hunt.  If you aren’t up for gardening, take your kids on a scavenger hunt to a local park or public garden, or on a safe trail that is age appropriate. Make a list of the plants and other items easily found. Make it easy for the younger kids, tougher for the older kids. It gets your kids out of the house and moving around, and it will teach them about nature. You could even do this during a visit to the San Diego County Fair. Award a prize to whoever finds all the items the quickest and most accurately.

Garden Art Labels. When the sun is beating down midday, move the kids inside and get crafty. Have them create garden labels. They can make crop signs with construction paper and popsicle sticks or even plain chopsticks. Another fun way is with rocks. Use patio paint to cover the top of a round shaped rock (not the bottom where it contacts the soil). Then use a paint pen or Sharpie to write the crop name. Here’s a great tutorial with photos. Thank you Crafts by Amanda!

Remember what a phone book is? If you still have one around, it makes a perfect flower press.

Remember what a phone book is? If you still have one around, it makes a perfect flower press.

Press Flowers. This is such an old fashioned activity it will seem brand new to the smartphone generation of kids. Find pretty flowers in your garden or get some from a friend. (Don’t pick flowers from someone else’s property without permission). Lay the flowers flat between a few sheets of paper. Press them flat between the pages of a large book and close it. Or get thick paper sheets and put the flowers in between. Pile heavy objects or other books on top and leave for a few days. Don’t peek! You can then glue them to a pretty background or put them in a frame.

Veggie Stamps. Have you ever used russet potatoes cut into shapes as stamps? You can use many types of veggies and fruits as stamps. If you have items past their prime, don’t let them go to waste. Cut potatoes, yams, apples, pears, carrots, turnips, even peppers into shapes. Carve designs into them. Wash, pat dry, then dip into water-soluble paint or dyes and stamp away. You can stamp brown paper and use it as wrapping. Or stamp cardboard boxes and use them for storage, pet toys, books, anything at all.

Do you have some nature inspired summer projects of your own? Share them on our Facebook page. We also love to see photos of your kids and their projects. Share them with us all summer long.