While there is a lot to do in the garden, endless weeding doesn’t come across as appealing to anyone—least of all your kids. In order to prevent garden maintenance from seeming onerous, try the following tips to keep it fun and engaging for the whole family:
- Mulch magic. Mulch is one of your best friends in the garden—it cuts way down on weeds, and helps conserve water in the soil as well. There is no single best material for mulch—I recommend an organic material that will break down over time and improve the soil, as well as a material that is locally available. This could be pine straw here in the southeast, or bark mulch, or even a thick layer of newspaper covered with leaves or straw. At my own home I have a lot of trees, so we create our own mulch by shredding the autumn leaves with the lawnmower. The result is a great mulch, and I feel good that I am not adding bags of leaves to the local landfill. I add a thick layer of leaves 2-4 inches deep to all my garden beds in the fall. As the leaves break down they enhance the soil by adding wonderful organic matter. When I plant new flowers and veggies in the spring I dig through the leafy mulch, turning some of it into the soil in the process, and then add more after planting to prevent weeds from taking hold.
- Weeding wizards. Yes, weeding is a part of gardening, but it doesn’t have to be a burdensome chore. Keep it light and fun. First off, don’t let the weeds get to be taller than your children before you pull them; instead, make a tour of the garden once or twice a week to scout for new little encroaching weeds and pull them while they’re small. If your child has a difficult time distinguishing between weeds and sprouts of plants that you want, then focus in on just one type of weed at a time. Proclaim a ‘weed of the day’ and show them a sample, then have a contest to see who can find the greatest number of that specific weed. (It goes without saying that you should choose whatever weed is most prolific in the garden for your weed of the day.) The winner becomes the Weeding Wizard for the day. It can become a kind of a scavenger hunt, providing a lot of fun and some great quality time in the garden for you and your kids.
- Dig in! Kids simply love to dig. They can expend endless energy and will generate great enthusiasm digging around and playing in the soil. There are a lot of discoveries to make in digging: small leaves, twigs, and rocks that make up the soil… different types and textures of soil… the joys of mud pies when water is added… engineering feats to be achieved in creating holes, tunnels, and caves for small imaginary villages… insects that make their home in the soil… and best of all, earthworms! If you have young kids—toddlers to middle elementary—leave a little patch of your garden open as a digging zone. They will want to continue their digging adventures long after the planting is done!
- Wonders of water. Kids like watering even more than they like digging. Try to make it as easy as you can for them to water their plants. It’s a wonderful natural lesson in taking responsibility, and helps them learn to think beyond themselves in caring for living things. Plus, it’s just fun! I worked with a daycare center a few years back to create a small garden for their kids, and watering was their absolute favorite activity. To make it easy for them to be independent in their watering, we placed a large storage bin under the faucet and used it as a sort of watering trough. When it was garden maintenance time, we simply turned on the faucet and let the bin fill with water. We kept a bunch of small child-sized watering cans by the bin, so that the kids could help themselves to water. Several of them at a time could fill their watering cans in the watering trough. They could handle the diminutive watering cans with ease, and the small volume that the containers held ensured that they would not overwater and ‘drown’ the plants. They were wonderful caretakers, and loved that they could be independent and do it themselves.
What tips and tricks do you have up your sleeves to help keep garden maintenance fun for kids and the entire family? I’d love to hear them!