Beginner Gardeners: Plants to try with little green thumbs

2014-04-03T08:30:00Z Beginner Gardeners: Plants to try with little green thumbsChristine Bryant Times Correspondent
April 03, 2014 8:30 am  • 

As Spring weather is just starting to show itself, gardeners are busy planning this year's bounty.

If your little ones are eager to join and learn more about the craft of gardening, experts say there are certain plants and seedlings that are better at shaping your children's interests in gardening.

"The main thing that you have to remember with gardening with kids is to keep it fun and simple," said Donnee Smith of Lake County Master Gardeners.

Before picking out which plants to purchase, Smith suggested spending time with kids learning about which ones grow best in this region, which pests may be attracted to plants of interest and what to do to combat them, and learning about the plant cycle of life.

Here are some go-to plants for parents beginning a garden with their kids:

Potatoes - Bill Maynard, president of the American Gardening Association, said potatoes are fun for kids because potatoes come in a variety of colors and sizes. "The kids love to hunt for them when they are ready," he said. "They never know how big the potatoes will get. It's like an Easter egg hunt."

Bush or pole beans - Kathleen Van Arsdel, Porter County Master Gardener, said bush or pole beans are very easy to grow. "They're versatile, and are very tasty with other veggies, especially tomatoes," she said. "They're also great fresh to eat straight out of the hand."

Leaf lettuce - Lettuce is a very fast grower - perfect for impatient little ones - but it needs attention to moisture and light, Van Arsdel said. "Be careful of spicy or bitter greens if the little ones are not fond of strong flavors," she said.

Armenian cucumber - Also known as a "snake melon," the Armenian cucumber is somewhat sweet, though it can be used in place of a cucumber, Van Arsdel said. "Talk about your oddities - it is winding, ribbed and growing to over a foot long," she said. "It's fun to look at and fun to eat."

Tomatoes - Grape tomatoes are small and sweet, a favorite for kids, Maynard said.

Strawberries - Though Van Arsdel recommended covering them with a net to protect them from the birds, she said the minor inconvenience is worth it because kids love them.

Raspberries - A slightly thorny plant, this might not be the best choice for younger children. However, older children will enjoy the juicy berries that come with fantastic flavor, Van Arsdel said.

Sunflowers - Perfect for a hint of drama in your garden, sunflowers come in a variety of heights and colors. "The Russian Mammoth has a great wow factor," Van Arsdel said.

Celosia - "Celosia can also be quite fun for kids as they are weird and wooly and come small as well as tall," Van Arsdel said. "If you pair them with ageratum, the color effect is downright electric."

If time is not on your side, Van Arsdel said parents can start with plants from the nursery.

"If space is also an issue, start with inexpensive basic clay pots," she said.

However, make sure the children read instructions for successful planting and care, she said.

"Anything in a pot dries out faster and will need frequent fertilization due to all that watering, so go for plants that can take the heat and aren't water hogs," Van Arsdel said.

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