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Tips for families growing their own gardens by LI expert

Gardening is the perfect activity to do as

Gardening is the perfect activity to do as a family.  Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto/ey Business Images

Spring is in full swing and it's a great time to be outdoors. If you want to try a fun activity outside with your family, gardening is a great way to teach kids responsibility, while also teaching valuable information about plants and wildlife.

Gardening shows "you more than just how to plant. [It] teaches you patience, hard work and math. It also creates joy and provides children with wonderful memories of time spent working on projects as a family," says Karen Musgrave, a Horticultural Marketing and Education Specialist with Hicks Nurseries in Westbury.

Musgrave offers some tips concerning the hows, whys and what-to-dos relating to doing some spring and summer gardening as a family.

SAFETY CHECK

For starters, she suggests “gardeners tall and small wear sunblock,” which is wise as the UV index for New York in May can hit an average of seven, considered high by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agency also says burns can happen on cloudy days.

Musgrave also says gardening gloves “are also a must to protect hands and keep them clean.” Other supplies she recommends for kids are “child-sized garden tools such as a watering can, hand trowel, shovel and rake,” which she says are the basic supplies every gardener needs.

GREAT PLANTS FOR KIDS

Anyone who has ever tried to grow anything has probably learned quickly that not all plants make it easy. Musgrave says some plants are simpler for kids than others to sow, starting with sunflowers, because the “seeds are large and easy for little hands to plant. Sunflowers grow nice and tall, towering over kids at full size with giant flower heads. After blooming, the flower heads can be dried, and the seeds can be eaten.”

Another flower for kids are zinnias, which she says are one of the easiest flowers to grow from seed. "They have beautiful daisy-like flowers that grow fast, providing almost instant gratification to even the most impatient of gardeners,” she says, adding “zinnias are also a favorite flower of butterflies.” She recommends lavender for them too, because “lavender is a relatively easy to grow herb. Its fragrance is known for its calming and smoothing properties. Grow and pick lavender with your children and make a sachet to hang by their bed to help with sleep.”

Parents already likely expect their kids to want something edible to grow, and Musgrave likes cherry tomatoes for that, which can be grown from seed or from small starter plants, and the tinier tomatoes can be picked and eaten right off the vine. Other winners in her opinion include corn and cucumbers, especially the latter because cucumbers “are fast growers that require very little attention,” but both are fun to eat. Another great choice is a blueberry bush, as the berries can be eaten directly from the vine or used in other snacks.

Musgrave also suggests pumpkins for kids because “not only are pumpkin seeds a fun option for kids to plant in the garden, the final product can be carved into a jack-o'-lantern for Halloween or enjoyed cooked in a fall meal. The seeds within the pumpkin can also be roasted in the oven for a delicious snack.”

She says all of these plants are easy to care for, “just plant them in a sunny garden location and water when the soil is dry to the touch.”

FUN GARDENING ACTIVITIES FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Musgrave adds that roses, forsythia, lavender, zinnias, hydrangeas and spring bulbs (like tulips and daffodils) are all good options for bouquets, remembering when she was little “I used to help my dad in the garden. Occasionally he would let me cut a rose to take to my teacher at school.”

If a full flower bed is something your family would like to attempt, she notes that “children should work with the adults in their home to determine the sunniest spot in the garden.” Then use a shovel or trowel to turn over the soil in order to loosen it up for the plants, and — in a grown-ups-only moment — an adult should help add an organic plant fertilizer to the soil. “Read each plant label and use a ruler to properly space out each plant so they have enough room to grow,” states Musgrave, then “check every three-to-four days to see if the garden needs water. If you stick your finger in the soil and it feels moist, do not water. If it feels dry, it is time to water.”

In a final recommendation, Musgrave says another really important part of getting kids outside and planting is having loved ones by their side.

“I would suggest you make gardening a family affair. Decide prior to entering the garden what the project for the day will be and work as a family to complete it.”

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