Benefits of growing little gardeners

By Marianne C. Ophardt, Special to the Tri-City HeraldJune 1, 2012 

KENNEWICK -- I smiled from ear to ear on a recent shopping trip to one of my favorite garden centers when I noticed some children darting up and down the rows picking out flowers for their garden.

Kids interested in gardening is great. Kids excited about gardening is even better.

Adult gardeners innately know the benefits they get from gardening, including stress reduction, physical exercise, relaxation and a way to connect with nature. Add to this a way to express one's creativity, plus realize a sense of accomplishment, the personal benefits of gardening are priceless.

Kids get the same benefits and more. Studies show that children who grow their own fruits and veggies are more likely to eat fresh fruits and veggies and gain a better understanding of a healthy diet. Additional studies indicate that students involved in school gardening activities get higher grades in science studies.

Research also shows that kids involved in gardening projects develop positive social and interpersonal skills and are more likely to have a closer relationship with the parents or adults with whom they garden, developing a greater sense of family and community.

If you ask an adult gardener about their first garden memory, they often will relate a fond memory of gardening with a parent or grandparent. Children who garden when they're young tend to grow into adult gardeners who continue to reap the benefits of gardening.

That's why you should garden with your children or grandchildren, even if it's just planting a flower in a pot or a tomato in the backyard.

Here are some tips on making gardening fun for children:

The younger the child, the quicker you need to show results to keep their interest. With little ones, plant some radishes. Radishes like Cherry Belle only take a week or so to sprout and just a few more weeks before they're ready to harvest. Also the seeds are large enough for little hands to handle.

Another quick crop is carrots. Orange carrots are good, but a Rainbow Blend of red, purple, white, yellow and orange carrots is super fun. Add to your "salad garden" by growing some leaf lettuce of different textures and colors and finish it off with a sweet cherry tomato like Sun Sugar. They may not like tomatoes, but you might find that they'll eat these sweet yellow gems.

If you have a sunny spot where you can plant a couple of sunflowers, plant a few seeds of Mammoth Grey Stripe, which can reach a height of 6 to 12 feet. You can work in a few math skills by measuring the plants every week to see how much they've grown.

Once they flower, point out how the flowers turn to face the sun during the day. That's why they're called "sun flowers." If your garden is in a windy spot, you'll want to stake your sunflowers to keep them from blowing over and dampening your little one's enthusiasm.

Children delight in picking flowers for someone they love. Give them a little garden space for growing a cutting garden of Sonata Dwarf Cosmos, Petite Mix Marigolds, and Sprite Mix Zinnias.

You can find the different flower and veggie varieties mentioned here from Ed Hume Seeds ( or on seed racks at your local garden stores.

It's so much fun to garden with children. I'll be planting sunflowers and zinnias with my granddaughters next weekend.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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