Late Summer Gardening with Kids
As summer is drawing to a close, parents start to want to toss their kids out. Not to anywhere in particular, just away. Anything to stop the bickering, the fussing, and the “I’m bored” comments. It isn’t just you. At the same time, our bank accounts start screaming from the pain of vacations, camps, back to school supplies, and all the other added expenses. What to do?
Gardening comes to mind as a spring activity, but not so much in the dog days of summer. And yet, late summer can be a great time to jump in. Some plants thrive in the cooler autumn days and autumn is a great time to plant trees. Best of all, it doesn’t have to cost a lot. Buying a large fruit tree is definitely more than a few dollars, but a packet of lettuce seeds is darn cheap and getting the kids outside is priceless. If you were already planning on doing landscaping, this is a great time to find sales.
Getting Them Started
Let them pick out the seeds. If they are determined to grow something that seriously will not grow in your climate, try growing it indoors. If that isn’t an option (pets can make indoor plants a challenge), they may just get a lesson in what Mother Nature allows, and that’s OK – especially when it only costs a few dollars for seeds.
Personally, I love the oddball things you can find in heritage seed catalogs: purple carrots, yellow tomatoes, jester marigolds, rainbow chard. Its a great way to get kids to try new things.
Herbs are a good place to start because many of them are quite hardy, just be careful to quarantine anything in the mint family in a concrete planter. They spread everywhere and will happily take over the entire neighborhood, given half a chance. You can dry herbs in the oven quite easily so your family can enjoy the fruit of your yard year-round. Even as an adult, it’s fun to know that you literally provided what is on the table.
Since it’s already halfway through the year, you and the kids won’t have a huge time commitment, and nurseries will be slashing prices to sell off inventory before winter. It may help your kids (and you) build an interest to really jump into gardening next year, even if “really jump in” means some sunflowers in the spring, semi-abandoned herbs, and a few heads of fall lettuce. That’s still more than most people do!
Fall planting needs to be finished anytime from early August to September, depending on the plant and where you live. Trees can be planted even later. The back of the package, the little plastic instructions in the pot, online information, and staff at the nursery where you buy seeds/plants can all help you figure out when you need to have them in the ground.
Good plants for fall planting include:
- Brussels sprouts
- English primrose
- kale (including ornamental varieties)
- Swiss chard
- anything with bulbs (tulips, garlic)
We have an herb garden outside our front door. I love smelling the oregano, rosemary, lemon balm, and chocolate mint (in a concrete planter) when we go outside. It’s a nice way to start and end the day. I didn’t know that lemon balm is in the mint family when I planted it, so it now smells lovely and lemony when our lawn is cut. Who needs a fescue lawn??
Whatever you decide to plant with your kids, it’s easy to change (except mint) if you change your mind. One of ours loves watermelon so we plant some every year. He is delighted when they survive and thrive, but the variety is different almost every year and so is the location. Sometimes he chooses herbs (like the chocolate mint), sometimes he chooses veggies, and a few times he even chose fruit trees. Whenever he sees those in our yard, he knows he did it. We’ve had both for years now. The trees cost about $50 (less than a movie with concessions) and the mint was no more than $5. I count that as a great return on our investment.
Let us know what you decide to plant with your kids!