The Ultimate Guide to Getting Kids Started With Gardening and Sustainability
Make Your Children Fall in Love With Gardening With These 12 Steps
Hello and welcome to DIY Gardening and our guide to getting children interested in gardening and sustainability.
This page contains everything you need to help your children fall in love with home-grown food, exciting ornamental plants, wildlife and eco-friendliness in general.
This isn’t the usual “here are a few vegetables to grow” article; everything in this guide is designed to make gardening fun, exciting and interesting with a firm nod to sustainability.
Since the start of the Covid pandemic, more and more people have turned to gardening, and by exploring this guide, we hope that this trend can continue through to the next generation.
Step 1: Start Your Eco-Journey
The first thing to teach children about gardening is sustainability.
Composting can be a fun way to turn kitchen food waste and garden cuttings into food for plants.
Compost bins are cheap, usually made from recycled plastic, lasts for years and come in a variety of sizes from large tanks to small patio “tumblers”.
By starting a compost heap, of any size, you’ll be teaching children that green waste isn’t really waste at all, it can be easily recycled into food for the garden. By creating your own compost, you’ll need fewer trips to the garden centre and there will be less plastic wrapping waste.
Plants don’t just need the nutrients from soil and compost, they also need plenty of water too.
Tap water treatment uses a lot of energy but there is another way to get water that’s more eco-friendly – rainwater harvesting.
Rainwater from roof gutters usually disappears into a drain or soakaway and is mostly wasted.
A rainwater harvesting tank is cheap to buy, easy to install and you’ll have plenty of eco-friendly water to feed the plants, fruits and vegetables in the garden.
Our first tip for anyone wanting to get children started with gardening is to invest in a compost bin or heap and to install a rainwater butt.
Composting is fun and easy and you’ll be teaching children about the importance of sustainability in the garden.
Water Butts are cheap and easy to install and you’ll save money off your water bills.
Step 2: Create Your First Vegetable Bed
While our guide is so much more than a vegetable growing article, we must admit that growing fruits and veg is where the fun is!
To dig your first vegetable patch:
- Select an area in the garden that gets lots of sunlight.
- Dig a patch 3 to 4 feet wide and as long as you like.
- Dig down about 6 inches and turn over the soil, removing any grass or weeds.
- Dig in some organic fertiliser formulated for vegetables.
- Add compost and well-rotted manure to the surface and dig in.
- Shape the soil so the centre of the patch is the highest point; we don’t want the plants to sit in pools of water.
Creating your first vegetable patch is really that easy.
Watch this video by The Rustic Garden to see how it’s done:
Step 3: Five Easy-to-Grow Vegetables
Here you’ll find five easy-to-grow vegetables for your patch or even a container.
The exact planting time will depend on where you live and when the first and last frosts are each year, but below, we’ve provided a guide, an overview and links to growing guides for each veg.
We’ve specifically selected these vegs because:
- They are quick-growing.
- Ideal for beginners.
- Great for packed lunches.
Potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow, and you can get several harvests per year right into early winter. They can also be made into potato chips, so are great for kids! Read this quick guide to growing your first potatoes.
Tomatoes are a popular vegetable to grow and the bush varieties are the easiest too. You’ll get yields from July through to October. You can also plant them against a sunny wall in pots. Read: Beginner’s guide to growing tomatoes.
Another colourful veg is beetroots which are super easy to grow. Sow from March to July, and you can harvest from May to September, eat in salads or boil and have them with your main meal. Read: How to grow beetroot.
Salad leaves can be grown and harvested in less than 6 weeks, making them a really fast grower, and you can harvest them throughout the year, so you’ll always have a fresh supply for sandwiches and salads. Read: How to grow salad leaves.
Another really easy veg to grow is carrots which are ideal for those with limited space in their garden. Grow them in the veg patch or containers and sow from Feb to July, and harvest from May through to October. Read: How to grow carrots.
Step 4: Try These Five Fruits
Fruits are great fun to grow, and you don’t need to dig out a patch in the garden as many will perform well in pots or grown-up against a wall or even as a free-standing bush in your borders.
We’ve chosen these five fruits because:
- The colours are appealing.
- They are easy to grow.
- They can be added to lunch boxes.
- You can juice them to make a drink or smoothie.
- This selection will produce yields for much of the year.
Blackberries will grow just about anywhere, behind that old shed, trailing across a wall or fence, in a hanging basket, or even amongst an existing hedgerow. Once established, expect a good harvest from July through to Sept. Read: How to grow blackberries.
Strawberries are a mainstay of any fruit patch, and rightfully so. Each plant can yield up to half a kilo of berries, and they can be grown in hanging baskets and pots if you’re short on space in the garden. Kids of all ages love growing strawberries; get started here.
The ultimate low-maintenance fruit, blueberries require ericaceous (acidic) soil that you can buy from your garden centre or make it yourself. Grow in the patch, up against a sunny wall or in containers. You’ll get yields throughout late summer into early autumn.
Dwarf Apply Trees:
Dwarf and mini apple trees have become very popular and can be found in gardens of all sizes, on patios and even on front porches. They require lots of sunlight and careful pruning in the winter but will produce plenty of fruits. Read: Complete guide to dwarf apple trees.
Mini Pear Trees:
Like dwarf apple trees, there are now plenty of pear varieties that can be grown in small gardens and containers. Dwarf Concorde Pear is our choice for smaller gardens and patio pots. Expect growth of up to 1.8metres with a healthy harvest from Sept to November.
Step 5: Create a Herb Garden
Herb gardens are super easy to create, and you’ll get a harvest for many months; you can also freeze or dry herbs for consumption out of season.
As a general rule of thumb, there are three things that a good herb garden needs:
- At least 6 hours of sunlight per day in the summer, ideally more.
- Free-draining compost.
- Frequent harvesting to encourage more growth.
Herb gardens are often found outside a sunny window or hanging from a sunlit garden wall; you can construct troughs from timber or buy them from your local garden centre. Pots and containers are also suitable for growing herbs and can be placed on a sunny patio, balcony or porch.
Most herbs will grow for one season, while some will return the following year. You can grow most from seed, but for beginners, we suggest buying young plants from a garden centre or nursery to get you started.
Here are five of our favourite herbs to grow:
Basil is popular in Italian recipes and can be sprinkled on pizzas, pasta dishes, sauces, and soups.
Mint can be added to yoghurts, smoothies, homemade ice cream, ice lollies and any refreshing foodstuffs or drinks such as teas.
Oregano is one of the easier herbs to grow and, like basil, can be added to soups, Italian dishes, and Indian recipes. Mix with beef to make delicious burger patties that will taste yummy alongside homegrown potato fries.
Rosemary is used in casseroles, soups and stews and is often placed inside or on top of chicken and other poultry to boost the flavour.
Chives are commony found in salads, omelettes and potato dishes and creamy sauces. They would make a great addition to any herb garden and are easy to grow.
Herb troughs and containers come in all sizes and shapes, but we prefer vertical or near-vertical products as they maximise space.
Step 6: Grow a Giant Sunflower
Sunflowers are fast-growing plants that produce a distinctive disc-like head that’s often bright yellow or with a tinge of orange. Varieties grow from a few feet tall all the way up to fifteen feet.
The most popular sunflower is the Giant American and children love watching this plant grow.
It’s consistently found on lists of the best plants to grow for kids:
If you want to bring a smile to a child’s face and really get them interested in growing plants, then the American Giant is the best place to start.
The sunflower seeds that this plant produces can also be used to feed birds, which is always a good thing.
Giant sunflowers need a sunny spot away from the wind and good supports to keep them upright. You might need a set of step ladders too!
To get started, watch this video and check out the size of the sunflowers at the end of the video:
Step 7: Grow Plants That Help Pollinators
Teaching children about the importance of pollination and how bees, butterflies and other insects are crucial to our environment is crucial.
We’ve already published a guide to protecting bees which focuses on pesticides to avoid and plants that attract pollinators.
Below you’ll find six of our favourite plants that bees, butterflies and other insects love.
Many of these plants give off a wonderful scent and can be used as cut flowers.
Plant these in borders and containers for visual effect and to attract all-important pollinators to your yard:
Bee Balm really packs a punch when planted en-masse and, as the name suggests, is loved by bees and insects of many kinds. We recommend planting Bee Balm if you care about bees and insects. It’s a fairly carefree plant that’s easy to grow and available in most garden centres.
Butterfly Bush, AKA Buddleja, is a beautiful deciduous shrub that needs little care and bees/butterflies just love it. Watch out as this plant can spread quickly and is considered invasive if left alone. Regular deadheading is needed, so only plant if you know what you’re doing.
A popular coneflower, Rudbeckia is a herbaceous perennial with daisy-like flowers surrounding dark centres. Grow in borders or large pots; this plant is easy to grow. These plants also make perfect cut flowers and are a favourite for bees, butterflies and many other insects.
Step 8: How to Encourage More Wildlife to Your Garden
A healthy garden is one that’s encouraging all sorts of wildlife to it.
Here at DIY Gardening, we deliberately attract the following animals:
Bees – For detailed information about attracting and protecting bees, read our guide to garden bees.
Butterflies – Butterflies are attracted to many of the plants that bees like, and they are just as sensitive to pesticides as well. Try buying or building a few small butterfly houses and hanging them from trees, walls or fences.
Birds – You can attract birds to our garden by buying a bird table, bird box or feeders. If you have lots of squirrels in your area, they will come along too; you can deter them with these squirrel-proof bird feeders.
Hedgehogs – Hedgehogs aren’t great climbers, and these hogs rarely visit gardens that are walled or fenced in. A simple solution is to remove a few bricks from the walls at ground level or cut small holes into fences, so they get into and out of the garden. Hedgehog houses are easy to construct, and there are dozens you can buy online; hedgehog food is also sold on many websites, including Amazon.
Made from bamboo, this little bee home is built primarily for solitary bees and is perfect for all gardens, patio gardens and balconies.
Solitary Bee Home:
Made from timber, this bee home has small diameter holes and channels that are perfect for bees to shelter in. You can also take it apart, making it very educational.
One final tip to make wildlife more interesting for children; get a wifi-enabled nest camera and place it in the bird box or hedgehog house. Your children will be able to watch the animals in their natural environment – perfect for those rainy days.
Step 9: Teach Children How to Grow Plants From Cuttings and Seeds
Many plants can be grown from seeds, either purchased from a supplier or taken from plants you already own. As for cuttings, there are thousands of species of plants that can be grown from cuttings.
Last year we took four hydrangea cuttings, dipped them in growth hormone to give them a boost and this year three are doing well and putting on growth.
Seeds can often be sown indoors in propagators from January onwards and potted on in early spring before being transplanted to the garden in late spring or early summer.
Growing plants from seeds and cuttings is far more sustainable and eco-friendly than buying from a garden centre, and it’s fun too. It also keeps your children interested in plants and the garden when the weather isn’t so good.
You will need:
- Seed/cutting compost.
- Space in a bright part of your home.
- Seeds or cuttings.
Cuttings are generally easier to grow than seeds but give both a try, that’s all part of the fun of gardening. The video below is a great place to start if you’ve never grown from a cutting before:
Step 10: Teach Children About the Dangers of Pesticides and Suggest Alternatives
Gardening should be done as natural as possible, and that’s something we at DIY Gardening are passionate about. Pesticides, fungicides and weedkillers should only be used when natural alternatives have failed, rather than being the default option.
Study after study has shown that the decline of crucial insects is caused by the overuse of chemicals in agriculture and in domestic gardens, but it doesn’t need to be this way.
The great thing about gardening is that if you get the balance right, the garden will take care of itself.
Unfortunately, if you get the balance wrong, plants will struggle to perform well, diseases set in, weeds take over, and the temptation to reach for a chemical solution increases.
We think that every gardener should teach children that there are alternatives:
Flower and Vegetable Bed Weeds
Weeds are normal and don’t need to be killed with chemicals; mulch is perhaps the best way to stop weeds from germinating and spreading. Mulch is a layer of bark and other organic material that is spread over the surface of the soil around the plants and is used to:
- Stop sunlight penetrating the soil so weeds can’t germinate.
- Keep the soil underneath moist for longer, thus reducing the amount of water needed.
- It prevents water from splashing up from the ground all over the plants – a common way diseases spread amongst crops and plants.
A good layer of mulch and a monthly manual weeding regimen is enough to keep all the beds free from weeds.
Weeds on Patios, Driveways and Paths
In this day and age, there are hundreds of products on sale that kill weeds on hard surfaces, and they are so easy to use; just mix with water, spray the surface and job done.
Unfortunately, most of these chemicals are harmful to children, pets and wildlife, including the crucial pollinators.
The solution is incredibly simple:
- Just manually pull out the weeds before they set seed, or;
- Use an electric weed burner, or;
- Use organic alternatives to chemicals.
There’s no need to use weedkillers on hard external surfaces, and teaching children that weeds can be suppressed by deadheading and by manually removing them is the best option.
Mould, Lichens and Dirty Patios/Driveways
There are dozens of products on sale that are designed to kill off mould, lichens and similar growths from hard surfaces; most are labelled as “driveway cleaners” or “patio cleaners” and are applied by brush, sprayer, or watering can.
All of these chemicals are harmful to animals and disastrous to fish in particular.
A pressure sprayer will clean the surface just fine. No chemicals needed.
Perhaps the most important lesson any gardener, child or otherwise, can learn is that plant placement is crucial.
If you place a sun-loving plant in the shade, it will struggle, and disease may set in.
While you can grow grass in a shaded garden, it would be better to design the garden so paths, patios, sheds etc., take up the shaded area, and the grass and flowers are placed in the sunniest spots.
The same applies to drainage and soil type, get right and the garden will thrive, get wrong and the garden will struggle.
Spending time designing the garden properly can save so much hassle and reliance on weedkillers, moss killers and fertilisers later on.
Step 11: Try These 3 Houseplants For Children:
Winter is a season where very little happens in our gardens, plants mostly go dormant, wildlife is less active, and with reduced sunlight and cold weather, there’s little reason for us to be in the garden.
Here are three indoor plants that we think children will love and should keep them interested just long enough until spring arrives:
The Venus Fly Trap is perhaps one of the most famous carnivorous plants on the planet, and many an insect has been trapped when the jaws of this popular house plant slam shut. Venus Fly Traps have been entertaining children for decades, if not longer, and they are our #1 choice for children. This plant has very low toxicity and is easy to grow and maintain; read the Complete Guide to the Venus Fly Trap for more info on this plant.
The Spider Plant is a fast-growing indoor plant that can take a lot of neglect; it doesn’t need tons of light, prefers less frequent watering and can survive in the same pot for years. The leaves can grow up to three feet and usually hang downwards, making this an ideal plant for a shelf, table or windowsill. Check out this guide by The Practical Planter.
Build a Cactus Garden – To keep children interested in plants and gardening throughout the seasons, why not build an indoor cactus garden? If you haven’t tried it before, cactus grafting is fun and educational, and you’ll get truly unique one-of-a-kind plants. Try this guide to cactus grafting by the Sunday Gardener. Obviously, cacti are sharp, but we’ll let you decide at which age your child can have a cactus garden.
Venus Fly Trap:
Step 12: Create Weekly Garden Science Experiments
Creating garden science activities is a great way to get children engaged with nature, and there are so many ways to do this.
You can start by setting your children weekly challenges such as:
- How many different species of insects can you find in the garden this week?
- How many different seeds can you find on plants in the garden? (gloves, please, we don’t want you to get a rash!)
- Competition – see who can photograph the most birds (of different species) in their garden – you’ll need plenty of different seeds for this!
- Who can create the most beautiful pressed flower collection?
There isn’t enough space in this guide to list all the science experiments kids could do in the garden but, if you head over to Kids Gardening, you’ll find an entire list to get you started.
More From Hannah Miller:
This guide to getting children started with gardening was created by Hannah Miller and was last updated on the 29th of May, 2021.
Discover more content at Hannah’s Corner.
Hannah is a keen amateur gardener, mother and a former NHS administrator.
She enjoys gardening as much as she cares about the environment and likes to share her knowledge with others.