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Smarty Plants!
Teach Your Child – Gardening Tips
By Sue Adams

A garden is a great teacher. Children (and adults!) can learn about patience, watchfulness, conservation and respect for nature. But most of all, gardening is downright fun and rewarding. Children are natural explorers who will find joy in simple pleasures, like planting seeds, searching for earthworms, and watching their efforts come to fruition.

The Garden
Start small: Small and simple is the way to go. You’ll be surprised how much a small garden can yield. If you don’t have space for a plot, use containers or even window boxes. A simple project can teach your child garden basics, such as the importance of sunlight, water and fertilizer (plant food).

Choose your plants: Let your child help decide which plants to grow. Cherry tomatoes make a tasty snack and produce fruit earlier than larger tomatoes. Lettuce and spinach grow quickly and can be harvested more than once. Radishes, peas and carrots can be planted from seed for an early harvest. When the peas have been harvested, it’s time to seed or transplant beans.

For a container: How about a themed garden like a Pizza Pot? Choose a large container, at least 18”. Add a tomato plant and surround with herbs like oregano, thyme and basil.

Window box: Fill with leafy greens or herbs.

How about flowers? Many annual flowers (the ones you plant every year but make up for the extra effort by blooming all summer long) are easy to grow. For an extra bonus lesson, choose varieties that attract pollinators, like zinnias, lantana, cleome, cuphea, pentas and cosmos. For an art project, choose flowers that can be pressed to make craft projects, like bookmarks. Single flowers, like daisies, cosmos, pansies and violets, work best. Flower arrangements are easy to create (all you need is a jar or vase) and make a wonderful table decoration to enjoy while you eat those home grown vegetables!

Cultivate Good Habits: Gardening success has as much to do with consistency as with luck or skill. Set aside time once or twice a week to tend to the garden. Show your child how to pull weeds and water. Containers and window boxes will have to be checked more often for watering. Don’t forget to fertilize (feed the plants).

Eat the Fruits of Your Labor: Children learn firsthand the food cycle when the plants they grew appear on the dining room table. Let them help prepare the meal, and if you have extra produce, give them to neighbors or a local food bank.

Take photos and make an album of your gardening adventure. Have your child keep a journal, telling when vegetables were planted, when the seeds germinated, which vegetables did best.

Plant a Sunflower House: Plant tall sunflower seeds in a circle (leave room for a “door”).

Teach How Plants Take up Water
Fill a vase or glass with water and tint the water with food coloring. Add a white carnation, Queen Anne’s lace or celery stalk and watch the plant become colorful as it drinks the tinted water.

Teach about Composting
Composting not only reduces trash in landfills, but those food scraps that turn into organic material, or “plant food”, can be added to soil to help plants grow, at no extra cost to you.


Give them a peek of what happens to seeds as they grow underground. They’ll see results within a week, so be sure to check every day!

SEED GERMINATION – A Fun Way to Teach Kids About Growing!
Give them a peek at what happens to seeds as they grow underground. They’ll see results within a week, so be sure to check every day!

What You’ll Need:
– Bean seeds
– Paper towels or newspaper
– A clear glass or jar
– Water

How To Do It:
1. Roll 2 paper towels or 1 folded sheet of newspaper into a cylinder and place inside your glass
2. Add an inch of water to the glass, then slide the beans in between the paper and the glass an inch apart
3. Set the glass on a sunny windowsill
4. Check regularly for signs of germination: when shoots and roots start to push through each bean and to make sure there’s enough water (maintain an inch)
5. You’ll all be amazed at how quickly they grow! After about 5 days you’ll see results!

Enter What They Grow in the Dutchess County Fair
The Dutchess County Fair hosts a wonderful flower competition every year in the Horticulture Building. There are even competitions for the kids, from ages 5 to 16.

Go to Gardening Information →