Container Gardening With Kids

Container gardens are the perfect way to introduce kids to the joys of gardening.

Easy-care container gardens get kids involved in down-to-earth pursuits and help them make the connection between what’s on their plate and where food comes from. Plant your own in seven simple steps.

What you’ll need to plant a container garden:

  • A container (see step 3)
  • Nail, hammer or drill for making drainage holes
  • Caster wheels
  • Clay or plastic saucer for catching runoff
  • Pieces of tile or old clay pots
  • Gravel
  • Potting soil
  • Seeds, bulbs or plants
  • Fertilizer

1. Pick plants, herbs or vegetables to grow.

A container of tomato plants and basil can serve up many salads through the hot summer. If your family craves fresh-picked fruit, buy a strawberry pot and tuck a variety of plants into its nooks. Choose plants that have similar needs for water and light. For example, ferns love moist conditions, while cacti prefer drier soil. By selecting varieties that complement one another in terms of conditions they need to thrive, you can increase your plants’ yield and keep them healthy.

Kid around: Take your child on a treasure hunt through seed catalogs. Says Eimear Harrison, “My daughter and I played a counting game to see how many types of cucumbers we could find.”

2.  Select a site for your container garden.

Pick a place where plants will get the hours of sunlight they need each day yet also be able to catch rainfall. This will cut down on the amount of watering you’ll need to do and expose your plants to the free nitrogen in the air during thunderstorms.

3. Choose a container.

Stacks of old tires. Beach pails. Wooden tubs. Discarded wheelbarrows or wagons. Get your scavenger radar on, and you’ll soon find plenty of everyday objects waiting to be transformed. Pick the size of your container carefully; once your plants are full-grown, your kids will need to reach over for weeding and watering.

For more on gardening with kids, check out these articles:
"Great Plants for a Children's Garden"
"How-To: Getting Started in Gardening"

4. Prep your container.

For a large container, screw caster wheels into the base for mobility. If you’re using a recycled container, remove harmful residue by thoroughly washing it out with an environmentally friendly disinfectant or soaking it in a solution of 1 part bleach to 10 parts warm water.

Kid around: “My kids had a blast hosing out an old barrel, and they also learned about keeping our waterways free of chemicals,” says mom Clare Koontz.

5. Make drainage holes in your container.

Drill drainage holes in the container’s bottom so that the roots don’t become waterlogged. Depending on the container’s makeup, you may be able to tap out the holes with a hammer and nail. For containers made of terracotta or other hard materials, you’ll need an electric drill. To keep soil from being washed out, place broken pieces of tile or turn plastic saucers over the holes. Then cover the bottom with about an inch of gravel.

Kid around: “My boys just loved smashing up tile and hunting for pebbles to put in the bottom,” says Akua Gyasi.

6.  Fill your container with soil.

Choose a soilless mix or a potting soil recommended for container gardens, one that will retain water yet not compact and suffocate roots. Your local nursery can suggest a suitable mix. Remember that water, gravel and soil can be heavy and hard to move. Use a lighter soilless mix if you’ll be moving your container frequently.

Don’t kid around: Always use gloves when gardening, and make sure you and your children wash your hands after touching any soil or plants.

7. Plant and fertilize your container garden.

Leave enough room around each plant so that air can circulate freely; crowded plants are more susceptible to disease and pest infestations. Decide what fertilizer method is best suited to your garden. A time-release fertilizer is mixed into the soil when you first plant, while a liquid fertilizer is applied later. If you use one that recommends “foliar feeding,” be sure to give your plants thorough showers in the 10 to 14 days between fertilizer applications.

Don’t kid around: Whichever fertilizer you choose, follow the directions on the package to avoid harming yourself, your children, your plants or local waterways.

Justine Ickes is a freelance writer.


Categories: Family Life, Your Home