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Grow gardeners this summer

By Katie Jackson

The summer I turned 8 years old my mother gave me a garden plot—a small grove of spindly trees that we rescued from honeysuckle, then planted with odds and ends of perennials thinned from her own garden.

Truth is my little garden was never much to look at, but it was mine-all-mine, no siblings allowed! It was also an example of Mom’s perceptive parenting skills: Working on that tiny space kept me outside and engaged (and out from underfoot…) all summer and it made me a gardener for life.

This summer, you, too can entertain the children in your life—and maybe even cultivate future gardeners or your own little garden helpers—by tapping into kid-friendly gardening projects.

For example, container gardening is great fun for all ages, but it is especially ideal for younger children or for families with limited gardening space. By planting herb, vegetable or flower seeds or plants in pots of any size, children can see the botanical process in action and learn about responsibility as they tend those little gardens.

If there’s space available, do as my mother did and give the young’uns their own little bit of land for a garden, compost pile or worm farm. Or simply invite the kids to help you in the yard and garden by giving them fun and age-appropriate tasks, whether that’s weeding or watering (just watch out for those “accidental” showers), picking vegetables and fruit for the family meal or keeping bird baths and feeders full.

Want a project that combines gardening and play? Construct a teepee frame using lightweight sticks or bamboo then plant vining vegetables or ornamentals around it to form a private fort. Or literally grow a playhouse using sunflowers for the walls.

Blend art with gardening by having the kids draw and install their own garden designs or make garden sculptures from wood, rocks or other weatherproof material. Let them release their inner Jackson Pollock by allowing them to use water-soluble paints on a fence or rocks in the yard. Encourage them to find uses for cast-off items, such as turning old boots or wheelbarrows into planters or garden art. Help them collect leaves, gumballs, pinecones, rocks and other natural items from the garden and yard to make collages, wind chimes, mobiles and other craft projects.

Older children who typically crave peer interaction during the summer may find that they love gardening by volunteering with a community or church gardening project. A great option for youngsters ages 8 through 14 is the Alabama Junior Master Gardener program (www.aces.edu/junior-master-gardener/index.php), which offers a variety of garden education opportunities through schools and day camps. For more information on that option, contact JMG Coordinator Luci Davis at 334-703-7509, or davislg@auburn.edu.

Honestly, the gardening options for children are unlimited and tons of ideas are available online, through local libraries and, as Luci suggested, at the National Junior Master Gardener website (www.jmgkids.us).

As you cultivate those budding gardeners this summer and beyond, do make sure they are safe. Sunscreen and bug spray are vital for anyone working in the yard, as is proper attire such as protective clothing, hats and gloves. Make sure children (and adults!) don’t become overheated or dehydrated while working and playing in the yard, and keep children away from potentially dangerous garden tools, power equipment, chemicals or other garden-related hazards.

With just a little bit of caution and imagination you and the kids can revel in a summer of gardening and create memories, if not future gardeners. Plus, you’ll probably all sleep well every night!

June Gardening Tips
June 6 is National Gardening Exercise Day. Such a day does exist and you can even see a hilarious exercise video by searching for National Gardening Exercise Day on YouTube!

June is also National Hunger Awareness Month and National Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Month. Celebrate by volunteering at a community garden or food bank and sharing produce with your loved ones and others.

Plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and sweet potatoes.

Deadhead flowering annuals to encourage continued blooming.

Irrigate (with long, deep weekly waterings) spring-planted shrubs, especially if the weather turns dry.

Sow seeds for beans, field peas, pumpkins, squash, corn, cantaloupes and watermelon.

Remove foliage from spring bulbs if it has become yellow and dry.

Be on the lookout for insect and disease problems in the garden and on houseplants.

Thin fruits on apple, pear and peach trees to produce larger fruit.

Add fresh water to birdbaths and ornamental pools frequently to reduce mosquito breeding.