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We all know that kids benefit hugely from spending time outdoors and off the screens, but winter can be a challenge when it comes to getting them outside and engaging with nature. The combination of less daylight hours and cold or wet weather can make it all too easy to stay on the sofa – and that’s as true for the adults as it is for the kids.
This is where a gardening project can come to the rescue. It may be cold, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun growing things and making plans for the coming seasons.
Gardening is a powerful tool when it comes to mental health. Studies confirm that children’s wellbeing and happiness levels increase after spending time connecting with nature. Gardening is also a fantastic way for kids to engage in a hands-on activity that stimulates the senses, so it’s perfect for encouraging creative play. And of course, the physical nature of digging and planting is ideal for letting off steam and burning energy.
Take advantage of all these benefits with three simple winter garden projects for kids.
Microgreens are seedlings of vegetables and herbs which are harvested and eaten while they are still tiny. They pack a punch when it comes to flavour and nutrients, and are a brilliant way to perk up sandwiches, smoothies, salads and other savoury dishes.
Growing microgreens is a great garden project for kids because you can do it on a small scale and the seeds are easy to plant and grow. They can be harvested in as little as two weeks from planting, so they’re good for impatient little gardeners too.
In winter, microgreens need to be grown indoors; a sunny windowsill is an ideal spot.
You will need
- A packet of microgreen seeds (a mixed packet of seeds will give you a nice range of flavours)
- Small plant pots or recycled takeaway containers (wash them before use)
- Plant saucers
- Compost or coir blocks
- Spray bottle or watering can
1. Start by filling your container with compost or coir. Aim for about three quarters full.
2. Place some seeds in the palm of one hand, then use the other hand to take a pinch of seeds and scatter them over the surface of the compost. Try to space the seeds out evenly.
3. Sprinkle a small amount of compost over the top of the seeds, until they are all covered with a thin layer.
4. If there are drainage holes in your container, put it on a plant saucer.
5. Water your container; aim for the compost to be damp but not soaked. A spray bottle is easiest for kids because it makes it harder to over-water.
6. Put your container on a windowsill that receives plenty of natural light.
7. Check your container every day. If the compost feels dry, add a little more water. Your seedlings might start to lean towards the light; if this happens turn the container round regularly.
8. Your microgreens are ready to harvest when the seedlings are about 5cm tall. Use scissors or your fingers to snip them off at the base.
Now you can enjoy eating your homegrown microgreens. You can sow microgreen seeds every few days to create a continuous supply of leaves.
One of the easiest ways to perk up a drab winter garden is to grow winter bedding plants in a pot. Container gardening is perfect for kids because of the smaller scale and lower level of maintenance required. Children will also love the responsibility of taking care of their own pot, and they can add in a bit of craft too by decorating their container or making plant markers.
Bedding plants are cheap, readily available at this time of year, and easy for little hands to deal with. Good options for winter container plants include pansies, violas, heather, primroses and cyclamen for flowers, and ivy, heuchera and cineraria for foliage.
You will need
- A plant pot or container
- Hand trowel
- Gardening gloves
- Winter bedding plants
- Watering can
1. Fill your pot with compost until it’s almost full.
2. Take each plant out of its pot carefully. Slide the base of the plant between your fingers, then turn the plant over and use your other hand to gently ease the pot off. Try not to damage the roots.
3. Turn your plant the right way up, and place it in your container. Keep adding plants until it looks full; you can play around with their positions until you’re happy with the overall effect. Tall plants work best at the back of a pot, and trailing plants should be planted towards the edge where they can tumble over.
4. Use more compost to fill in any gaps around the plants.
5. Water your container and put it somewhere you can see from inside the house.
6. Your container may not need to be watered again during winter, but it’s worth checking it on a regular basis. Poke a finger into the compost, and water if it feels dry.
7. Remove any dead flowers regularly, this will encourage the plants to produce more lovely blooms.
Getting the kids involved in the planning stages of garden design can be just as much fun as the actual gardening itself. Giving them responsibility for their own little patch of land is a lovely way to fire up their imaginations, and it will also encourage them to stay engaged and look after their plants.
You don’t need to hand over a big area of the garden; a container, section of a border or small raised bed will all work well.
Things to think about
The aim here is to give kids control over what they grow, but of course there will be some practicalities to consider. Here are some areas you can discuss together as they work on their plot design.
- How much space do we have?
- What are the conditions on our mini plot? Think about the amount of sunlight/shade, temperature, type of soil, and exposure to things like wind and frost.
- Do we want to grow edible plants, flowers, or a combination of both?
- What types of flowers and plants do we like? Think about colour, scent, texture, height and (for edibles) taste.
- How can we make sure our mini plot supports local wildlife such as pollinating insects, wild birds and small mammals?
- At what time of year do we want our plot to look amazing?
- Are we going to grow plants from seed, or buy them as small plants?
- What is our budget – how much do we want to spend?
Talking about these areas will help you create a wish list of plants that are well-suited to growing on your mini plot.
Designing your plot
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of plants, it’s time to get creative and design your plot. A piece of paper and some colouring pens or pencils are all you really need, but if you’d like to design your plot to scale you can use graph paper.
Thinking about the following areas will help:
- How many of each type of plant do you have room for? Remember they will get bigger!
- If you’re creating a flower display, where is the best place to put the tallest plants? What about the smallest ones? How do you want to arrange the different colours?
- If you’re growing edible plants, will you be able to reach them when it’s time to harvest?
- Do any of your plants need supports?
- How easy will it be to water and weed your plot?
- Do you want to include decorative items in your design?
The final stage of planning your mini plot is to work out what you need to do next to turn it into a reality. This could be creating a plant shopping list, clearing a patch of land, ordering some seeds, thinking about ways to decorate your plot, or learning more about the plants you’re going to grow and the wildlife that might visit.
Making a simple to-do list with things that can be ticked off is a good way to keep kids motivated – and it will also mean you’re ready to get cracking when the weather warms up!
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