Spring is here and summer is fast approaching, which means it’s the perfect time to get outside and enjoy everything that Mother Nature has to offer. One fun way to do that from the comfort of home is by starting a garden.
Gardening allows parents to let their kids get dirty while teaching them the value of hard work, patience and perseverance. It also gives them a chance to brighten up their space and skills that can help them rely less on the grocery store later in life.
“It’s important for kids to understand where their food comes from, particularly people that grow up in the city or the suburbs,” says David Lowenstein, an Extension Educator with the Michigan State University Extension Center in Clinton Township.
“Gardening is a way of connecting adults and youth to how we grow our food. (It’s also) a way to beautify the environment with wildflowers and food for insects that pollinate plants.”
So, how can you start a garden and incorporate some of these benefits into your experience? Here, Lowenstein offers his top tips.
According to Lowenstein, when first starting out it’s important to consider the type of plant that you want to grow.
“Pick things that you want to eat or things that you think look pretty,” he says. “My personal favorites are things that are easy to grow in the ground or container.”
First-time gardeners may want to steer clear of fruits, which are harder to grow, and berry bushes with thorns, especially if you have younger gardeners tending to them.
Once you have decided what you want to grow, you should take a deeper dive into what each plant needs to thrive — and if your gardening space can accommodate those needs.
“Read the label on the plants that you pick to make sure that the conditions in your garden are adapted to the plant that you choose,” Lowenstein explains. “If something needs full sun and you have a shaded yard, that’s not going to do well. The label will also tell you if the plant is resistant to certain diseases, so if you’re picking vegetables, pick plants that are more resistant.”
If your outdoor space doesn’t work with what you want to grow, Lowenstein says that container gardening is a great alternative.
“In container gardening, you control the soil and conditions, so it’s a bit more advantageous,” he explains. “In the yard, you have to work with what’s in the ground, but with container gardening, you can pick the soil.”
Once you have decided what you want to grow, and where you’re going to grow it, you have to make a decision on whether you want to start from seed, plugs or a fully grown plant.
“You can start from seed, which won’t grow as tall in the first year, you can start them from plugs or you can buy a plant in a gallon or half-gallon, which is ready to go when you put it in the ground,” Lowenstein explains. “Seeds are cheaper, but I think the plug is a good middle ground because you get to see a plant that’s fairly developed but it’s not as expensive (as a grown plant).”
Gardening with Kids in Macomb County
Now that you have your first steps into gardening, it’s time to get your supplies. Macomb County offers tons of great supply shops and gardens to get your kids excited.
Lowenstein recommends stopping by the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center in Shelby Township or the Tomlinson Arboretum in Clinton Township to inspire your kids to participate in the hard work that goes into tending a garden.
After, you can visit Greenwood Plants in Warren, English Gardens, which has locations in Clinton Township and Eastpointe, Ray Wiegand’s Nursery in Macomb or Soulliere Landscaping Garden Center in St. Clair Shores to get your supplies.
Once you have what you need, you can start planting if the weather is right for it.
“Now (late April) would be OK to start some vegetables, like tomatoes, indoors,” Lowenstein says. “Cooler season plants like lettuce, carrots and kale can go out before the last frost, but for most plants you want to wait until the risk of frost has passed. You can start planting flowers at the end of May or in the fall.”
As far as kids helping out in the garden goes, Lowenstein suggests letting them experiment to see what works and keeping tabs on how things germinate or change over time.
“Obviously, you want your plants to succeed but when you’re working with kids, it’s OK if things don’t work,” he says. “What’s important is that you share the process on how plants grow.”
For more information on gardening with kids in Macomb County, visit MSU’s Macomb County extension center website.