I received a great question from Matt about plants that children can care for.Â He wrote,
My kids (7 & 10) are showing a natural interest in raising their own plant or tree (similar to their interest in having an ant farm or collecting caterpillars) and I was hoping you could tell me of some plants that are fairly
robust and generally easy to care for – in other words, plants that would be ideal for a child to care for .
What an exciting question! The fact that the children are expressing the interest in growing plants tells me that raising plants will be a really meaningful project for them and could become a lifetime interest. Raising plants is a very popular hobby for people of all ages- startingÂ from early childhood.
Your question did not tell me whether the children want to raise plants indoors or outdoors. So I will make a few suggestions for plants to raise in both areas.
Let us start talking about raising plants indoors.
Reread the column I posted on November 7, 2006 called “Growing Plants in Your Dorm Room.” In that column I suggested trying to grow, with instructions on how to plant, an avocado tree, a pineapple plant and a citrus tree from food you probably have in your house. These are plants your children might enjoy growing.
If the plant (or any plant) fails to grow, do not let your children get upset. Remember the adage that “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” Failure should not induce frustration but should be a learning tool. Even the best farmer has crop failure.
Another project indoors is to raise plants using hydroponics.Â One easy plant to start in water is the coleus- Coleus BlumeiÂ (see photo on right). Â Pinch off a few small branches from a friend’s coleus plant and put each branch in a little glass of water and place the plant near bright light.Â Shortly the coleus plant will send out roots. Never let the water dry out and when you see a lot of roots in the glass, repot the coleus inÂ indoor potting soil. The coleus should send up lots of branches and even flowers. Pinch a few of the new branches and any flowers off the potted coleus so that the plants don’t grow too leggy and start new plants by putting the snipped off branches in water again. By summer your children might have so many coleus plants that they might want to start a little business selling the potted plants. Or they might want to replant all the plants they raised in the garden outdoors. Plant them when the soil outdoors is warm,Â in early June, and they can have a coleus garden outdoors. In the fall before the first frost the children can begin snipping off branches and putting them in water to set new roots and start the cycle all over again. By Dec. of next year, they might even be giving everybody a coleus for the holidays.
Another plant easily raised in water is known commonly as the Wandering Jew- Latin names are Tradescantia zebrina or Zebrina pendula or Tradescantia fluminensis. The leaves vary from all green to all purple to green with white stripes. Like the coleus, wait for roots to form in the water and then the plant can be potted in soil. lt is best to repot this vine in aÂ hanging basket so that the leaves can cascade down. Leave the flowers on the Wandering Jew- don’t snip them off. But you can cut branches of the Wandering Jew and start new plants byÂ putting the snipped branches in water. You can start lots of new Wandering Jew plants this way and the children will have so many new plants they can add them to their sales table if they start a small plant selling business with their lemonade stand.
A third plant to start in water is a yam.Â Use toothpicks to hold the yam partially above water and it should send out beautiful leaves. These leaves look wonderful in outdoor planters and are a favorite annual plant sold in most nurseries.
Other plants easily grown in water are lettuce and herbs- especially basil. Your children can be nibbling on the lettuce while it grows and will eat Mom or Dad’s prepared pesto dish knowing that they raised the basil for it.
If you want to start seeds indoors in a pot with soil, radishes are really easy to start and in a few days your children should see the plant sprout and in a few weeks might even be able to eat the radish.
And if you want to start really easy flower seeds in pots indoors in the winter, buy some marigold seeds –Tagetes erecta or Tagetes patula.Â These marigolds can be planted outdoors when the soil is completely warm and planted in your garden or in outdoor planters. When the seedpods dry out on the plant, let the children pick the pods and take the seeds out of the pods. Plant these marigold seeds indoors and you can start the process all over again.
Another very interesting suggestion is to make a terrarium.Â Instructions for a terrarium are here.Â This way each child can create his or her own little indoor garden and the garden type can vary depending on the type of terrarium built. The children might even want to put a living creature like a lizard into their terrarium.
A last suggestion if you have a pet cat is to let your children raise catnip and when the catnip starts growing to give it to the cat. About 80% of cats are addicted to the catnip odor so your kids might have fun watching the cat play with it.
Outdoors there are many plants that your children might want to try to raise.
Sunflowers are wonderful to raise. The seeds are easy to plant. The big flowers that become seed heads are great for the birds and the seeds can be replanted next year or might even come up on their own the following year- as mine have for the last 3 years. Instead of feeding the birds, the children might want to roast the seeds to eat themselves.
If you have a large enough property, gourds and/or pumpkins are fun to raise. The gourds can be made into birdhouses or other interesting items when they are dried. The pumpkins are fun for obvious reasons.
If you want to attract hummingbirds or butterflies to your yard there are interesting flowering plants both perennial and annual that the kids could plant outdoors.
One favoriteÂ group of plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies are known as salvias or sages. They are in the mint family which makes many of them very easy to raise and very pest resistant. There are over 950 species of both annual and perennial salvias to choose from.
A shrub that is easy for your kids to plant outdoors that attracts loads of butterflies is the Buddleia or Butterflybush.Â This shrub comes in many colors and will give enjoyment to your kids and your entire family and neighborhood from the first bloom till the end of summer.
Though the page says it is for kindergarden, one can find fun ideas for activities with plants for the entire family of all ages here.
The Garden Lady finds this question that Matt asked very exciting. The Garden Lady hopes that Matt, and others whose children follow the advice in this column, will write to let me and the readers know about the plants your children are raising. I would love to hear from the children themselves.Â I am interested in hearing the children’s plant raising stories.