Photo credit: Nancy Knauss
When winter seems far from over and the days are still too short to spend much time outdoors, don’t let the cold weather get you down; there are several indoor gardening activities that you can enjoy with your children or grandchildren. They may even become life-long gardeners.
Six ideas to get you started:
1. Sprouting Seeds
There are two ways to watch seeds sprout: by using one type of seed in a jar, or a variety of seeds in a simple mini greenhouse. For the first method, line a glass jar with a damp paper towel and put several seeds such as zucchini or bush beans between the glass and the towel. Attach the lid and leave the jar on the kitchen counter. Check the paper each day and moisten as necessary. Your seeds should sprout in a few days. For the second method use a recycled foil pan and a plastic bag to create a mini greenhouse. Position a damp paper towel in the bottom of the pan and gently place the seeds, such as zucchini, scarlet runner beans, cucumbers, and broccoli, upon it. Your child may put several of each in rows. Draw a simple map showing where each seed variety was ‘planted’ so that it’s easy to identify which seeds sprout first. Encourage the children to make predictions. Put the tray in a plastic bag. Once the seeds and roots grow you may talk about germination and how different seeds have different germination periods. I’m always amazed how quickly the tray explodes with sprouted seeds and plants.
2. Caring for Houseplants
Caring for a plant is a valuable activity for children of all ages as they learn responsibility and the satisfaction that comes with nurturing a living thing. Preschoolers can mist leaves with a sprayer and use a sponge to clean dusty leaves. Older children can help with removing dead leaves and repotting. Show them how pot the offshoots on spider plants (spiderettes) which form on the ends of the runners. Choose tough houseplants, like pothos, (Epipremnum aureum) that grow quickly and do not need a great deal of light. Take children to a garden center or big-box store and allow them to select a plant of their own. With young children avoid plants that are sharp, prickly, or toxic. Randy Seagraves, program specialist for the Jr. Master Gardener Program at Texas A&M, suggests providing children with a magnifying glass to detect why a plant failed to thrive. Tell them to look for clues to figure out what the plant might need by using the acronym PLANTS: place, light, air, nutrients, thirsty (water), and soil. They will learn many of the lessons they would learn growing plants outdoors.
3. Growing a Venus Flytrap
Insect-eating plants excite the imagination of children. Venus flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is a small bog plant native to the Carolinas. The leaves are specifically designed to trap soft-bodied insects. The plant digests the trapped insect in about a week and then reopens. You may be able to purchase a Venus flytrap at your local garden center. Grow in a sunny, cool area with high humidity; a terrarium is ideal. The planting medium should consist of about 65% sphagnum moss and 35% sand. Water with distilled water and keep the substrate moist but not overly wet. Do not fertilize. You may feed Venus flytrap by releasing small flies inside the space of the terrarium. The insects must be alive. The plant can go long periods, however, without eating insects. They do not like drought, fertilization, and low humidity. Tell your child they also dislike too much tampering with the traps. Who can resist this intriguing plant?
4. Painting Garden Rocks
There are several gardening crafts that children enjoy during the winter months, such as painting terra cotta pots for container gardening, and turning popsicle sticks into plant labels using bright paints or markers. A favorite project is painting garden rocks to be used as plant markers. You will need rocks, acrylic paints in various colors, and clear varnish. All the materials are available at your local craft store. After protecting the work area with newspaper, the step-by-step process is as follows:
- Step 1: Tell your child to pick out rocks that are about the size of an adult’s hand and have a smooth, flat shape. Wash and dry them thoroughly (you can use a hair dryer.)
- Step 2: Paint the top half of the rocks with a thick layer of acrylic paint. Allow it to dry.
- Step 3: Using a contrasting color, paint the plant’s name. If your child makes a mistake, use the base coat to cover over it, allowing it to dry before making corrections.
- Step 4: The child may paint a pattern around the name if desired.
- Step 5: When all the paint is dry, add a coat of varnish. This will protect the rock from the elements.
Place the beautiful rock markers in the garden in springtime, or your child may wrap them and give them as gifts to family and friends.
5. Composting With Worms
Worm composting, also called vermicomposting, is the use of worms to recycle food scraps and other organic material into a valuable soil amendment. This activity will produce incredible nutrients for your garden. All you need is a box, moist strips of newspaper, and worms. Purchase red worms or red wigglers online from a worm farm. Use a shallow plastic or wooden 5- to 10-gallon container that you have rinsed out. Put plastic on the bottom if it is made of wood. Add bedding made of newspaper strips or leaves. Fill the box with soil, organic matter and a few worms. Cover the bin with a loose fitting lid that allows air to circulate. Keep it shady and moist. The child adds kitchen scraps, preferably raw fruit and vegetables (except for orange rinds, citrus fruits, onions, and broccoli.) In a favorable environment, your worms will work tirelessly to produce compost. It is an easy, fun way for children to learn the importance of composting, to discover the value of worms, and to learn about the interdependence of plants and organisms.
6. Growing a Garbage Garden
Children love the fact that they can grow a collection of houseplants using only kitchen garbage. Create a leafy garden by placing the tops of root crops such as beets, carrots, or turnips on pebbles covered in water on a pie plate. Roots and feathery leaves will soon develop. The child can grow an avocado plant by removing the seed from a ripe avocado and planting it in a six-inch container of potting mix. Try planting the seeds from citrus fruits, first soaking them in warm water. Garbage gardening shows children that there is value in many of the things we throw away.
Other great winter gardening activities for children include:
- Making a bird feeder by cutting a bagel in half, spreading it with cooking fat, dredging it with birdseed, and hanging it in the yard.
- Creating a windowsill herb garden.
- Making a terrarium.
- Reading children’s books like Peter Rabbit or The Secret Garden.
- Pouring over seed catalogs and planning next season’s garden.
Whichever activity you choose, children will learn valuable gardening principles and have fun even though they are confined indoors on a cold, dreary, winter day.