We’ve already looked at different ideas to get kids in the garden, so today we’re going to take a closer look at one of my favourites: helping children grow their own plants. Learning how to look after plants is a valuable lesson at any age, and it provides a deeper understanding and connection to the natural world around us. For children, early outdoor experiences can build strong foundations for making healthy, sustainable and eco-conscious choices later in life. So, which are the best plants for kids to start with? Let’s take a look.
How to choose the best plants for kids
Not all plants are great for growing with kids – some are spiky or poisonous while others are simply boring. Broadly speaking, the best plants for kids to enjoy interacting with should be:
- Interesting – a plant that they’ve previously enjoyed looking at or eating
- Easy to look after – varieties that need regular watering and minimal pruning
- Educational – something that has very visible life-cycle stages
- Rewarding – plants with tangible results, like big flowers or edible fruits
If you can, get your children to choose the seeds (or starter plants), as it’s likely they’ll retain interest for just that little bit longer. However, do double check that whatever they choose has a moderate chance of success, and fits at least some of the descriptions in the bullet points above!
My top 10 best plants for kids to grow
- Strawberries are my favourite plant for beginners of any age. Their leaves have an easily-identifiable shape, and the shoots grow in clumps or along the ground in easy-to-reach vines. You can also grow them in containers if you’re short on soil (and this helps to keep the slugs off, too). Watching the fruits ripen and turn red is so satisfying, and you can enjoy them fresh from the vine – or, for budding chefs, easily add them to desserts or turn them into jam. Our guide to growing strawberries has more tips.
- Pea plants also have visible rewards hanging straight from the vine. Hunting for growing pods brings the element of play and surprise into gardening for children and, like strawberries, there’s a delight in being able to pick and immediately eat. Plus, growing your own peas can help picky eaters become more comfortable with the greens on their dinner plate.
- Tomatoes are similarly a winner with most children, and the plants are relatively easy to look after. You can grow tomatoes from seeds, but buying a starter plant from a garden centre speeds the process up a bit to keep short attention spans interested.
- Carrots are a great plant to grow at home with children, especially because you can get so many more varieties than what you typically find at the supermarket. There’s a bit more patience involved because you can’t see the carrots grow, but the magic of pulling up fully-formed veggies really excites some kids. Plus, growing white, yellow, or purple-coloured carrots is a fun way to mix things up!
- Potatoes. Like carrots, potatoes require a little bit of patience while they develop underground. However, the process of digging trenches, measuring shoots and ‘earthing up’ the soil around them is perfect for little ones that like to get mucky.
- Nasturtiums are edible flowers, making them a fun middle-ground between ornamental flowers and crops. Plant them from seed, enjoy the fact that they’re really low maintenance and then surprise your children by using the flowers to decorate cakes, mix into salads or add to sandwiches).
- Sunflowers are well-known to be one of the best plants for kids to enjoy, for so many reasons. For starters, they germinate quickly if you keep them indoors, so there’s less time for kids to lose interest after planting. Transplanting them to the garden is another exciting step, and then watching them grow incredibly tall is always exciting for children. The seeds are then easy to harvest (whether you want to replant them or eat them), or leave them outside to feed the birds.
- Shasta daisies are another kind of flower that’s good for children to grow. Their familiar appearance is always a crowd-pleaser and they’re pretty low-maintenance as long as they’re planted in a sunny spot. Best of all, they’ll return year after year, making them perfect for introducing children to the idea of annuals and perennials.
- Daffodils offer an opportunity to show little ones the difference between plant bulbs and seeds. Their cheerful-looking trumpets are also a visual indicator that spring is on its way – so it can be fun to compare your daffodils at home with those near friends or family elsewhere in the country, where they might look different!
- Milkweed is my last pick on this list of the best plants for kids to grow. It’s unusual flowers are interesting to compare with other shapes in the garden, and it will grow easily in full sun and well-draining soil. Most importantly, milkweed is essential for the survival of Monarch butterflies, so planting it with your children can be the start of your own butterfly garden and a whole new topic of learning and fun.
Why should you teach kids about gardening?
Even the smallest garden can foster important life skills and lessons, especially for young minds. Watching plants slowly grow will encourage patience, and demonstrate how satisfying delayed gratification can be, while looking after plants takes responsibility and commitment. Gardening is also an opportunity for children to engage all of their senses and practice mindfulness – by not just looking at flowers, but smelling herbs, feeling leaves between their fingers, listening to birds and insects and even tasting the literal fruits of their labour.
Don’t forget to take a look at our full list of garden activities for children, and you might find our beginner’s vegetable guide useful, as well as these sensory garden ideas. Have fun, and enjoy the sunshine!