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Garden planning with your kids

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Preparing for the growing season

As beautiful (and appreciated) as the sometimes stark winter can be, the lush, colorful, and bountiful summer garden has an aura and lure all it's own. It seems to sit separate from other parts of summer. Summer evenings and beach days and lemonade stands blur together in our memories, but the garden stands alone. As the winter melts into spring, search for the poke of the daffodils through the still chilly but warming earth is a family quest, and we greet with excitement each bud of horticultural reawakening. This year, stop daydreaming and act. With some research and planning now, your family's dreams of a summer garden can become a reality.

Girl with plants indoorsYou may not have the space or the experience or the resources to create the overflowing garden of your wildest dreams, but it doesn't mean you can't have a fabulous, dreamy garden this summer. Early research and planning are key to being ready when the earth's axial tilt reaches that critical point and spring and summer are upon us once again. And it's an activity the whole family can participate in.

Your garden wish list

You and each member of your family - especially the kids! - starts by listing every plant you'd love to have in your garden, whether it's a flower, and ornamental, a vegetable or a fruit tree. List favorite garden colors and textures. Write down the way you'd love your garden to feel and look. Every family member might not have words, so get out the crayons and water colors and let even the youngest participate.

Every plant and color may not be possible, but it's okay to dream - for each one of you.

Research

Next, it's time for research. You need to learn what growing zone you live in, what the soil composition in your area is typically like, last frost date, and local pests and diseases to watch out for. Note were you want to improve your garden; is it a sunny or shady area? It also might be helpful to look for lists of native plant species that grow particularly well and species that help with natural pest control.

Then look at the family's wish list and note which of plants on the wish list are compatible with your growing region, soil composition and likely planting area. Are they annuals or perennials? This will help you narrow down the plants that will actually grow in your garden. Consider also plants that might be harmful to kids and pets; you might need to eliminate them entirely, or place them strategically to reduce risk.

Libraries and local universities typically are tremendous resources for books and information on you local growing climate and on plants in general. In addition to helping you understand what is most likely to succeed, it's a great way to tie in science and learning for your kids.

Planning and budgeting

Once you've identified your plants, draw out a garden plan noting where you will put certain plants. If you are planting a perennial garden, keep in mind that many perennials will take a couple or more years to reach full size; that is, don't plan to plant them too closely together.

Now count up how much of the various plants you will need, and take to the Internet to start finding nurseries that sell your desired plants. When choosing an online plant nursery, don't just go on price. Look for plant guarantees and customer reviews to help determine if it's the right source.

Sometimes the full cost of all the plants on your list exceeds your budget. Implement, then, a multi-year plan to develop the garden of your dreams.

Ordering

When a blizzard is blowing outside your windows, gathering the family at your computer and ordering plants and seeds for spring seems to warm all of you from the inside. It's reassuring that spring will actually arrive. As you order make note of expected ship dates.

Indoor starts

If you've chosen to order seeds and self-start some plants, check which varieties can be started indoors before the first frost. While you can do this with many plants, others don't like being replanted and it's best to wait until the seeds can be sown outdoors. But for those seeds you can start indoors, it's great fun to see the little buds peek out from the soil - not to mention a great activity with the kids.

Task lists and calendars

So all your efforts don't fall by the wayside when the warm weather and related distractions arrive, create task lists and calendars for yourself and the family to remind everyone what needs to happen when. Starting seeds is all good and well - you've got to get them into the ground, too! Preparing soil, adding amendments, watering and other tasks are all things that will make or break your summer garden daydreams. Establish family garden work times with tasks that fit a range of abilities, so all of you can participate.

Get your kids to help

Kids, of course, can help you put your dream of a garden. Make it a family project - maybe even with a little science education involved - and it's more likely to become a reality. Before you know it, it will be summer and your family will be enjoying your fabulous garden with a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

For more tips on gardening with kids:

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