Cultivate a green thumb and reap family rewards for a lifetime

Cultivate a green thumb and reap family rewards for a lifetime
Working together in the garden is a good way to bond with your children. Kids can use their math skills by figuring the correct distance to sow seeds or dig holes for planting. The work relieves stress and can yield lifelong lessons: Children see the value of their hard work as they watch the garden grow during the spring and summer -- and enjoy its delicious rewards. (contributed)

After being cooped up together during the COVID-19 hiatus, getting outside and into the fresh air feels nice.

Auburn University Horticulture experts said families should enjoy this time of togetherness and create new family pastimes, such as a love of gardening.

Working together in the garden tightens the family bond and makes for a great learning experience. (contributed)

“I’m puzzled at the idea of spending at-home time on the couch. The main thing in my mind is that folks need to take the opportunity to go outside,” said Tia Gonzalez, Agricultural Program assistant at Auburn University and owner of Naturista Fine Garden Design. “The weather is fabulous and gardening is food for the soul.”

Dani Carroll, a regional Alabama extension agent affiliated with Auburn University, said now is a great time to introduce children to gardening. She said that making a garden is a good learning experience.

“A lot of people have already started plants this year, but it’s not too late to start,” said Carroll, who earned a master’s degree in horticulture from Auburn University. “Theme gardens are an awesome way to get kids into gardening. Create a ‘pizza garden’ by growing all the vegetables you’d put on a pizza: peppers, onions, tomatoes and basil. Or grow a ‘salsa garden’ with hot peppers, tomatoes and cilantro.”

“With children out of school now, you can easily throw out some annual seeds and see flowers this year,” she said. Planting is a task that the family can do together. Kids will enjoy sowing marigolds and zinnias.

Another fun option for kids is a sensory garden with herbs that have different scents and textures.

“Lemon balm, thyme, and mints such as spearmint and peppermint are fun for kids to grow,” she said. “Even common sage has a texture to it, and you can add aromatic herbs such as rosemary, one of my favorite landscape plants. Add lamb’s ear and mosses to add the sensation of a soft touch.”

A successful butterfly garden incorporates plants to feed insects from larvae stage until the time a beautiful butterfly emerges. (Dani Carroll/Auburn University)

A butterfly garden is another good option, because it provides a fun lesson for kids. Carroll noted that, in creating a garden, one uses a lot of the skills learned in school, such as math for placing seeds at the right distance to grow, and using patterns of colors that attract bees and other natural pollinator insects.

Fast-growing annuals such as sunflowers, including the Mexican sunflower, tithonia, are easy to sow, grow quickly and have colorful blooms.

“Butterflies are all over these flowers, which are annuals that attract a lot of butterflies all summer,” Carroll said.

To grow a successful butterfly garden, Carroll said to provide host plants for the butterfly larvae and caterpillars, and flowers that make nectar needed by adult butterflies. You must have the right plants in your yard to see the entire life cycle of the insects.

“Monarch butterflies lay eggs on butterfly weed, and black swallowtail butterflies seek out Queen Anne’s lace,” she said. “Butterflies are very host-specific. You’ve got to have things in the yard to see the entire life cycle. The adults will lay eggs on the host plants.”

To make sure flowering plants and vegetables will grow within your area, click on the Alabama extension “sow” app and plug in your ZIP code to see how plants will perform.

“You’ll grow a lifelong love of gardening in your kids, who will like seeing the flowers and plants grow,” Carroll said.

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