Early in the year is the time to choose seeds for plants you are going to sow and grow for the year and March, April and May is the time to sow them. If you are new to gardening or have never gardened with your children before here are some thoughts on the what, why and how of growing seeds with your kids. You can of course buy plants later in the year, but there is magic in seeing those seeds sprout and burst forth. It is a joy to watch children experience it whatever age they are. So select a few packets of seeds now and get sowing with your children.
Where to Source your Seeds
Your local garden centre will stock a wide range of seeds. You may wish to choose with your kids in the comfort of your own home. You can send away for catalogues or view online. Most of the large seed suppliers have a special section highlighting seeds which are easy for children to grow. It is also worthwhile trying a few of the smaller seed suppliers. We like Thompson and Morgan, Seed Parade, Victoriana Nurseries, which has a great Scarecrow Club for children and Sea Spring Seeds (veg only) and Higgledy Garden (flowers only).
Another way is to join your local horticultural society or go down and visit the shop on your local allotments. Family and friends who are keen gardeners are also bound to have spare seeds for you to have a go with. One of my most successful vegetables last year was Pad Choi which came as a free packet of seeds with the RHS magazine.
What Seeds to Choose Suitable for Children to Sow
The world is your oyster. Take your pick from
Annuals – flowers that complete their life cycle in one year. Sown in early spring, they will mature and bloom in the summer, make seed if allowed to do so, and then die away.
Biennials – seed is sown in spring or summer, the young plants are moved to their flowering position in autumn or early spring to flower about 12 months after sowing.
Perennials they go on flowering year after year, though they may not flower the same year ass they are sown.
Fruit – most fruit are Perennial and will come back year after year, though you would buy raspberry canes and bushes of other soft fruit such as blueberries.
Vegetables – Most vegetables are annuals and can be grown from seed, though vegetables which are perennial such as Jerusalem artichokes and asparagus are good options as you will not have to resow or plant every year.
Seed sizes vary considerably. Large seeds like those from courgettes, beans, nasturtiums and sunflowers are all easy for toddlers to handle. Ask your child what type of plants they would like to grow. Whether they would like to have scented flowers that attract bees and butterflies, have flowers to cut and bring inside, or grow edible plants and vegetables.
Not all plants and vegetables are easily grown from seed. For some it is best to buy small plants. If you are just starting out and your children are quite young then perhaps choose seeds from the following list:-
Cress – grown indoors, quickly germinated on just wet kitchen roll, assured success.
Nasturtium – will grow in situ, flowers and petals edible, seed heads can be collected for next year. See photo above.
Sunflower – try some of the shorter varieties as well as the Giant Russian Sunflower. We have some great sunflower seeds birthday cards for sell.
Pot Marigold – An annual that looks great in the flower and vegetable garden. Will self-seed.
Green Beans – Children love to see these growing and twisting up poles. Make a bean pole den.
Chives – perennial herb from the onion family with pretty purple flowers.
Cornflower – will grow in situ and will flower in 10 – 12 weeks.
Courgette – large seeds to sow. Children will love seeing how fast the courgette grows.
If you and your children are feeling more adventurous and a little more patient you could try the following:-
Pumpkin –need to soak seeds first overnight, need a temperature of 21c to germinate.
Peas – can sow in situ, need soil temperature of 10c to germinate.
Sweet Pea – soak seeds overnight in tepid water, germinate in a cold frame.
Black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia Hurta ) an annual climber with orange flowers with back centres. You could grow it up the same poles as your beans.
Sowing Seeds Direct into the Ground
Not all seeds have to be sown into seed trays; some can be sown direct into the round where they are going to stay. When buying seeds for your kids to grow look for the words ‘Hardy Annual (HA) and ‘direct sow’ or ‘can be sown outdoors’. The seeds can be sown directly in the ground in the garden because they are generally not affected by frost. The small seedlings will not have the same protection from slugs and snails as those germinated indoors. Please see our information on easy grow flower seeds for children.
What you and your Kids will need to Sow Seeds
Container to sow them in
space to store the seeds container e.g. an indoor window ledge
How to Sow Seeds
You can sow and keep the seeds indoors up until about the end of March/mid April, when the last frosts have disappeared. After end of March you can sow in containers outdoors and one or two herbs, such as chives, can be sown straight into the ground.
Sow in seed compost in half seed trays, small take away trays, modules, small pots with holes punched in for drainage, egg boxes with a try underneath for drainage. Only use the larger seed trays if you want lots of plants. If possible always do the actual sowing outdoors on a fine day and you will avoid a composty floor.
Tasks your Children can do when Sowing Seeds
Your child’s involvement obviously depends on their age and enthusiasm.
- If not already clean, wash the seed trays in soapy water
- Fill the seed tray with potting compost and pat down
- Make a drill (a long line perhaps with a pencil of spoon handle
- Sow seeds. If the seeds are very small tip them fom the packet into your child’s hands or a small container to avoid too many seeds hitting the compost.
- Cover up the seeds with seed compost.
- Water – Part of the fun for kids is watering in the seeds. You may want to use a watering can with a very fine rose or a spray mister to ensure the seeds are not completely drowned.
- Your child can also write or make his own label. Ice lolly sticks make great plant labels.
- Sweep up
Caring for Sown Seeds and Potting On
Keep sprouted seeds frost free, but in daylight, either in the house, unheated greenhouse or a cold frame. Water sparingly. When 2 set of true leaves appear on the seedlings they are large enough to pot on to single pots with potting compost. This is quite a delicate task as the seedlings can be easily damaged. To avoid bruising the stems only hold the seedlings at the leaves of roots. It’s a good way of your child practising their fine motor skills; however you may wish to transplant a few yourself just to ensure some survive.
If all frosts are over you may be able to now keep you plants outside, though you will need to protect them from slug and snail damage.
What your Kids Can Do While Waiting for your Plants to Grow, Flower and Fruit?
Keeping your plants watered is the most important activity to undertake. To keep your child’s interest in the growing you could take weekly photos of the plants development along with their measurements, your child could draw weekly pictures or draw picture of how they see the final ‘product’. There are lots of story books about growing plants; my favourite is Eddies Garden, about a child who grows vegetable and edible flower garden.
Have fun growing your plants and flowers from seed with your children. You might not always be completely successful and sometimes it may be a bit of a chore fitting it into a busy family schedule. Sowing and growing seeds are all great life skills, something your child is unlikely to forget. Just think how proud they are going to be when they can point grandma to a plant in the garden and say ”I grew that”.