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Spark interest in gardening by getting kids involved

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Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 5:59 am, Thu May 31, 2012.

One possible way to get your children to eat their veggies is to have junior help grown them.

Looking to build some pride? Have them plant their very own flower garden.

Vern Weigum, who owns the Ham Lane nursery of the same name, started cultivating his own plants when he was nine years old. His dad had opened a new landscaping business and the younger Weigum was eager to help.

Today when people ask if he sells gardening products for chlidren, he says everything in his store can be used from anyone ages 2 to 102. "I'm geared for everybody."

To get started, gardners suggest encouraging enthusiasm by planting seeds that mature quickly and are large enough for a child to easily handle. Seed packets can be colorful and fun to look at, so let your child pick out a few of their own.

When you're ready to start, start small.

Many local retailers sell miniature pots with seeds and peat moss already inserted. These are an easy choice for indoor gardens.

If you live in an apartment or don't have much space, gardening in pots and containers can be just as much fun. Allow your child to use his or her imagination in choosing containers to be used as planters — just about anything that holds soil and has good drainage can be used.

When you're ready to tackle a real garden, go ahead and let your little one get dirty. What child doesn't love digging in the ground or adding water to make mud pies?

Pick up tiny real shovels, hoes and spades at garden outlets including Lowe's. Sometimes you can find other tools at less expensive prices at places like 99 Cents Store.

Weigums sells so-called six packs of plants small enough for little hands.

"It's important to get the kids in the garden to see how things grow," he said. "Have them make small holes in the ground to put the plants into, water it and watch it grow bigger."

While spring is the ideal season to start planting, gardening activities do not have to be limited to this season. Fall is a good time to have children assist in the planting of trees and spring-blooming flower bulbs.

Tulips, daffodils, hyacinths and crocuses are among the easiest plants for beginners to grow successfully, according to the U. S. Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

Child-friendly planting at a glance

Here are some plants perfect for the beginning gardener:

— Radishes germinate and mature quickly so they might be just the ticket for an impatient child. The variety called "Easter Egg" produces a mix of red, purple and white radishes and matures in just 30 days. The seeds can be sown directly in the garden.

— "Yellow pear" is a cherry tomato that produces loads of sweet, bite-sized yellow fruits. Children enjoy picking and munching them right from the plant.

— "Jack Be Little" is a variety of miniature pumpkin which produces lots of threeto four-inch orange pumpkins. They are edible and also make great seasonal decorations for fall. The seeds are big enough for young children to handle and they will enjoy making a planting mound for them.

— Birdhouse gourd, Lagenaria siceraria, produces fruits 10 to 12 inches long that can be dried and kept for decoration. This plant can be grown on a trellis as a vine or can sprawl on the ground.

— In the flower department sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, are a rewarding crop. Variety "Mammoth" will grow to nineto 12-feet tall and produce huge flower heads loaded with edible seeds.

— Nasturtiums, Tropaeolum spp., are edible flowers of red, pink, orange or yellow. (Just be sure to explain that edible blossoms are the exception and not the rule before you add a few blossoms to the evening salad.)

— Two easy and appealing perennial plants might fit your space and tickle your child's fancy. Lamb's ear, Stachys byzantina, with its fuzzy succulent leaves and silvery green color is a nice edging plant for a flower garden or path. Children love touching and stroking it because it really does feel like a lamb's ear. It will come back next year which can be a source of pride and enjoyment for the young gardener.

— Hens and chicks, Sempervivum tectorum, is a succulent plant that spreads by producing offsets that look like miniatures of the mother plant. It is hardy, doesn't require much water, and will grow to fill in nooks and crannies in almost any sunny part of a garden.

Source: Colorado State University Cooperative Extension

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