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by Laura Lane
Is your child cranky and tired of being cooped up in the house this winter? Try bringing nature inside. Here are two easy and inexpensive gardening projects that will help shake the winter doldrums and create a bit of spring indoors.
Kids enjoy growing herbs, because they can use them in cooking, too. Good herbs to start out with include basil, chives, thyme, dill and parsley. “These are easy to start from seed indoors, and they can be used in a lot of different dishes,” says horticulturist Samantha Peckham.
In addition to the seeds, your child will need several small pots, a tray to hold the pots, a clear lid that covers the tray (to help hold moisture in) and some seed-starter potting soil. A simple alternative to gathering all these supplies is to purchase an indoor seed-starting kit. “These kits have everything you need to get going, except for the seeds,” Peckham says.
The first step is to fill the small containers with potting soil and lightly water them. Then your child can place the seeds in the pots, according to the directions on the seed packages. Once the seeds are in, have your child lightly water the containers again. Your child can regularly check to see if the soil is drying out. Remind him or her that herbs don’t like too much water, so it’s best to have a light touch with the watering can.
Let your child choose a sunny spot in the house to grow the herbs. “A south-facing window is best, because it gives you the most natural light, especially in the winter. If you don’t have this, you can set them up anywhere, as long as you have an additional light source to help them grow,” Peckham says. You can buy a grow light at your garden store, or a kit for growing seeds indoors may have one included.
Soon your child will see a little plant start to sprout up. In the spring, herbs can be planted outside. It’s important to gradually transition the plants from indoors to outdoors. Gardeners call this process “hardening off.” Most herbs don’t like temperatures below 50 degrees F, so your child can place the herb plants outside during the day, and then bring them in during the night for a week or two.
A terrarium is a glass container used to grow plants. Your children can be the architects of miniature worlds as they choose plants and decorations to create small earth-like habitats in glass containers.
“The process of building a terrarium is very simple, and it’s fun. I’ve had kids who have put in dinosaur figures or objects they’ve found, like pinecones,” says Jennifer Sterling, youth and family programs coordinator at Olbrich Botanical Gardens in Madison, WI. “The whole thing can be done for under $20, and they make great gifts, too.”
To get started, you will need a clear glass container with or without a lid; aquarium-type rocks or marbles; activated charcoal, which you can purchase at a garden supply or pet store; potting soil and a few plants.
Make sure the container has a wide mouth, so your kids can put their hands inside. Sterling suggests a container that is around 10 inches in diameter and 12 inches tall. “I’ve had success with a glass cookie jar from Target,” she says. Traditionally, terrariums are built using clear containers with lids, but for the purpose of this project, the lid is optional.
The first step is to line the bottom of the container with an inch or two of rocks or marbles. This bottom layer helps with drainage. The activated charcoal then goes on top of the rock layer. The charcoal helps purify the terrarium and keep mold and odors away, Sterling says.
Check out these resources for more information on indoor gardening projects for kids:
“Kids’ Container Gardening”
– by Cindy Krezel
“A Kid’s Guide to Making a Terrarium”
– by Stephanie Bearce
“A Kid’s Guide to Container Gardening”
– by Stephanie Bearce
The National Gardening Association’s website for kids: http://www.kidsgardening.org/
Next, your children can add potting soil to their containers. It’s very important to use potting soil from a garden store, so you can keep the terrariums free of microorganisms found in outside dirt. Depending on the plants and the size of the containers, have your kids add two to four inches of potting soil. The soil doesn’t have to be level, so your children can have fun creating hills in the containers.
Now, it’s time to plant! Keep in mind that houseplants usually work best for beginners, and the key is to pick plants that have the same water and light requirements, Sterling says. “For terrariums specifically, plants with low to medium light needs and higher moisture needs work well,” she says.
Your kids can look for plants that have different textures, leaf shapes and heights to add interest to the plantings. Again, it’s important to purchase plants rather than use ones from outside. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the different ways of decorating the terrarium. Ideas include favorite plastic animal figures, miniature furniture, paper butterflies, rocks and pinecones.
Once the plants are in, water the terrarium. “Initially, give it a good dose of water to get the soil moist. After that, I’d recommend checking the soil in your terrarium once a week to see if it’s drying out and needs a light misting,” Sterling says. The terrarium will do best when it is placed in a spot that receives indirect sunlight.
Gardening indoors reminds your children that winter won’t last forever. Doing these projects is also a great way to spark kids’ imagination about all the exciting garden projects they can tackle in the spring.
Laura Lane and her husband have two children and a giant Bernese Mountain Dog, who loves digging in the dirt as much as the kids do.