The best plants for kids are the ones they want to grow. I’ve been gardening with my children since they were old enough to eat the dirt (the older one is 10 now), and they enjoy the experience so much more when they get in there and pick out their own plants or seed packets. However, it doesn’t hurt to try to steer them in the right direction. Load up the little one in your life and hit the garden center to pick out one of these perfect plants for kids.
Don’t Forget the Veggies
We kept our main list focused on flowers, but kids will dig growing veggies, too.
- Carrots. The seeds sometimes need a little extra germination time, but when kids finally get to pull them from the ground, the look on their faces will be pure awe.
- Peas. They’re easy to grow, and so delicious to eat straight from the garden.
- Corn. Kids love it when the stalks grow taller than their heads. Grow corn in at least a 4- x 4-ft. block.
- Potatoes. Harvesting them is like a treasure hunt. Plant in a container, so kids can dump it out and really dig in to find the potatoes.
- Val Lawless/Shutterstock.com
Leucanthemum x superbum, Zones 4 to 9
Ah, it’s the classic daisy! You often see daisies along the road, growing native, and now you can have them in your backyard, too. Ask at the garden center for Shasta recommendations. They might know of some new varieties just made for a sunny spot in your backyard.
Kid appeal: It’s the perfect cut flower. Give kids a vase and let them pick their own summertime bouquet.
- Walters Gardens Inc.
Asclepias incarnata, Zones 3 to 9
Kids are never too young to learn about the importance of milkweed and other host plants. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed each year because it’s the only food their caterpillars can consume. Pick out a native variety that will do well in your area. For information on other butterfly host plants, see our story beginning on page 48.
Kid appeal: It’s incredibly cool to grab a magnifying glass and find tiny monarch eggs or caterpillars on your milkweed.
Trapaeolum spp., annual
Don’t let sunflowers and zinnias steal all the thunder: Nasturtiums are ideal annuals to start from seed, too. This spicy-scented flower does best with no care at all, blooming from spring through frost. Varieties range from ground covers to those that grow up to 10 feet, which need the support of a trellis.
Kid appeal: The flowers are edible. Kids will think it’s awesome to throw the petals in a salad or on their sandwiches.
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Petunias seem to get better and better. They come in pretty much every color you can imagine, and they’re so low-maintenance you can put them in a container and forget about them for a few days. They might wilt a little bit, but give them some water and they’ll perk right up.
Kid appeal: Deadheading is so much fun for kids. Teach them how to deadhead petunias, and then watch them be impressed when new blooms emerge.
- Walters Gardens Inc.
Colocasia esculenta, annual
The giant leaves have a big name to live up to, and they certainly do. The leaves get up to 3 feet long, and they’re a good choice for shady areas. Most people treat elephant’s ears as an annual, though you can dig them up at the end of the season and replant them again in spring.
Kid appeal: Digging a hole big enough for some of the giant varieties is a fun job all by itself.
- Walters Gardens Inc.
Sempervivum spp., Zones 4 to 8
Some people say the only way to kill this succulent is by being too generous with water—a good problem to have when kids are involved. This perennial grows only a few inches tall but can spread up to 20 inches wide in sun to light shade, so you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Kid appeal: Have you heard of fairy or miniature gardens? Kids love them, and hens-and-chicks are the ideal plants.
- W. Altee Burpee & Co.
All you need is a sunny spot, and a pack of zinnia seeds will go a long way. Like sunflowers, they come in dozens of varieties. Use this opportunity to give kids full control—let them read about each plant type and then decide which one they want to try. Zinnias make good cut flowers, too.
Kid appeal: There are so many bright colors, junior gardeners will have plenty to choose from.
- Ami Mataraj/Shutterstock.com
Helianthus annuus, annual
Sunflowers are probably the most traditional seeds to give kids. They germinate so easily, you can have kids start the seeds indoors to see how fast they sprout, then move seedlings out to the garden. There are so many ways to go, from mammoth varieties that grow more than 10 feet high to puffy teddy-bear cultivars. Hit the seed aisle to pick your favorite.
Kid appeal: They’ll get a kick out of watching sun-flowers grow big and tall. Then they can harvest the seeds for themselves, or watch the birds eat them up.
- Nada's Images/Shutterstock.com
Echinacea purpurea, Zones 3 to 9
Like host plants, classic American species should be part of every kid’s gardening knowledge. Purple coneflowers are a staple across the country for a good reason. While the newer coneflower varieties come in a rainbow of hues, they don’t always come back as reliably as the purple coneflower. Pick up a plant at the garden center for instant gratification.
Kid appeal: The head of the coneflower is appealingly stiff and pokey without being sharp or dangerous.
Stachys byzantina, Zones 4 to 8
Lambs’ ears often fly under the radar, but they’re a wonderful addition to any garden. Tolerating sun, shade and even drought, they’re very forgiving. Plus they bloom from early summer to frost, so you can enjoy them for months.
Kid appeal: The soft, woolly leaves make them a must-touch plant. They really do feel like a lamb’s fuzzy ear.
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