Your Guide to Gardening With a Toddler

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Hooray for gardening season in South Carolina! With this warmer weather comes more opportunities to enjoy the outdoors with our children. One particularly great activity that you’ll want to keep coming back to is gardening!

Gardening offers enormous health benefits. Being outside, in general, has been proven to offer mental and physical benefits. Starting a garden with our children helps to grow their curiosity and respect for nature and science, and it can increase their interest in fruits and vegetables as they naturally explore. And after all their hard work has been harvested, this experience will likely have gifted them a sense of pride and accomplishment over learning a new skill.

Whether you are a seasoned expert with a green thumb, or you are just starting out alongside your small child, take these lessons and tips with you to make the most of your experience gardening with a toddler. Grow knowledge, a love of nature, belly laughs, beautiful flowers, and delicious produce!

Getting Started

  • The best way to get started RIGHT NOW is to just get outside! No planning needed. Show your toddler existing plants in your garden/yard. Involve them in whatever yard work needs doing soon, like pulling weeds, watering plants, or laying pine straw.
  • Take them shopping. Let them pick out their own seedlings, planter, and/or kid-friendly gardening tools. Just like we adults get excited over new gadgets, your toddler’s new toys will have them excited for their special gardening day(s) with you.

Planning your Garden

  • If you want plants that stand a chance against an enthusiastic, two-year-old gardener that is sometimes a little heavy-handed with the watering can, you must PLAN.
  • The Columbia/Lexington/Irmo area is in USDA Hardiness Zone 8a, so plan accordingly! Choose hardy plants that do well in this zone, and consider the amount of sunlight for your gardening plot.
  • Choose fast-growing, low-maintenance vegetables, such as radishes, broccoli, potatoes, cucumbers, kale, zucchini, peppers, or beets. Maybe you’re inclined to only choose vegetables that you know your toddler will eat. And that’s great too! But if you’re struggling to do this, remember that this gardening activity will speak to toddlers in a language they understand – FUN. And this makes them more inclined to try/eat new things!
  • Choose hardy flowers: Marigold, lavender, begonias, sunflowers, daylily, goldenrod, butterfly weed, or zinnias.
  • Before deciding on a plant, make sure you look up its needs, including sun exposure, soil needs, growing zone, season to plant. And most importantly, check that it is safe for children/pets!

Teachable Concepts

  • Teach them the names or colors of the flowers/vegetables you are planting.
  • Observe with all your senses. How do the flowers/vegetables smell/taste/look/feel? What outdoor animals do you hear?
  • Why plants need water and sunlight.
  • Life cycle of a plant: How do they develop from seeds? How do they bloom?
  • Why butterflies/bees/earthworms are attracted to and good for the garden.

What to Avoid

  • Potentially harmful chemicals, like pesticides and weed killer.
  • Check your yard for any hazards before going out.
  • Stressing over mistakes or messes. These WILL happen. To avoid frustration and meltdowns, adjust your expectations before you begin. Your toddler is only JUST learning gardening, fine motor skills, following instructions, and how the world works in general.

Gardening-Adjacent Activities:

  • Paint your own planters!
  • Make mud pies. Play in the dirt. Get dirty!
  • Nature scavenger hunt. Find cool rocks, sticks, and bugs.
  • Create a sensory bin with leftover seeds, picked weeds/flowers, or fun items you found together on a walk/outdoor scavenger hunt.
  • “Water the Rocks” – Have a toddler that’s still learning how to control the flow from a watering can? Have them water rocks, or create a car wash with their toys! This way, your toddler gets plenty of practice, and none of your pretty flowers need to drown in the process.

What are you and your child looking forward to planting this year?

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Hi, I’m Dani! I’m an engineer turned clinical research scientist. My husband and I met through our mutual love of all things nerdy. We married in 2017 and recently started growing our family. Our first child was born three days into the start of the new decade. Just as we were ready to start bringing her out into the world, the pandemic hit. Finding communities online has been the perfect way for me to feel less alone in new motherhood and the wonderful, emotional, exhausting, and sometimes terrifying experiences that come with it. Columbia Mom =was one of these communities. In April 2021, I joined as a contributor. I will use my background in engineering and science to provide unique activities that I hope you and your children will love. I believe in honestly sharing the “good, bad, funny, frustrating, beautiful, and messy” parts of our new parenthood journey, so in this little corner of the internet, you might relate to something and feel connected and empowered.

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