Learning the basics

Preparing the soil

If children are growing plants outdoors, it’s important that they learn to prepare the soil well. This will give any plants a good start and a better chance that they will thrive. If the soil hasn’t been cultivated before, it’s best for an adult to dig it over first – this will break up large clumps that might be too much for youngsters to deal with and also ensure nothing nasty is lurking under the surface. The child can then dig the soil to remove any stones or weeds and break down any clumps of soil. Next they should rake the surface smooth, shuffle over the surface to consolidate it, before raking it again to give it a ‘fine tilth’ finish. Make sure that you don’t give the child more space to cultivate than they can cope with. An area of up to 1m square should be sufficient to grow most things while still remaining manageable in size.

Sowing seeds

Growing plants from seed can be a fantastic experience for children – they put this tiny thing into the ground and watch it grow to become a beautiful flower or tasty food.

When starting gardening with children, it’s simpler to sow seeds which are larger and easier to handle. Plants such as sunflowers, pumpkins, courgettes and peas are good examples. If you want to sow smaller seeds, then mix them with dry silver sand or horticultural sand before sowing, that way you have a better chance of getting an even coverage when the mixture is sprinkled on the soil or compost.

You should also check the germination time of the seeds. While older children will have more patience, youngsters may be bored by plants which take months of care and attention before they even start to grow!

Follow the instructions on the seed packet and check out our guide on how to sow seeds. Many seeds can be sown directly outside, so this is easier for a first timer as they won’t need to be moved. If they need to be raised under cover, then try to sow sparsely or singly in pots rather than trays – this will need more space but will avoid the need to prick out the seedlings from trays into pots (though if the children are older, or more experienced in the garden, pricking out can be a fun activity for them to do).

Children should be encouraged to join in with all the care of their seedlings; regularly watering, weeding and thinning out.

Planting bulbs

Bulbs are easy to plant. Children can have fun digging the hole, measuring the depth is right, putting the bulb in the right way up, covering it and then labelling it so they don’t forget where they’ve planted it. Just ensure that the children wear gloves when handling bulbs as some may irritate the skin.

Planting plants

While planting bought plants doesn’t necessarily give quite the same satisfaction as growing them from seed, it can still be a fun activity. Children will enjoy digging the hole, checking it’s the right size, teasing out the plant’s roots gently and firming it in before giving it a good watering.


Making compost is a smelly, mucky job which most adults do for the end product, rather than for the enjoyment of the process. However, as far as many kids are concerned, smelly and mucky is great! So get your kids involved in composting – teach them what goes in it, how it needs to be mixed in and how long it takes to compost. Then, when it’s ready, make sure they have plenty of the end product to use on their patch. Alternatively, get them a ‘wormery’ kit, a space saving alternative to composting which has the added bonus that the children can watch the worms munching away on garden and kitchen waste.