Playing outside in the fall is more than just jumping in a pile of leaves. It’s digging and planting, garden-style!
Kids love jumping in the leaves. The crunch and the deep autumn smell coming from a pile of dry leaves is almost irresistible. But leaves aren’t the only draw outside in the fall. Gardening offers plenty of opportunities for kids to get down and dirty in the soil. They can help out, have some fun and learn something in the process. Here are a few fall gardening tasks to think about doing with the kids.
Before you start digging, you’ll want to get the kids some gardening gear. Gloves and aprons come in the smallest kid sizes these days. If you can’t get to the store, make sure the play clothes come out and the good clothes stay in. Also, keep little, hands away from any chemical fertilizers or pest control sprays, even if they have gloves.
October is bulb season. Planning ahead to spring means planting now. “Spring flowering” bulbs are what you’ll look for at the nursery or local home and garden store. Daffodils, lilies and tulips are the popular, easy-peasy bulbs to plant in the fall. Children will certainly be amused with the different names of those species, like “Candy tulip.” If not by name, perhaps the kids would like to choose their flowers by color. Daffodils come in purple and blue as well as yellow. Tulips, of course, come in a whole crayon box full of colors.
Speaking of crayons, break them out to make row markers outside as you plant. Let the kids mark any rows they helped with. There are make-you-own-mark gardening kits out there. Search the web for products or projects. But the simplest stake, like permanent marker on a popsicle stick, will be fine. The fun is in the kids “staking a claim” to their own work.
Tropical plants have been lining more and more walks in the Northeast lately. Their exotic colors and unusual leaf shapes have been gaining popularity with landscapers here. Tropicals add a little flair to the typical garden fare. Tropical plants can’t survive the winter outside, though. They will have to be transferred to pots so they can “over winter” indoors. Some tropicals can get quite large and heavy. Trimming the plants significantly will lighten the load. Enlist an older kid to bring around a dolly or wheelbarrow to transport the plants. Have the kids set up and organize shelves for the wintering tropical plants. The temperature in the room can be cool but should not dip below 50 degrees F. Look up guidelines for each species to learn how much sun and heat they need to survive until they can grace your garden again.
Tubers and root tubers can be unearthed for the winter, too. Kids enjoy pulling up and preparing the edible ones especially. You can push off pulling up tubers until the middle of November, but if you see frozen leaves of the tuber plants, it is time to get them up and into cool, dry storage. Dahlias, cannas and elephant ears (kids will love that one) are common tuber plants popular in this area. The root storage can vary a bit. Double-check on what’s best for each. Over the winter months, check the storage at least once a month. You’ll want to take out any tuber that has signs of rot so it doesn’t affect the other plants. The kids can help with this and learn a little about plant biology in the process.
Everyone loves to see the results of their own hard work, and every gardener knows the pride that blooms within when their gardens grow. Gardening is a great lesson in persistence and patience. Whatever your gardening tasks, integrate the kids into the work. Next year, they may skip the leaf pile to plant with you.