We’ve started the seed planting for this year, hurrah!
Sowing seeds is my kids favourite gardening job; it never fails to grab their attention and we always have a really great time doing it. Usually a messy time too, but that goes with the territory!
Now, you may be thinking “But it’s still freezing outside, no way could we start growing tender little seedlings” – and yes, if you planted most seeds outdoors at this time of year you’d be asking for trouble. But you don’t need lots of fancy equipment to make a success of it, and it’s a great way to get gardening with children in winter.
Here’s a quick guide to the best seeds to grow with children in winter, and how to plant them.
Quick and easy growing seeds to sow with kids in winter
You can of course choose to grow any seeds that are happy to be planted under cover in winter; the packet will give you this information. If the kids have a particular plant in mind, go for it! If you’d like some inspiration, here are my top picks for quick and easy growing seeds.
*Sweet peas are perfect for little hands because the seeds are quite big and easy to handle. There are so many varieties to choose from too, so kids can have fun picking their favourite colour or name. Sweet peas are a climbing plant, so you will need to give them some support once they’re planted out into the garden.
*Pansies are always a favourite with my kids, they love their cheerful blooms and bright colours. They’re tough little plants too, so they’re great for enthusiastic little hands.
*Nasturtiums are brilliant on so many levels. They’re really easy to grow, you can grow them as climbing or trailing plants, they have gorgeous bright blooms, and the flowers are edible.
*Coleus is a good foliage plant for kids to grow. The leaves are really bright and colourful, and the seeds are usually sold in mixed packs so you can have fun seeing which varieties appear.
*Snapdragons (also known as Antirrhinums) have cute flowers that look like little snapping beaks, which makes them a fun option for kids. Choose a tall variety and they make fantastic cut flowers too.
Equipment for gardening with children in winter
You don’t need a huge array of fancy equipment to plant seeds with children. Some small plant pots (if you’re buying new ones, try to avoid plastic), plant markers, your seeds, some compost and a watering can is really all you need.
Good quality *seed compost will give your plants a great start, but *general purpose compost is fine too. Ideally your watering can should be small enough for kids to handle, with a rose attachment to deliver a fine shower of water.
It’s by no means essential, but you might want to also use *child-size hand tools. They’re much easier for kids to use effectively, and to be honest I find it easier to use them for this job too!
*Children’s gardening gloves are worth considering too, particularly if your compost is really cold and/or damp. I do think the actual seed sowing is much easier with bare hands though.
If you plant seeds regularly, I can’t recommend a basic *potting station enough. It’s a low-cost piece of kit which keeps pots, compost and tools all in one place for easy access, with a shelf for smaller items like seed packets and plant markers. It’s lightweight and portable, so you can easily set it up at the right height for kids to use. It helps contain the inevitable mess too. Ours is made of plastic, it has been well-used for many years and is still going strong. If you’d like to avoid plastic, you can also buy foldaway potting stations made from fabric; if these had been around when I bought mine I would have definitely gone for this option.
Ideal conditions for growing seeds in winter
Seeds need light, warmth and moisture to germinate, and at this time of year your pots will need to be kept indoors.
At the most basic level, a sunny windowsill in a warm room will do the trick. If you want to give your seeds optimum conditions, a small heated *propagator is the way to go. These take up very little space and provide a steady temperature with ventilation, and they have the added bonus that kids can easily see into them to check on their plants.
How to plant seeds with kids
Before you start gardening with children in winter, I’d recommend gathering all your equipment together. I find this much easier than hunting things down while the kids get cold and impatient!
When you’re ready to plant, spend a couple of minutes looking at the seed packet instructions together, so the kids know what they’re going to be doing. It’s nice to also have a little chat about the conditions seeds need in order to grow, and why; this will help them when it comes to looking after their seedlings.
Choose your plant pot and fill it with compost, aiming to stop when the pot is about three quarters full.
Now it’s time to sow the seeds. Large seeds can be poked individually into the soil, while smaller seeds need to be scattered over the surface of the compost. If your seeds are quite small you might want to practice taking little pinches of seed before you start.
Children will inevitably struggle to sow seeds evenly; don’t worry about this. You can easily thin the seedlings out later, and this is a good gardening skill to learn anyway.
Now you’re ready to sprinkle a small amount of compost over the top of the seeds.
Remember to label your pot – it’s surprisingly easy to forget what you’ve planted where!
The last job is to give your seeds a drink. Remember that rose attachment I mentioned earlier? That stops you flooding the soil and possibly washing away the seeds.
Transfer your pots to their growing spot and you’re done. Encourage children to keep an eye on them and water when necessary. Give your seeds plenty of air too; if you’re using a propagator, open the ventilation slots regularly.
Looking after your seedlings
Once your seedlings start to emerge, things get exciting! Get the kids to check them daily and water them regularly.
You could also have fun measuring their height and recording progress on a chart.
You will need to thin out your seedlings if there are clumps growing closely together; to do it, just pull out some seedlings to leave more room for those remaining.
A quick note on ‘legginess’: this is when seedlings grow tall and spindly, and is more likely to happen when they are grown indoors. It’s caused by too much heat and/or not enough light, so adjust these conditions if your plants are looking a bit stretched.
One final tip: hang onto your seed packets, even if they’re empty. They’re a handy reference guide to caring for your plants, and will also tell you the ideal time to transfer them outdoors.
And that’s it, a quick guide to fun gardening with children in winter! We’ll be sowing seeds regularly for the next few weeks, it’s such a lovely way to start off the year in the garden and look forward to lots of lovely flowers in spring and summer. You can find some other suggestions on ideal seeds to grow with children here, and you might also want to check out my post on successful seed sowing with kids for some more tips.
I hope we’ve inspired you to get growing with the kids this winter – let me know what you’re planting!