Indoor gardening fun with kids

p32After one of the coldest winters in Ottawa history, I find myself hungering for the sensory-rich experiences of summer. In my mind’s eye, I can hear the crunch of a green bean fresh from the garden, taste the warm juices of a sun-kissed tomato and see the golden, cheery face of a sunflower turned skyward.

But as much as I long to pack my mittens away, I’m reluctant to do it just yet, for fear that winter has one last mean-spirited trick to play on the nation’s capital. So what’s a mom to do if Mother Nature insists on dragging her feet this spring – and delays the start of gardening season?

This year, I’m taking matters into my own hands by growing plant seeds indoors. Not only is it a fun and inexpensive project to take on with the kids, it will also give the summer garden a major jumpstart.


For about $30, I picked up all the essentials for our indoor gardening project at the neighbourhood hardware store. Here’s a list of the basics to get started:

p29Peat pots

Since they’re biodegradable, peat pots can be planted directly into the ground with no waste. You can purchase a pack of individual pots or choose a tray of “cell pots” that can be broken apart when you’re ready to move them to the garden. I went for the Jiffy 32-Cell Seed Starter Tray, which was $6.99 at my local Canadian Tire.

Seed starting potting mix

Recommended for germinating vegetable, flower and herb seeds, most seed starters contain a blend of sphagnum peat and perlite. I picked up the 8.8 L bag of Miracle-Gro Seed Starter for $6.99, which is also enriched with plant food, and had more than enough to fill my 32 cell pots.

Experts advise against using outdoor garden soil, as it can introduce disease causing organisms to your indoor pots.


To keep young children engaged, select fruit, vegetable or flower seeds that germinate quickly. Big seeds contain more energy than smaller seeds and tend to sprout fastest – in 10 days or less. Flower seeds worth trying include sunflowers, gloriosa daisies and marigolds. For fruits and vegetables, try watermelon, squash, beans or tomatoes. Pumpkins are another fun choice for kids – they can look forward to carving a homegrown Jack-o-lantern next Halloween! Most seed packets cost $3 or less.

A growing understanding of plant life

Ready to roll up your sleeves and tackle an indoor gardening project with the kids? While you’re getting dirt under your fingernails, take time to discuss some of the concepts behind plant growth. Guide your children through some fun, educational exercises, such as:

Using a notebook to record observations of plants as they grow (hint: the dollar store always has cute notebooks with floral covers!)

Making a list of what plants need in order to be healthy, and discussing how plants require an array of different growing conditions.

Helping younger children to draw and identify the different parts of a plant, or explaining the process of photosynthesis to an older child.

Planning the layout of your outdoor garden, and making/labelling plant markers to distinguish between outdoor plants.

Looking through recipe books and discussing how homegrown fruits, vegetables or herbs could be incorporated into a special dish.

p31Plastic Tablecloth

Consider picking up a cheap, disposable tablecloth from the dollar store to drape your table before setting up for planting. Little hands aren’t always steady when handling dirt and water, so plan for a mess!

Spoons or a small trowel

When the kids and I planted our seeds, my gardening tools were hard to access (I wasn’t keen on shovelling out the front of the garden shed just to access my trowel!).

A simple spoon will do the trick nicely, especially when you’re filling small peat pots.


A bottle or small pitcher with a spout will make it easier for your mini green thumbs to distribute drinks to their freshly-planted seeds.


  • Using spoons, fill your peat pots approximately half full with potting mix.
  • Drop in seeds; one per small pot, or several if using larger containers.
  • Spoon more potting mix over seeds, packing mix down gently with the spoon.
  • Water each peat pot well; use enough water to begin to saturate the outside walls of the peat pot.
  • Place in a warm spot, exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Check up on your seeds regularly, and be sure to keep soil consistently moist.

empty clay flower pot over white backgroundReady, set … plant!

Wondering when to move your growing plants into the great outdoors? In Canada, gardeners look to their region’s average frost dates when planning their growing season. According to the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the average date of the last spring frost in Ottawa is May 11. While Mother Nature makes no guarantee that there won’t be another frost after that date, the risk of frost drops dramatically about two weeks later – which is why the May long weekend is such a busy time at greenhouses and garden centres!

Photo: © Perfect_Lazybones
Photo: © monkeybusiness