Here are five ideas for getting the kids involved in transitioning your summer garden into a beautiful fall garden.
1. Plant fall annuals and perennials - As some of your summer annuals begin to fade, fill in your garden with hardy cooler-season annuals. Let your kids help choose the palate, keeping in mind that golds, reds and purples look great for rich fall color. Try pansies, garden mums, calendula (pot marigold), Indian summer rudbeckia and island asters.
In addition to adding some of these flowers to your existing garden, fill a few different-sized and different-colored containers and planters with them for your porch or patio. They will look great alongside a pumpkin in October!
2. Plant a fall vegetable garden - September is the perfect month to plant a fall vegetable garden. I don't know why, but even finicky kids will eat vegetables they have planted and tended themselves, so there can be a hidden agenda to this project. (Shhhh!) Your harvest can be used for salads and soups later this fall.
Be sure to choose plants that mature quickly. Some varieties take less than 40 days from seed to harvest. Or check your local nursery for starts to speed up the process. Here are some vegetables to try: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, green onions, lettuces, spinach, Swiss chard, peas, radishes, and turnips. Kale is a great choice as well, and the ornamental varieties can and beauty and depth to your garden. (Tip: Most kids don't care for the taste of kale, but I sneak some into soup and they think it's great!)
3. Deadheading, pruning and spreading mulch - Revive summer annuals and perennials by deadheading blooms. Equip your little ones with safety scissors and small baskets to catch the spent blooms or show them how to pinch off the deadheads with their fingers. Explain how this job helps the plant have more energy to create new blooms.
Some young children find this to be satisfying work and will happily take on the task from now on, particularly when you point out the new blooms that results from their labor. Older elementary age and middle school-age kids are great at pruning bushes and trimming hedges. Encourage them to pick up the branches they has trimmed as they go along, so clean up won't be too daunting when they are done.
Most kids love pulling a wheelbarrow. Fill yours part-way with mulch, give your child a kid-sized shovel and a rake, and then let her go to work spreading mulch around trees and shrubs. You'll be surprised at how creative kids can be with this task. Be sure to explain how the mulch will help protect the tree or shrub as well as conserve the amount of water it will need over the fall and winter months.
4. Cleaning and filling bird feeders - Don't forget your feathered friends this fall. Take down and clean your bird feeders and re-fill them for fall. It might be a good time to try a new, inexpensive feeder, such a large pine-cone, spread with peanut butter, rolled in bird seed and tied to a branch with fishing line.
We love to watch hummingbirds. As you think about your spring garden, remember to include some colorful flowers to attract hummingbirds, such as trumpet creeper, beebalm, Oswego tea or trumpet honeysuckle.
5. Planting bulbs for spring - Teach your children the value of planning ahead as you help them plant flowering bulbs for the spring. It's worth the investment to get a bulb-planting tool for your child. Once again, the tool makes the job seem even more important, and it helps little hands get the job done right.
Discuss proper spacing for the bulbs and plan with them how to arrange the flowers according to height and color. If you have a budding artist, let her draw out a plan for the placement of the bulbs that shows how they will look in the spring.
Last but not least: You've heard the adage, don't forget to stop and smell the roses? Well, my take on this for September is, don't forget to stop and jump in the leaves. When the leaves fall, celebrate the change of seasons by raking together a big leaf pile. And then, have at it. Smiles and laughter guaranteed!