How a Family Garden Will Improve Your Health

Dig in the dirt together to add physical activity and subtract stress

Family garden - father and daughter gardening together
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Whether you have an acre of land or a few pots on a balcony, plant a family garden: You'll all live healthier! Gardening is an easy activity to share and you'll harvest benefits along with your fresh vegetables, colorful flowers, and aromatic herbs. Even better, you don't have to wait for your plants to bloom to see those benefits. Some of them (like stress relief) are almost instantaneous.

Benefits of a Family Garden

When parents and kids work together to plant and care for a garden, they can all enjoy these perks.

Physical activity: Gardening and yard work are moderate-intensity exercise, which we all need every day (for at least 30 minutes). While tending your family garden doesn't require the vigorous activity of, say, running or playing singles tennis, it's still beneficial to your body. For one thing, research shows that once you start gardening, you usually continue for more than the recommended 30 minutes. And gardening incorporates fine-motor skill strengthening and stretching.

Lower stress, better mood: Gardening is excellent stress relief for a combination of fascinating reasons: exposure to fresh air and sunlight, performance of relaxing and repetitive tasks, and even contact with harmless bacteria in the soil that helps release serotonin in the brain.

Outdoor time: Children are prone to spending a lot of time indoors, which can negatively affect their behavior and health. A family garden gets them outside enjoying and experiencing the natural world.

Better sleep: All of the above (physical activity, reduced stress, being outside) can contribute to more and better sleep for everyone. And better sleep, in turn, can improve kids' behavior and learning at school.

Healthier eating: Kids who grow vegetables eat vegetables—or at least, they are more willing to taste unfamiliar veggies, which is the first step to incorporating those new flavors into their diet.

Adults who garden are also more likely eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners.

Family time: Planning, sowing, and tending a family garden offers physical activity with a purpose shared by everyone. It helps teach kids responsibility and gives them a sense of accomplishment. It gives all of you a project to work on—and enjoy—together, which reinforces your family bond.

Projects for Your Family Garden

Consult with an expert neighbor, a family member, a local nursery, or a cooperative extension service to find out what plants will grow best where you live. You might consider investing in a rain barrel and starting a compost pile to make your garden more Earth-friendly, too.

If you have limited outdoor space, planting in containers is a good way to try out gardening. Even if you do have space, starting with containers can be a good introduction to gardening for little ones.

Vegetables: Start them from seed, or purchase seedlings to get a jump-start. If your kids have a favorite vegetable it's definitely worth letting them try to grow their own.

You can find favorites like carrots, string beans, bell peppers, and potatoes in kid-appealing purple hues. Tomatoes, too, come in dozens of colors, shapes, and sizes.

Quick-growing plants, such as radishes, peas, cucumbers, and many herbs, are satisfying for kids to grow. And if your children are very small, remember that it's easier for them to plant veggies with larger seeds, like peas, corn, and beans.

Flowers: There are lots of options for involving kids in flower gardening. Let them pick out some seeds based on the pretty pictures on the packets. Or opt for drama with easy-to-grow sunflowers, which can reach as high as eight feet tall. Simple daisies produce lots of blooms for kids to enjoy, display, and craft with. Other blooms that are easy to grow (and thus less likely to lead to disappointment) are marigolds, snapdragons, and geraniums.

You might also decide to plant with a goal in mind, such as creating a butterfly garden full of plants that attract and nourish butterflies. You'll get the satisfaction of growing beautiful things while welcoming beautiful creatures.

Fruits: Fruit trees can be difficult to care for and may take several years to yield a harvest. But strawberries are a snap to grow from seeds or seedlings, and blackberries or raspberries can also be an option (plus they're perennial and will come back year after year). If you live in a very warm climate, or keep them indoors, you can grow your own citrus fruits too.

Family Garden Chores for Kids

Kids can do a lot of the work for your family garden, either independently or alongside an adult. While you don't want them to burn out on tedious tasks like weeding, taking responsibility is part of what makes a family garden meaningful. Set a goal, such as clearing one small, designated area or working for 15 minutes, then do something else.

Depending on their ages, kids can:

  • Collect sticks and other debris
  • Spread bark or mulch
  • Sprinkle plant food
  • Bring compostables to the compost pile
  • Water plants with a watering can or hose
  • Rake leaves
  • Weed (with good instructions on what to pluck and what to keep)
  • Dig holes for seeds or plants
  • Harvest fruits or vegetables from the garden
  • Snip flowers for a bouquet (again, good instructions will be important!)
  • Mow the lawn (age 10 and up)

Whatever you choose to do, make sure to educate your child along the way, too. You'll be growing his brain right along with your family crops. 

Sources:

Gibbs L, Staiger PK, et al. Expanding Children’s Food Experiences: The Impact of a School-Based Kitchen Garden Program. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2013;45(2):137-146.

Soga M, Gaston KJ, Yamaura Y. Gardening Is Beneficial for Health: A Meta-Analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports. 2017;5:92-99.

Van Den Berg AE, Custers MHG. Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress. Journal of Health Psychology.2011;16(1):3-11.

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