Earth Day is all about supporting the environment, and what better way to create sustainability for our future than to teach our kids how to keep a garden?

I know those of you with small kids and/or the opposite of green thumbs rolled your eyes at that last sentence, but hear me out. We spoke to Certified Plant Professional Jennifer Parisio of Pike Nurseries in Ballantyne, who says gardening can help kids and their parents develop good eating habits, and help kids improve their fine motor skills.

They’ll even be using math to measure water, fertilizer and counting/calendar time.

Here are four easy-to-care-for plants that you and your kids can plant in honor of Earth Day this year:

Butterfly weed (Asclepius)

Not technically a weed, these orange and yellow flowers are perennials, meaning they (should) live for two years or more and require less maintenance than an annual, which you would have to pull out and replace each growing season.

Nikki Jackson, site manager at Southern Styles Nursery on Rea Road, said these pretty plants have the added bonus of attracting the caterpillars that will eventually become monarch butterflies. The little guys often set up their chrysalis on the plant, so kids will have an opportunity to view the insect’s entire life cycle.

Jackson said butterfly weed needs full sunlight and only minimal water, meaning it is tolerant of drought conditions (and kids who forget to water them) as well.

Beans

After reading “Jack and the Beanstalk,” help your little adventurers plant a beanstalk of their own. Yours will more than likely come from seeds rather than magic beans, but you can buy some varieties in plant form.

With dozens of types available in our area, you should be able to find something your family will love — or maybe even start a new healthy eating habit (a parent can dream, right?).

If you’re growing from a seed, you likely won’t see much bean production until June, Jackson said. But you’ll probably see sprouting much sooner than that. If you’re planting seeds, have your kids keep the area evenly moist until all the seedlings pop out of the ground.

Portulaca

If your kiddos love lots of bright flowers, grab a portulaca, a low-growing ground cover plant that needs very little water. Not having a yard or garden won’t disqualify your kiddos from growing portulaca. These plants love to spread and even let their blooms and greenery overflow planters, making them a great candidate for pots or planters in smaller places like porches and decks. The plant comes in lots of colors including red, purple and white, and like butterfly weed, will attract lots of butterflies.

Squash

Even though we associate this tasty veggie with fall, April is actually a great time to plant summer squash in our area. Like beans, your vegetables can either come from seeds or a plant. Jackson said you’ll likely have squash to eat in about a month if you’re working from a plant, or about two months if you’re working from a seed. Each summer squash seed or plant should be planted about two feet from its nearest neighbor in the garden.

Do you have any other favorite plants for junior gardeners? Tell us in the comments.

This story was written for CharlotteFive’s latest channel for parents in the QC, called QC Playground. Sign up for the weekly QC Playground newsletter here.

Photo Credit: Sarah Pryor

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