indoor gardening with little guys.

March 3, 2016


Yesterday I posted a photograph of our plecanthrus going gang-busters, and a few of you asked about how our plants have fared with a toddler in the house. The short answer is that while Faye is enthusiastic about plants in the wild—stopping to sniff anything that resembles a flower, a leafy green thing, or a once-green thing, like the long-dead chrysanthemum on our neighbor’s stoop—she’s fairly ambivalent about the plants in our house so far. She waters them weekly with James, but since they’re mostly kept on high windowsills she doesn’t have regular access to them.

But this spring, I’m looking forward to doing some potting up with her so that she has a little plant of her own to nurture. I did the same thing with my nephew when Faye was still teeny-tiny and watching him care for his charge was the sweetest thing.

I took these shots for a piece that never ran a few years ago, and thought I should finally share them here. My nephew Oliver was exactly Faye’s age—21 months!—when we planted these little mosses for his East Village windowsill garden.

In case any of you have a budding green thumb to encourage, here’s a list of supplies and some friendly advice.toddler_gardening_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_6632

Here’s what you’ll need:

Small pot (or pots) with a drainage hole

Pebbles or stones

Potting soil

A toddler-friendly houseplant, like the moisture-loving, low-light tolerant selaginella moss

A tray to catch extra watertoddler_gardening_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_6669


1. Fill the pots 1/3 way up with small pebbles.

2. Add enough soil to fill the pot up 2/3 of the way.

3. Your little guy might need help with this step: loosen the roots a bit before planting, then tuck the plant into the soil in your pot. Fill in any space around the plant with extra soil. 

4. Water plant thoroughly (outside or in the bathtub works best)

5. Place the plant on a tray in a place that gets low-light and keep the soil moist, but not soaking.toddler_gardening_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_6738

Notes on supplies:

When it comes to supplies, feel free to err on the side of “use what you have.” Oliver was really into watering cans at the time that we potted these up, so we used a bright blue one on the day of planting. He’d recently lost his shovel at the tot-lot, so we used the ever-handy measuring cup instead. Bottom line: No need to go out of your way to get special “gardening supplies” to do this project.

Newspaper is my go-to tool for tackling city gardening projects. Even if you don’t get a paper delivered, it’s pretty easy to come by an extra sheet or two (the sheet we used in these photos had been wrapped around the terracotta pots we got from the hardware store). We used newspaper to cover the patch of sidewalk where we were working so that we didn’t leave behind too much of a mess. When we were finished planting, we could scoop up the extra soil and pebbles onto the newspaper for easy cleanup. (If you live in a place with easier access to a spot of grass, forgo the paper!)

Expect to get a little dirty. That’s the point!toddler_gardening_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_6801

Notes on watering and plant choice:

Where adults might tend toward neglecting their houseplants, the trouble with eager toddlers is the opposite. My nephew had recently drowned a potted plant with his extra-attentive approach to plant care when we took these shots. To counteract the over-eager waterer, I chose a plant that likes to be fairly wet: a selaginella—also called clubmoss. The selaginella also thrives in dim light, which is the kind of light found in most city apartments. It gets extra points for being so fluffy and cute.

The pebbles were our second tactic in the battle against over-watering. Filling the pots up 1/3 of the way with small rocks means that there’s ample space for excess water to drain out of the soil to avoid rot. We also chose simple terracotta pots with drainage holes and put the pots in a tray to catch any run-off.

If you’re not sure where to look to for soil and pebbles in the city, haunt your local hardware store. Most hardware stores stock small bags of both for city-garden-sized projects, and some even sell by the scoop!toddler_gardening_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_6853

How to handle watering inside without creating a watery mess? This took a little bit of puzzling. Oliver’s enthusiasm for the watering can definitely made it an outside-only tool. My sister and I experimented with other bottles that would allow him to water his own plants without flooding the apartment. We finally settled on a recycled dropper bottle, like the kind that essential oils come in. He could shake that little thing to his heart’s content and never really make a mess. Another idea: an empty travel-sized contact solution bottle. For older kids with bigger hands, a spray bottle can act as a mister and also ensure that the plant doesn’t get too much water.

Totally mess opposed? Air plants to the rescue! They need more water than you might think and could be the perfect thing to train a little plant lover!toddler_gardening_reading_my_tea_leaves_IMG_6827
Notes on dealing with loss:

Plants die. The only truly human-proof houseplant is a fake one. In Oliver’s room we chose to keep the plants accessible at chest level so that he could water whenever inspiration struck (with supplemental waterings from his mom and dad). But that also meant that he occasionally asked (or didn’t ask) to lift a pot out of its tray, resulting in the occasional soil spillage. (Some parents might wish to anchor the tray or keep it in a spot that allows for easy cleanup.) But don’t sweat it if your tiny garden looks less than fresh after a few weeks. The good news is that the potting up is half the fun. Make a stop to your local nursery and start again!

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  • Reply Melanie@Toots + Dill March 3, 2016 at 7:42 am

    One of my favorite memories of being younger is planting some carrots in my grandmother’s garden!! It’s such a fun activity and it’s so exciting when the plant or veggie grows into something!! =)

  • Reply Lydia March 3, 2016 at 8:45 am

    I love this! I’m always on the hunt for plants content with indirect light. The house I share seems to face all the wrong directions at all times! So far I love my pothos, peace lily, boston fern, and aloe… I remember reading an old post of yours that talked about keeping plants in the bathroom for the humidity and I find my fern and peace lily both really appreciate that. 🙂 I just gotta find me this moss because it is adorable. I’m near NYC so if you have any nurseries/gardening stores/hardware stores that you recommend in particular, I’d love to hear about them!

  • Reply Laura @ Rather Square March 3, 2016 at 9:51 am

    Great way to involve young children with gardening, especially with limited space. We’re creating a raised bed garden this year in our backyard, but I’ve done lots of container gardening in the past in small apartments with little windowsills (and occasionally a balcony), and it’s so much fun. I love this way of keeping things simple. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Audrey F March 3, 2016 at 1:01 pm

    Loved this sweet post! My husband and I enjoy potting plants for our house and we’re expecting our first child, a son. I teared up daydreaming about doing this with him… it may or may not be the hormones 🙂

  • Reply Heather March 3, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    This is wonderful! I would love to try the moss with my girls.

  • Reply Elizabeth March 3, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    This is so wonderful!!! Absolutely love this post 🙂

  • Reply Diane Eddy March 4, 2016 at 4:24 am

    This is beautiful… precious, so pure!

  • Reply Elva Boyle March 18, 2016 at 5:10 am

    That’s so sweet! My girls also have few pots of plants in their room and they are very careful in watering them and in caring at all. We are also making a small herb garden together during the weekend, they’ve already chosen all the plants they want to plant in it. Gardening with kid outside or indoor is always lovely spent time. greets!

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