Check out these outdoor projects the whole family can enjoy, ranging from easy projects like starting seeds or creating a mini fairy garden, to more involved ones such as turning a stock tank into a raised bed.
The activities are listed roughly in age-group order — starting with projects appropriate for little ones with the help of an adult, scaling up to those that older kids and teens might enjoy and learn from — but feel free to adapt any of them to suit your needs.
1. Grow an Herb Box
It’s not too late in the season to start a pot of kitchen herbs and have kids help pick leaves to add to your favorite dishes. Young children can help with all steps of the process: scooping potting soil into an empty pot, patting down soil to settle it, spacing plant starts (with some help from an adult) and then watering them in. A few easy-to-grow herbs to consider are basil, parsley, thyme, tarragon, sage, oregano and chives. All thrive with full sun and consistent water.
You could consider tucking a few ever-bearing strawberries (which generally produce spring, summer and fall crops) around the edges to give little ones a treat to discover later.
2. Start Seeds
There’s nothing quite like the magic of seeing little leaves pop up from the ground as if by magic. Big seeds — like those of squash, melons, peas and beans — are the easiest to handle and can be a good place to start for your youngest (or most beginner) gardeners. Now is a good time in most climates to sow seeds for pumpkins to have them ready by Halloween. You can begin to sow crops like snow peas and fava beans now in cool-summer climates. In other climates, wait until fall for these cool-season crops.
3. Make Handprint Stepping Stones
Creating stepping stones with family handprints or footprints can be a fun afternoon project, and it’s a way to make your garden feel more personal. It’s easiest to use a handprint stepping stone kit (available from craft stores and online), but you can also make them without a kit using fast-setting concrete and a mold. Have children (or any family member whose handprint you want to commemorate) imprint their hands or feet and arrange any treasures they wish — like polished stones, marbles or shells — into the concrete. Adults can help sign the names of young children with a stick or wooden pencil. Once the concrete sets, find a spot to display them in your garden.
4. Pick Your Own
If there’s one garden “chore” that kids of any age can get behind, it’s harvesting — particularly if it’s something sweet like berries, cherry tomatoes, sugar snap peas or tree fruits like cherries, peaches and plums. Picking fruits from your garden or a nearby pick-your-own farm makes for a fun family activity and is a good way to teach small ones where their favorite fruits come from.
For slightly older children, you can make harvesting from the garden a daily or weekly responsibility. Asking children to pick tomatoes for the family meal can give them a sense of accomplishment (and lend you a hand).
5. Open a Bug Hotel
The concept is as simple as hanging a bird house, except bug hotels resemble collections of items such as hollow bamboo canes and seedpods that aim to mimic habitats like tree cavities that are increasingly rare in urban and suburban environments. The little holes and bug-size crevices are designed to attract insects, such as solitary native bees, that look for such spaces to rest for the night.
You can purchase kits for DIY bug hotels or build your own. (Just be sure to include some type of roof or cover to keep the gathered materials dry.) Family members of all ages can help collect materials to use, such as dried seedpods, twigs, small pine cones and bark. Older kids and teens can help with building the frame for the hotel. Everyone can learn or be reminded of the vital role beneficial insects play in ecosystems and the challenges they face.
6. Create a Fairy Garden
Little kids, teens or really anyone with a whimsical side may enjoy creating a miniature fairy garden in a pot. Start with an empty vessel of your choosing and fill it with potting soil. Then have children choose small plants at the nursery, such as succulents, creeping wire vine or mossy-looking ground covers like baby’s tears or woolly thyme. Use indoor plants if you’d like to keep the garden inside.
Encourage children to arrange a scene from their imagination on the surface of smooth potting soil, tucking in plants as they go. Fine gravel can become fairy pathways or streams, rocks can be seats or stepping stones. You can purchase (or make, if you’re feeling extra crafty) accents such as miniature houses, benches, gates, animal or fairy figurines and toadstools. In this fairy garden, a little pine cone-roofed house sits below an arbor while a tiny lamb figurine sips from the pebbly creek.
7. Plant Up Recycled and Repurposed Containers
You can repurpose almost any vessel as a container for plants, and kids can have fun scouting for unused vessels around the house or yard to repurpose into planters. Some vessels to consider: old teapots and cups, small wooden boxes, old hiking boots, helmets, urns and more.
For containers that don’t have drainage holes, either plan on drilling a few at the bottom or keeping plants in their plastic nursery pots set inside the vessel. Or, if you decide to plant directly in the vessel without drainage holes, be sure to water plants very lightly, as excess water will have nowhere to go.
8. Propagate Succulents
Succulents are a great place to start with plant propagation, as most of them root easily from cuttings or offshoots. Kids can help with all steps of the process, from splitting off baby succulent “pups” from rosette-forming types, to laying them out on a gravel bed (or a paper plate) to harden or potting up the new little succulent plants once rooted. Teens can own the whole process and, if they’re hooked, quickly multiply your succulent collection or create one of their own.
Turning a galvanized-metal livestock tank into a planter is easier than building a raised bed — and it’s a pretty stylish container too. Choose a stock tank based on how much space you have, what you’d like to grow and how much you’d like to spend.
While professional living wall systems are fairly complicated projects best left to professionals, simpler models that use felt planting pockets are no more effort than planting a container and mounting it to the wall. Purchase a premade kit and follow the package’s instructions with regards to mounting and planting. Young kids will need help along the way with this project, but teens could do it nearly start to finish on their own (but may need help attaching it to the wall).