Plant a garden in your yard and reap many benefits for you and your family. You can enjoy fresh fruits, veggies, herbs, and a pretty space to look at. Kids young and old will love getting involved in planting and tending a garden. Little ones can play in the dirt while older kids get some hands-on learning experiences. Here’s how to plant a low-maintenance garden in the Chicago region.
Where to Start
Image via Flickr by woodleywonderworks
Chicago and the surrounding areas are considered a part of the 5b hardiness zone according to the United States Department of Agriculture. This means that the average minimum temperature range is from minus 10 degrees to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. Some plants thrive in this zone while others should be avoided. We’ll talk about the easiest plants to care for in this zone later, but first, let’s consider the setup.
If you don’t want to dig up a part of your yard for a veggie and herb garden, a raised bed is a great option and can be fun to build with older kids. A raised bed is also ideal for keeping out pests and if you have poor soil quality. If you’re planting ground cover plants, flowers, trees, and more, take the time to plan everything out. Get the family together to draw a map of your yard and maybe even let the kids decide on plant colors and what kinds of produce you’ll plant.
Easy Plants for Ground Cover
In the areas of your yard that you want to spruce up, there are several easy plants that provide good ground cover. This can be good along the edges of a yard, around the house, and under trees. Ferns, hostas, and juniper are great in shaded areas and will fill a space quickly and easily. They’ll need to be regularly watered if you’re experiencing a hot and dry summer, but otherwise, they are very self-sufficient.
If you’ve got a bare wall on the side of your home, consider planting some wintercreeper vines. This plant is evergreen, so it’ll continue to look great all year round. Lavender is another awesome option for ground cover, as it grows large and wide and produces pretty tiny purple flowers. It can also be used to make simple bouquets for friends and teachers that will smell delightful.
Attract birds and bees to your garden with colorful perennials. Tulips are an easy option and offer a variety of colors. They prefer to grow in full sun. Other full-sun plants that do well in zone 5 include delphinium, lilies, hollyhock, and hyacinths. Foxglove produces unique, tubular blooms in pink, purple, yellow, or red. It grows up to 5 feet tall and does fine in anything from full sun to full shade.
Veggies and Fruits
If you have a child that enjoys cooking, consider planting some vegetables and herbs that they can use for specific recipes. Maybe have a salsa section of your garden with peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Certain veggies will need to be planted earlier than others, so a vegetable garden takes some planning ahead. Plant cold-weather crops, like beets, broccoli, radishes, carrots, and lettuce in April. Onions and celery can go in the ground in May. In June, you’ll want to plant warmer crops, like tomatoes, peppers, watermelon, cucumber, and squash. Blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries also do well in this area.
There are tons of options when it comes to herbs that do well in zone 5. Kids can easily take care of a small patch of herbs and will like to smell and taste the different varieties. Mint is a great option for kids because it’s a hardy plant that comes in many different varieties.
Keep things fun by choosing several types of mint. There’s chocolate mint, strawberry mint, orange mint, spearmint, pineapple mint, and more. Make it into a fun challenge with a blindfold smelling test to see if the kids can tell the difference between the varieties. Other herbs that are easy to grow include cilantro, oregano, and dill. Dill is great for pickling, another fun activity to do with kids.
Planting a fruit tree is an exciting endeavor for a family, as it will last many years, but it typically takes a while to produce fruit. Depending on the tree and whether you start it with a transplant or by seed, it can take a few years to see fruit. Fruit trees rated for zone 5 include apple, pear, plum, and peach. Certain varieties are easier to care for than others, so be sure to find a good fit.
Getting the Family Involved
As you plant your garden, get kids involved with choosing the seeds and plants to start with. If you’re starting with transplants from a local nursery, take everyone along for the trip to explore the different options available and pick out some favorites. If you decide to start from seed, you’ll need to get things going during the winder inside. Grab some planters and seed cups, make labels, grab some good soil, and plant your seeds. Kids will enjoy watching the seeds sprout and tracking their growth. It’s fascinating to see how a full pepper plant with big bell peppers can start from the tiniest seed in a cup.
Gardening is also a great way to teach children about managing a schedule. Whether you put them in charge of certain watering days, pruning, or weeding, kids can learn how to keep up with the needs of the garden. If you’re growing fruits, veggies, and herbs, children can also be involved in harvesting.
At Crème de la Crème of Lincoln Park, we love hearing about what projects our students and their families are doing at home. We support hands-on learning throughout our curriculum and enjoy seeing it happen in homes as well. Take our tips on planting low-maintenance gardens and give it a try, even if you start with a small patch of the yard. Keep in touch and let us know how things are growing.