Kids and the Winter Garden

by | Jan 6, 2020

Little ones tend to think there’s nothing fun to do in the yard this time of year, but there really is! Bundle up and grab a thermos of hot cocoa—it’s winter gardening time!

We know that kids need to get outside more—all of us do, really. The 2017 Coleman Canada Outdoor Report, as referenced by the Toronto Sun on June 16, 2017, “found that 29% of us, almost three in 10, say we spend less than a half-hour per week outside, or less than five minutes a day, and sixty-four percent of us are enjoying the open-air for less than two hours a week.”

The ease of getting kids outdoors changes with the seasons, however, and winter is by far the hardest sell. The biggest hurdles are that little ones figure they’re just going to get cold and wet or, perhaps worst of all, there’s nothing fun to do. 

No one can control the weather, so the first step is definitely to prepare your kiddos for the elements. The drier and toastier they are, the longer they’ll last, and having a thermos of hot cocoa or fruit tea at the ready probably wouldn’t hurt either. As for the ‘nothing fun to do’ challenge, there are actually lots of fun things to do! The cool thing about winter garden activities is that they provide great opportunities for kids to learn about some of the periphery benefits of gardening, and allow kids to connect with nature in a whole new, and perhaps unexpected, way. That’s where the fun comes in. 

Here are a few crafts, activities and jobs children can do in the garden over the winter months. Some definitely need adult assistance, but you’re surely going to have just as much fun as they are!

Help Out Backyard Wildlife

We have so many lovely feathered friends in the area over winter and they are amazing to watch. Try hanging a few feeders that hold different seeds and watch birds flock to your yard! Hummingbird feeders should have nectar in them, and kids can easily make it (1 part sugar dissolved into 4 parts water). 

Children can be made responsible for topping up feed and letting you know when the feeders need cleaning. This includes checking that hummingbird nectar has not gotten cloudy (it should be changed every few days), and that seed in feeders has not gotten wet or mouldy. You should be there to help with the cleaning, however, as a bleach soak (1 part bleach to 9 parts water and then a good rinse) is one of the steps recommended to help prevent the spread of disease. 

Helping to keep these precious pollinators well-fed over the toughest months of the year may make them more inclined to keep coming back to your garden throughout the seasons to help with pollination and pest control.

Birding Games

Animals are cool up close, so if you have a stealthy child in your family, let them create a camouflaged fort in the yard where they can view birds as they come to your yard. Alternatively, if you have a pair of binoculars in the house, dust them off and let kids use them to watch birds and other wildlife from a distance. 

To add an element of fun, make a game of it—like ‘Backyard Bird Bingo’! For those who took part in our Seasonal Scavenger Hunt before Christmas and kept their sheets, you have a bingo form on the reverse side, but you can also visit us in-store to pick up a copy in the bird feeder section. 

The game is easy for all ages to play. When a player spots a bird on the grid, they mark it off on the sheet. Kids will be excited to keep track of how many visitors your yard will host over the next few months!

You can also make your own form too, especially as we get closer to spring and the migrating birds start to pass through again, or if you’re off to explore local waterways or forests as a family.

Bee Buffet

Bees are active year-round here, but they can get hungry in winter too! Work with your little ones to dedicate a small part of your garden (or start a new container garden), to be a ‘bee buffet’, including winter blooming heather, hellebores and a few early winter bulbs like crocus or snowdrops. The bees will thank you for it and, when our fruit trees and shrubs start to bloom in early spring, they’ll be set to get to work!


Make Garden Gifts for Valentine’s Day or ‘Just Because’

Have a few perennial herbs in the yard? Pick up some Epsom salts, a bit of baking soda, then let the kids gather some herb foliage. They’ll have fun middling the ingredients together and, after a couple of days, the salts will smell amazing! When you’re ready to put the salts to use, help children carefully place the salts in a tea bag or muslin bag so that the leaves don’t come out in the water. It’s a great treat to warm up in the bath after a cool afternoon in the garden, and kids will love the fragrance.


Force Bulbs Indoors

Indoor Paperwhites are so easy to grow and little ones can absolutely plant and care for them with success. All you need are 2-3 bulbs, a 4″ pot, all-purpose soil and a touch of sand. You’ll see them start to grow in no time, and enjoy their incredible perfume in a few short weeks. Just keep them in a cool, brightly lit location and water to keep them lightly moist—don’t let them dry out!


Harness the Elements

Find the silver lining of rainy, windy days by making rain chains and wind chimes. They are easy to make, you can find many cool components around your garden shed or at the thrift store to construct them, and kids can let their creativity run free while crafting the decorations. Pinterest has a lot of inspirational images of some of these items if you need a little guidance to get going.

Frozen Lamps

When it gets really cold and snows, try creating ice globes with LED, battery tea lights under them for night-time magic on your deck in your garden. You can also make maple taffy on snow and tell them a little about the trees it came from. You only need two ingredients, maple syrup from the from the Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, reduced on the stove to thicken, and heavy, snowman-quality snow. In our region, we can actually grow sugar maples—something to consider if your landscape could use some colourful foliage next fall!


Appreciate the Finer Details

Remember leaf etchings from the autumn? Each tree family has beautiful art in their form, so on a dry day, head outdoors with paper and either crayons or charcoal and make some bark etchings. The results are pretty, and pretty fascinating too! 

Think everything in the garden is dreary and drab? Challenge artistic older children to bring out their paints and create ‘winter nature palettes’ similar to colour samples in a paint store. They can go tree to tree, or plant to plant, to try and recreate the colours they see. Later, indoors, they can create really pretty scenes using those colours! They may be surprised at how many colours actually are in the garden at this time of year, and, even if there are mostly brown and green tones, how pretty those earthy shades really are. 

Do a Scented Scavenger Hunt

Many winter-flowering shrubs have incredible perfume at this time of year—yes, really! Go out for a fragrance adventure in your yard, or, should you not have some of these special plants, head to a public garden or come into our garden center to sniff out your favourites! Looking for a great garden near you? Visit Gardens BC to see what gardens are in your region!

Get Ready for Spring

Still have a few bulbs that didn’t get planted in the fall? Outdoor bulbs for spring blooms can be planted right up until the ground freezes, so if you didn’t get them all done in the fall, you can still get them in now. You can also plant them in containers for a pretty patio show. Planting bulbs is easy for kids to do, just remind them to set them at the correct depth. A good rule of thumb is to plant to a depth that is three times the diameter of the bulb (so if a bulb is 2” wide at its widest part, plant it 6” deep). See, they can even do math in the garden too!

Our first seed orders have arrived, so you can start planning your garden now! The reward will certainly be a few months away, but this is a great project for a winter’s evening. Better yet, plot out the whole year, including what you might be able to harvest from your garden this time next year, and you’ll all have a lot to look forward to.

Have teens that are keen to learn? Let them help you clean, sharpen, and organize your family’s garden tools and let them try their hands at pruning. The dormant season is the ideal time to prune, and we have three sessions coming up to teach the art and science of the practice. Call (604) 792-6612 to sign up—and yes, younger guests are welcome to attend!

There are so many wonderful things for kids to do in the garden in winter that it would be a shame to miss out on them because of a bit of chilly, damp weather. So pull on those warm layers, whip up a thermos of hot cocoa, bundle up the kids, and head outside. Have fun!