How to Garden with a Baby or Toddler Without Losing your Mind

During my first year as a father, I struggled to adjust to my new life and felt disconnected to the activities that once made me happy - even gardening. But I eventually got the hang of it and realized that I was no longer a gardener, but a parent who happens to garden. I’m here to say that you both can and should garden with your baby, because there is no better place than a garden to learn about the world.

Try to find a toy remotely as cool as this dragonfly. Not possible.
This isn’t to say that gardening will ever be the same though, and that’s okay. Less focus, time and energy (not to mention a reckless little mini-you) mean that your garden will look pretty ragged for a while, but it will still be there once you get your bearings. That baby, on the other hand, will be a toddler tomorrow and a young man next month. Make the most of your time together in the world’s greatest classroom, and allow yourself alone-time in the garden after bedtime to do the real work.

A common garden 'weed' like clover is an opportunity to teach about...
How honey is made!
Just a quick CYA and disclaimer: This is by no means a substitute for medical or parenting advice. I'm not an expert by any means (still figuring out how to raise a one-year old and he’s already two) but I am an incredibly happy dad who has figured out a way to enjoy the garden with my son. 

These are a few pointers to help you make the most of your precious time in the garden together, but this is definitely not a guide to parenting your child. Keeping that in mind, let’s start by discussing safety, shall we?

Make it a Safe Place

Your child will quickly learn how to navigate the backyard, but accidents do happen. Use your head and do whatever you can to make it a safe environment. Move or remove spiky plants, branches and sharp rocks so that they won’t be at the receiving end of an inevitable tumble. Communicate with your child, set boundaries and keep her in sight at all times. I’m personally pretty relaxed about letting my son do what he wants outside, but I bring out the booming ‘NO!’ whenever it’s a question of safety. Remember that scene from the Lion King when Mufasa (Voiced by James Earl Jones) scolds Simba for disobeying him? That’s me when my son takes my trowel and runs away to put an eye out.

The side yard is now a safe place and the rusty wagon was given a fresh coat of blue.
And... the 'before' picture. Not pictured are the broken bottles hidden in the grass.
Leave any dangerous tasks (mowing, fertilizing, machete hacking, etc.) for after your child’s bedtime. Toxic plants are difficult to eliminate entirely, especially considering that common ones like Azaleas, mums, daffodils and hydrangeas are all over the neighborhood. Instead, use your head and eliminate the obvious and most dangerous ones. The coral bean (Erythrina herbacea) is one of my favorite native plants, but the seeds bear an uncanny resemblance to bright red jelly beans and have the unfortunate tendency to paralyze and poison folks with its cocktail of toxic alkaloids. The azaleas remain in my garden, but that coral bean had to go.

With Babies, Start Small

Finding time to work in the garden is hard when you have a baby, so save the real work for when your spouse gets home or you have a babysitter. Failing that, be patient and don’t plan anything too big or ambitious yet. It starts getting easier once they begin walking, but it wasn't until my own son was about 1 1/2 that I could get much done without being a nervous wreck, and he remains at the center of my attention at age two.

Your toddler can plant a cabbage, pick off caterpillars and even help cook it!
Gardening with your baby is one of the most memorable things you’ll ever do. They’re delighted by the dappled sunshine painted over the plants, and are blown away by little things like seeing a bird or smelling a gardenia. If they could write a journal, I’m pretty sure babies would write something like this about an encounter with something as simple as a bottlebrush flower: “OMG. Today I touched a fuzzy red thing and dad used it to tickle my hand. Best day ever.”

Older babies find lots to do as soon as they start walking!
The garden is also a great place for babies to exercise new skills like grasping, crawling and walking, with 110% of your supervision of course. My two-year old is as nimble as a mountain goat in his garden, because that’s where he once learned to stand, crawl and walk.

Establish Rules and Boundaries

This ties in closely with the first tip (you did read the part about safety, right?) because discipline is the key to a safe gardening experience. Just as you have to pick your battles indoors, you can’t freak out over every muddy foot or trampled petunia because the ‘no’s all run together and eventually get ignored altogether. 

A makeshift bamboo fence protects sensitive plantings.
I've made a rule for myself: whenever I say 'no' to anything in the garden or elsewhere, I try to explain why and offer an alternative. For example, if my son tries to eat birdseed I explain that it’s for the birds and will make his stomach hurt. Instead, I excitedly take him inside to share sunflower seeds and peanuts (you know, the ones meant for people) while we make bird noises together. This really happened, by the way.

Explain the World

You are not in the garden to grow plants, you’re using the garden to grow your child. Everything out there is an opportunity to show how the world works. By planting seeds together and watching them grow into cabbages, your child learns about cause and effect. Show him the difference between the heads of cabbages and the spot left bare after he trampled the seedlings. I don’t talk enough with my son indoors, but when we’re outside he has so much to ask and I have so much to share.

Treefrogs like to hide in the leaf axils of bromeliads, elephant ears and gingers.

Attract wildlife to your garden with flowers, native shrubs, water and bird seed so that your young child will have the opportunity to view and interact with the animals that visit. This also gives you a golden opportunity to teach about gentleness towards animals and eventually, other people.

Provide a Sensory Experience

You could buy a water table, a sandbox, play-dough, a kiddie pool, or any overpriced combination of those. You could go to the craft store and buy various supplies to teach your child about different textures, and you could buy a small pet to keep him entertained. You could buy an endless supply of toys guaranteed to foster creativity and develop necessary skills, and you could plop your kid in front of a tv.

Each and every plant is unique and begs to be touched,
Plant a garden instead, and give your child the gift of a million ways to engage with the world with each of the senses. There are so many things to see, touch and do out there: Pots of water, bamboo poles, funny looking leaves, fuzzy flowers and lichen-encrusted sticks. Every little mundane object seems to possess magical powers when held by the tiniest of hands.

Let your Toddler Help

Older babies and toddlers love helping, copying and doing things for themselves. This is a valuable time to teach toddlers and let them use their newly acquired skills, but here’s the thing about helpful toddlers. They destroy stuff in the process. Your kid will see you pulling weeds, and immediately start ripping out your newly planted vegetable seedlings in a perfect imitation of you. Your toddler is a bull, your garden is the china shop and you might as well go with the flow and accept that the garden will never be the same again.

Watering plants is a rewarding and harmless way for babies to help.
Toddlers will forge their own path to peek through a fence. Might as well mulch it.
Designate clearly delineated areas for your more delicate plants, and surround new transplants with bamboo stakes and tomato cages. Your toddler will end up removing those too at some point, but at least it buys you some time. If you notice that certain areas get trampled more than others, stop saying ‘no’ and accommodate your child with a mulch path or gravel stomping ground.

Bring them back Inside, Tear-free

The hardest part of gardening with my son has been getting him to come back inside without throwing a tantrum. To sweeten the deal, we’ve established a few fun traditions. One of which is picking up our garden tools and putting them away, which is actually fun, believe it or not. We might also end the day by picking strawberries and washing them off indoors, or possibly by picking herbs for dinner or flowers for mom. 

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Oh, who am I kidding? It’s still hard to motivate the little guy to say goodbye to the joys of playing “tside”, and I certainly understand how that feels.


  1. I love this! I've been using some of these ideas with my little guy and appreciate the other suggestions. Happy gardening!

  2. Great post & suggestions-excellent ideas! babies/kids + gardens are a natural fit! :)

  3. Loved this post! Just found your blog today. I have a 20 month old who loves 'side' as well and has a fascination with plant tags. :) A ragged garen? LOL, yep! I look back at pre-baby garden photos with weeds in the path!

  4. Son of my cousin C. Symons have lots of interested in garden. he is a baby but he work with his dad..

  5. Speaking as parent of grown-up twin girls, with a degree in Family Resources, this is possibly the best piece of writing on parenting that I have ever read. Thank you so much for your practical suggestions for gardening with children. Your attitude and philosophy can be applied to any activity in order to make daily life easier and more satisfying for parents and children alike.

  6. Speaking as parent of grown-up twin girls, with a degree in Family Resources, this is possibly the best piece of writing on parenting that I have ever read. Thank you so much for your practical suggestions for gardening with children. Your attitude and philosophy can be applied to any activity in order to make daily life easier and more satisfying for parents and children alike.


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