Looking for ideas to fill the time in these last few week of summer? 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 projects such as turning a stock tank into a raised bed.
These activities are listed in age-group order — starting with simple projects appropriate for little ones, 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.
Grow an Herb Box
It’s not too late in the season to start a pot of kitchen herbs, the kids can help pick leaves to add to your favorite dishes. Young children can help with all steps of the process: putting in potting soil, patting down soil, spacing plant starts and watering them in. 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 strawberry plants (which generally produce spring, summer and fall crops) around the edges for a treat to discover later.
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 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 too.
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, but you can also make them without a kit using fast-setting concrete and a mold. Have 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.
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 fruit. Picking fruit from your garden or a nearby pick-your-own farm makes for a fun family activity and is a good way to teach kids where their favorite fruit come from.
For slightly older children, you can make harvesting from the garden a daily or weekly responsibility.
Open a Bug Hotel
Have you seen these bug houses before? 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 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.
Create a Fairy Garden
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 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 are going to keep the garden inside.
Arrange a scene from your 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.
Plant Up Recycled and Repurposed Containers
You can reporpose any type of container for plants, and kids can have fun scouting for unused containers around the house or yard to repurpose into planters. Some things to consider: old teapots, 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 container. Or, if you decide to plant directly in the container without drainage holes, be sure to water plants very lightly, as excess water will have nowhere to go.
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.
Turn a Stock Tank Into a Raised Planter
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.
Stock tanks range from $30 for a small, shallow one that could be used to grow herbs, succulents or strawberries to $300 and up for a large model where you could grow anything from tomatoes to dwarf fruit trees. They will all need drainage holes drilled at the bottom and enough potting soil to fill them to the brim before planting.
Plant a Living Wall
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.
Living walls made from kits generally look best with plenty of billowing and trailing plants that, once they fill in, can help cover the felt pockets holding the soil. A few to consider for hanging gardens that receive four to six hours of sun: bacopa, trailing fuchsia, sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas), lobelia and nasturtium. For shadier gardens, check out ajuga, variegated ivy, campanula, heuchera and ferns or talk to your local garden store they will tell you which plants grow best in your area.
Remember that living walls, particularly those in sun, dry out very quickly; stay on top of the watering or set up a drip irrigation system.
Have fun, we only have a few weeks more of summer.