Giving a child a houseplant of his own can be a way of teaching responsibility without the cost and hassle--not to mention possible tragic consequences--of a pet. Houseplants can be rewarding to grow and can spark an interest in plants and gardening that can lead to a lifelong hobby. When considering what type of plant to give a child, do everything you can to guarantee success, from choosing an appropriate plant to finding a good growing location.
Spider plants are easy to find, easy to care for and easy to propagate. They are not easy to kill. You can include a child in the whole process of starting and growing a spider plant by allowing him to cut one of the "babies" off a mother spider plant. A spider plant sends out stems that bloom and eventually create miniature spider plants, which can be cut off and rooted in water or dirt. Rooting the plant in water can be rewarding, allowing the child to see the bottom of the plant grow, as well as the top. To do this, fill a clear glass with water and place the spider plant in it so the bottom part is submerged, but try to get as little of the foliage in the water as possible. If you have a water softener use bottled water or water from an outside tap that is not connected to the water softener. Make sure the roots can reach the water at all times.
Once the plant has visible, vigorous roots, plant it in a container with good potting soil and drainage holes. Spider plants like full sun, so put it in a south, east or west window. Spider plants make attractive hanging plants but can also be grown on windowsills or plant stands.
Water the plant when the top inch of soil is dry to the touch. Teach the child to check for moisture by sticking his finger into the soil to see if it is wet or dry. Water it and wait for any water to run out the bottom. Empty the saucer after a few minutes. The plants will need to be fertilized about once a month, or according to the fertilizer label instructions. Use a fertilizer that is intended for houseplants or an all-purpose fertilizer with instructions for houseplants. Fertilizer spikes, which just need to be stuck into the soil, may be easiest for kids to use.
A wandering Jew is another houseplant that is easy to care for and not easy to kill. It is propagated much like a spider plant. To start a new wandering Jew plant, snip off a few stems of the plant and place them in a glass of unsoftened water. Submerge an inch or two of the stem and remove any leaves below the water line. Any foliage left on the stems underwater will rot. Keep the glass full of water until roots sprout.
After the stems have sprouted roots, pot them in loose, well-drained potting soil in a pot with good drainage holes. Make sure there is a container under the pot to catch water that drains out. Cover the roots gently, adding soil to approximately the same level as the water line on the stems.
Water the plant after the top inch of soil gets dry. Again, test this by sticking your finger into the soil to about the depth of one inch. It is usually healthier for plants to be underwatered than overwatered, but by checking the moisture level frequently you can keep the plant healthy. Emphasize to the child that it is important to water the plant only when it needs to be. The amount it will need varies on the humidity and temperature of the room it is in. Feed the plant with fertilizer monthly.
Aloe vera is a succulent, which means it is used to dry conditions. The plant stores water in its leaves for times when water is scarce. This makes it a very kid-friendly plant. Aloe vera is also used to soothe burns and help heal wounds, which can add an element of interest for a kid.
Aloe vera plants basically propagate themselves. If you know someone who has a healthy aloe vera plant, there is a good chance it will need to be divided and they will be happy to provide you with a new plant. Aloe vera roots send up new plants, so when they are grown in pots, the pot can get crowded. Divide the plant by taking the whole plant out of the pot and cutting off the smaller plants and potting them in their own pots. Use good potting soil and cover the plants to the same depth they were in the other pot.
Water aloe vera only when it gets dry. Test it for moisture just like you do the other house plants, and fertilize as directed on the fertilizer package.