20 Plants for a Family-Friendly Backyard

Hold the phone! Plant shade trees, flowers and snack-sized edibles to give the fam a reason to put down their devices and enjoy their own backyard.

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Zinnia 'Zesty'

Dirty kids are happy kids. Let yours help you plant a backyard garden with something for everyone. Zinnia seeds are easy for little hands to handle and sprouts pop up in about a week. Zinnia 'Zesty Mix' produces big, double flowers in pink, scarlet, yellow, white and other colors. These annuals grow to 24" tall.

Sugar Maple

If your backyard is blistering hot, add some shade with a maple tree (Acer spp.). Fast-growing sugar maples are sun-lovers that put on a spectacular fall show when the leaves turn red, orange and yellow. They're hardy in USDA Zones 3-8 and mature at 50' to 80' feet tall with a 30' to 60' spread. You can also find smaller maples for small yards.

Pepper 'Mardi Gras Fun Purple'

These sweet peppers are just the right size for picking and munching in the garden. 'Mardi Gras Fun' peppers come in eye-popping orange, purple, red and yellow. This new variety takes full sun and can be grown in the ground or in large containers on your deck or patio. The plants grow 18" to 30" tall and party on through summer's heat and humidity.

Acacia 'Cousin Itt'

If you watched TV in the '60s, you'll recognize the name of this plant. Acacia 'Cousin Itt' has long, finely textured foliage, like its namesake, a hairy character on The Addams Family series. This low-maintenance, evergreen shrub is fun to touch and useful to grow on a shaded slope, in a rock garden or other dry area. Hardy in Zones 9-11, it's also a good container plant.

Cyclamen 'Indiaka'

Pot up 'Indiaka' cyclamens or use them in borders or containers. This new variety has petals that are white at the base and salmon, rose, magenta or purple at the top. Give it a sheltered spot in indirect light and keep it slightly moist; it's hardy to 28 degrees F. The variety name comes from a Brazilian game played with a colorful shuttlecock. Let the kids pick up the game, known in the U.S. as indiaca, from major sports stores or online.

Angelonia 'Blue Angelface'

Nicknamed "the summer snapdragon," Angelonia ‘Angelface Blue' has deep purple-blue flowers, but you can also find Angelonias with white, purple or mauve blooms. The plants are hardy in Zones 10-11 and flower from spring until frost in full sun. Grow 'Angelface Blue' in the garden or containers and let the kids guess what they smell like. (Spoiler: They have a delicious grape fragrance.)

Basil 'Everleaf Emerald Towers'

This new basil, 'Everleaf Emerald Towers', is slow to bolt, letting you harvest up to eight weeks longer than other varieties. Grow it in containers or the garden, and the family chef can pick from it as needed. This annual herb is a Genovese basil, great for making pesto, and grows up to 3' tall.

Gomphrena 'Fireworks'

You won't want the family playing with fireworks unless they're the hot pink flower heads of 'Fireworks' gomphrena. This show-stopping annual grows 3' to 4' tall and has sturdy stems for cutting. Snip the pink flowers, which have yellow tips, for bouquets.

Cherry Tomato 'Midnight Snack'

Get your family to eat more healthy foods with edibles they can munch right in the garden. 'Midnight Snack' is a beautiful, indigo-type cherry tomato. Its glossy, black-purple color comes from the same pigments that give blueberries their good-for-you antioxidants. The tomatoes eventually ripen to red on this indeterminate variety.

Ajuga 'Chocolate Chip'

If big paws and little feet have left an ugly bare spot in your yard, replace the missing grass with ajuga. This new variety, a creeping evergreen also called bugleweed, is a great groundcover for part shade to sun. Hardy in USDA Zones 3-9, 'Chocolate Chip' has colorful foliage and blue flowers that attract hummingbirds.

Blackberry 'Baby Cakes'

Don't avoid blackberries because their thorns can scratch children or pets. 'Baby Cakes' is a thornless, dwarf blackberry that's great for growing in the garden or containers. It bears on second-year canes, but you can expect two harvests per season. These deciduous plants grow to 4' tall in full sun and are hardy in Zones 4-8.

Dusty Miller 'Quicksilver'

Grow a "touchable" garden for kids, where patting or even crushing leaves is encouraged. Soft lamb's ears are a great choice, and so is Dusty Miller 'Quicksilver'. Its fuzzy leaves are silvery-gray, and this sun-loving annual stands up to heat and drought. It's a newer, shorter variety than popular Dusty Miller 'Silverdust' and has a neat, tidy growth habit up to 12" tall.

Blueberry 'Peach Sorbet'

Let the kids pick their own berries for breakfast or after-school snacks. 'Peach Sorbet' is a compact blueberry for Zones 5-10 that grows up 1-1/2' tall. Its mounded growth habit makes it a good container plant for a sunny deck or patio.

Lysimachia 'Goldilocks' With Coleus 'Electric Lime'

Little ones will know this plant's name from the fairytale. Lysimachia 'Goldilocks', or creeping Jenny, is a low-growing perennial with chartreuse green foliage; it's shown here with a lime-colored coleus. Hardy in Zones 3-10, 'Goldilocks' thrives in part sun and trails from containers. Let it cover bare spots in your backyard or use it in a rock garden.

'Snapshot Burgundy Bicolor' Snapdragon

Snapdragons come in a rainbow of bright and pastel colors, and kids love to pinch the flowers and make the dragon's "jaws" snap open. 'Snapshot Burgundy Bicolor' is a bushy, dwarf annual that takes sun and blooms from early spring into autumn. The plants grow 6" to 10" tall and come in many other bicolors and single colors.

Mecardonia 'GoldDust'

Mecardonia ‘GoldDust’ is another great groundcover for bare or dreary-looking spots in the backyard. Use this award-winning annual in borders, between stepping stones and pavers or in containers. It likes sun, needs little care and grows from 2" to 5" tall. The yellow flowers open from spring into fall.

Squash 'Lemon Drop'

They're yellow like lemons, and they're about the size and shape of lemons. But 'Lemon Drop' is a tasty, new squash variety that grows to 40" wide in full sun. Cut a squash open, and let the family see that even the slices look like lemon slices. Pick these veggies while they're young for the best flavor.

Plectranthus 'Nicolleta'

Also known as Swedish ivy, new Plectranthus 'Nicoletta' has fuzzy, green leaves that kids can touch. Sometimes the "fuzz" and the angle of the light makes the foliage appear to have a silvery cast. These spreading plants tolerate shade or sun and grow 8" to 10" tall. Mix them in containers with other plants that have the same basic needs for light and water.

Brussels Sprouts 'Redarling'

Add a blast of purplish-red to your backyard veggie patch with Brussels Sprouts 'Redarling' and let the kids pick the 1-1/2" buttons. The plants are easy to grow in full sun and the mildly sweet sprouts are ready to harvest in about 145 days. They hold their jewel-like color even when they're cooked.

Lavender 'Sweet Romance'

For fragrance, grow 'Sweet Romance' lavender in your sunny backyard. Later, cut and dry the stems and flowers for lavender wands, potpourris and other crafts, or let your children sprinkle the dried buds onto sugar cookies. NOTE: Use only lavender that has never been treated with chemicals, insecticides or pesticides. Some gardeners say lavender helps keep mosquitoes away; test it for yourself by planting some near the kids' play area.

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