This Earth Day, plant a garden then watch your mental and physical health blossom. Here’s how to start.
Is social distancing making you stir crazy? Well, you’re not alone (no pun intended). Through this period of quarantine, many Americans are experiencing a sense of detachment, boredom and loneliness—all of which can gravely impact your emotional and physical health. If you are feeling the social isolation blues, then consider going green. Plant a garden, which—just in time for Earth Day—might be the multifaceted fix you need.
“Lots of research shows that gardening can be a form of therapy to reduce depression and anxiety,” says Desiree Heimann, vice president of marketing at Pike Nurseries, one of the premier plant and garden centers in the Southeast. “The act of growing plants can help boost your mood and make you more hopeful for the future.” Plus, gardening gets you outside and into nature—and another well-researched theory shows that things such as sunlight exposure and greater oxygen exchange have been shown to strengthen immunity, lower stress levels, improve sleep and more.
“When you’re stressed, we know that exercise can help, which brings us to the next benefit of gardening,” says Heimann, who adds that an hour of gardening can burn up to 330 calories. “Most gyms are closed right now, so we need to get creative in getting physical exercise.” But the best benefit of all? You literally reap what you sow in the form of fresh healthy foods—while you also help the environment. Follow these tips to start your own garden.
Moment in the Sun
“Our No. 1 tip would be: Think about your light exposure” Determine which planting areas of your home (inside and outside) have the best sunlight patterns. Most veggies, fruits and herbs will need full sun, which is considered six to eight hours of direct daily sunlight.
Even if you lack the ground space, you can still start your Zen garden. “Container gardens are a great way to garden in a small space,” says Heimann. “You can place them near your front door, on a balcony or a back patio; and you can find containers of any size to fit your space. Think vertically too—hanging baskets, window boxes, and planters that fit over your porch/balcony railing don’t need much space. Even some outdoor wall space could be a garden with a wooden pallet or wall planter.”
Pretty, Simple Starts
Color annuals are great “starter garden” plants. “Annuals are seasonal plants that will only live for one season,” states Heimann, adding, “so many spring blooms will last for months (even into summer). And when they fade, you can easily change them out for summer flowers that will last into fall. For colorful blooms you can plant now, look for petunias, calibrachoa, snapdragons, marigolds, dahlias and more. For shade options (where you get less than three hours of sunlight), you can choose flowers like begonias, impatiens, and torenia and pair them with interesting, colorful-foliage plants like caladiums and coleus.”
If you’re primarily planting for home beautification, then why not dig a little deeper on your garden plans? Heimann says shrubs are a great way to add both appeal and create privacy. “Right now, some great shrubs to choose would be azaleas (think of the Masters golf tournament) and loropetalums (interesting purple foliage and unique fringy flowers). Other Southern favorites are roses, gardenias and hydrangeas.”
As food scarcity was heightened in periods of war, governments encouraged the planting of “victory gardens,” in which everyday citizens would harvest their own small crops.
Similarly, as the global pandemic has resulted in produce shortages and limitations to food access, it may be prudent to put your own food in the ground.
“For herbs, try basil, mint, thyme, lavender, rosemary, sage and cilantro. For vegetables, it’s a great time to plant peas, cucumbers, lettuce, collards, peppers and even tomatoes,” Heimann adds. “Early spring is perfect for strawberries… And if you want to plant a blueberry shrub, do that as soon as you can. Giving the root system time to establish before summer.
Summer is when your blueberry shrub will be producing tons of nutritious berries for your desserts, smoothies and more.”