Did you know that 45 minutes of weeding can burn almost as many calories as 30 minutes of high-impact aerobics? In fact, gardening can help you reduce pain, improve mental health and even protect your home. If you’ve been thinking about picking up a new hobby, there are plenty of reasons to try gardening and plenty of ways to get your hands in the dirt. Best of all, this spring is the perfect time to get started. Here are some of the great benefits of this hobby, as well as ways to try out gardening for beginners.
Physical Health Benefits of Gardening
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that you engage in 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity activity, such as gardening, every week. If you’re just starting out—either as an athlete or a gardener—you can garden in 10-minute sessions to reach 2.5 hours per week and still reap the same benefits, which include:
- Increased energy, heart rate and muscle strength
- Reduced risk for major diseases such as heart disease, obesity, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
- Relief from arthritic pain and stiffness
And don’t forget about the immune-boosting, bone-strengthening Vitamin D your body will make when you spend time outdoors. You can make all that you need just by spending 10-15 minutes outside on a sunny day without sunscreen a few times a week.
Furthermore, researchers have found that growing an edible garden can increase fruit and vegetable intake, especially in children. But even for adults, growing fresh veggies or herbs right outside the kitchen door or window can provide a nutritional boost with every harvest.
Mental Health Benefits of Gardening
Gardening as an exercise is also good for your mind. Studies have demonstrated that regular physical activity, even 10-minutes bouts, can reduce anxiety and stress, improve mood and self-esteem, and help lift depression symptoms.
Even if your approach to gardening is more leisurely, you can still enjoy its mental health benefits. Gardening encourages mindfulness, a state in which you are acutely focused on your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and what you’re doing moment-by-moment. Mindfulness promotes a sense of calm and can decrease stress, hostility, and anxiety, increase happiness and life satisfaction, and improve cognitive function.
Gardening can even boost feelings of hopefulness as you plant seeds, nurture them, and watch them grow. As someone who gardens in my own back yard and at a community garden, I can tell you that there’s just no better feeling than seeing (and possibly eating) the fruits of your labor as your garden grows.
Gardening to Beautify and Protect Your Home
Gardening is one of the best, and easiest, ways to increase your home’s curb appeal (i.e., its attractiveness when viewed from the street). Take a walk around the outside of your home and look for things you think could be improved. Is there an overgrown patch that needs a little TLC? Do you want to replace the shrubs that died last year? Does the front yard need reseeding or weeding? Whatever it is, small projects are a great way to get started gardening.
Gardening and landscaping can also help you protect your house should a weather emergency, such as a hurricane or wildfire, strike your area. Tasks, like trimming overhanging tree branches (which could fall during a hurricane) and cleaning up dead or dried plants (which could spread fire), might just save you a homeowners insurance claim.
How to Get Started: Gardening for Beginners
If you’re new to gardening, you may want to contact your county’s Master Gardener Program. This program, typically offered through a state university’s agricultural extension office, provides guidance on what, when and where to plant in your location. It’s a perfect start to gardening for beginners. Or, you may want to refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map to determine what plants are suitable for your climate and most likely to flourish.
Just keep in mind that not all types of gardens may work on your property. Is your yard very shady? If so, it might not make sense to plant a rose garden, as roses require at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. But a butterfly garden might be a unique alternative if you don’t mind rethinking your plans.
Gardening for Beginners: Avoid These Mistakes
Planting in low-lying areas. Avoid planting in areas where water tends to accumulate as this can drown your plants and cause their roots to rot.
Planting too close together. A crowded garden hinders air flow and forces plants to compete for water and other nutrients. Always space plants based on the size to which they’ll grow.
Planting non-native or overly invasive plants. Some non-native plants may struggle to grow in your garden, requiring considerable time and effort if you wish to see them flourish. Others may not grow at all, despite your best efforts. Invasive plants can overrun native species and destroy natural habitats. Your local agricultural extension office can help you learn what plants to avoid and what plants will likely prosper.
Separating flowers and vegetables. Companion planting involves planting different species close together to enhance the growth of each. Many edibles and ornamentals make great companions. For example, garlic helps to keep roses healthy and marigolds help to repel beetles, nematodes, and other pests in a vegetable garden.
Need ideas about what to cook with your vegetable garden harvest? Read Health Benefits Abound in These Late Summer Harvest Recipes.
Ignoring your water supply. No matter where you live, you need to make a plan for dry spells. Drip irrigation brings water straight to your plants’ root zone via pipes or tubes, wasting less water than sprinklers. Such a system is fairly easy to install and something you can tackle as a weekend project.
If all of this sounds like too much, remember that you don’t need to start a garden from scratch. You could install a window box and plant a few colorful flowers or tasty herbs. Or, you could join a community garden. At some community gardens, you buy a plot that you work yourself. At others, you pay a membership fee and work toward a communal harvest.
Whatever it is that you end up doing, make sure you take the time to admire your hard work and burgeoning green thumb, whether it’s a butterfly garden, vegetable garden, wildlife habitat or just a few curb appeal upgrades.
READ MORE: How to Create a Bee-Friendly Garden