Do you often find yourself in high spirits after spending some time doing yard work? It turns out that gardening has multiple health benefits, including stress relief and better physical and mental health. You don't have to have an exceptionally green thumb in order to achieve these benefits, though — even as we move into the fall. We're here to tell you what to plant and when to plant it. But first, let's talk about gardening's health benefits.
Stress relief: According to a study in the Netherlands, gardening can relieve stress better than other leisurely activities like reading. "We live in a society where we're just maxing ourselves out all the time in terms of paying attention," says Andrea Faber Taylor, Ph.D., a horticulture instructor and researcher in the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Gardening offers an escape from paying that kind of attention to things like our smartphones and computers. The touch of the dirt, smell of the flowers, sound of the birds and even sight of blooming flowers offers a source of effortless attention. (via Health Magazine)
Physical health: We all know that yard work means more exposure to fresh air and sunlight, but we often overlook the exercise involved. Shoveling, raking, hoeing, planting, weeding and other repetitive gardening tasks require strength and stretching. Gardening probably won't do much for your cardiovascular system, but it is a fun way to get your blood flowing, burn some calories and strengthen your muscles! Plus, it's more fun to work in the lawn than hit the gym, so you might be more likely to exercise if you take up gardening. Plus, all those healthy veggies you're growing will keep your family strong and healthy.
Mental health: Gardening and spending time in nature has been found to reduce the risk of developing dementia later in life than non-gardeners. The combination of physical and mental activity yields a positive impact on the mind. For those who have already experienced mental decline, gardening can be therapeutic. In fact, nursing homes even offer gardens for Alzheimer patients or patients with other cognitive problems to visit, citing that even being around gardens promote relaxation and reduce stress. Gardening can even help those who suffer from depression. In a study done in Norway, people who were diagnosed with depression, persistent low mood or bipolar disorder spent six hours a week growing vegetables and flowers. After three months, half experienced an improvement in their depression symptoms and continued to improve even after ending the gardening program. (via Health Magazine)
>> Read more: Depression: How to Identify and Cope
After reading those benefits, it's hard to argue a case against gardening. Maybe you're already a gardener and need some new tips on gardening for the fall, or maybe you're a gardening novice and are looking for where to begin. Either way, we've got you covered.
First thing's first. Before you can plant anything in your fall garden, you must know when the first frost date in your area will be. You can easily figure that out with the Farmer's Almanac. Now, you have to know which plants are most likely to survive in cooler weather. According to Better Homes and Gardens, you'll want to plant: beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, collards, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mustard, radishes, rutabagas, spinach, swiss chard and/or turnips. These veggies are most likely to survive frosts than other foods.
Remember that first frost date, now. We'll go through a few popular fall garden veggies with tips on when to plant them and how to care for them.
Broccoli: Plant this ten weeks before the first frost. Make sure that you mulch around the seeds to keep the ground cool and moist. Three weeks after you plant the seeds, you'll want to feed them a low nitrogen fertilizer to ensure they get all the essential nutrients. (via P. Allen Smith Garden Home)
Cabbage: These seeds go in the ground six to eight weeks before the first frost. If you live in an area where the hot summer sun lingers for a few weeks into fall, you'll want to provide protection from the sun. Make sure these are surrounded by fertile soil and are consistently watered. A general rule of thumb for veggies is to make sure they receive one inch of water a week, even in the fall.
Cauliflower: Like cabbage, these seeds are also planted six to eight weeks before the first frost. Plant them in rich soil and water them consistently.
Lettuce: Plant lettuce in late summer, when they will receive consistent water and in a spot where they'll get shade from the hot afternoon sun.
Radish: You'll want these bad boys in the ground four weeks before the first frost. Put them in fertile soil that stays well-drained throughout the fall. Because radishes are quick to mature, make sure you're checking on them regularly.
Spinach: These go in the ground five weeks before the first frost. These are especially good at lasting into the winter, as they can survive in temperatures all the way down into the 20s. Make sure they're in fertile soil!
If you need to make room in your yard for your fall garden, don't be afraid to rip out ailing summer plants like struggling peas or diseased tomatoes. The cooler weather won't do them any favors. If you struggle for enough room for a garden in general, check out our tips on urban farming.
Don't forget to protect your precious plants from the nasty fall frost. You can use a cloche for smaller plants, but for bigger areas use an old bed sheet, blanket or tarp.
What are some of your gardening secrets? Share them with us in the comments below!