Gardening has been around for as long as humans have been growing food. Through the centuries, gardens have served not only as places to grow plants but as spaces for people to relax, to focus, and to connect with nature and each other. Today, gardening can provide many mental health benefits for your daily life.
Benefits of Gardening for Mental Health
Gardening can improve many aspects of mental health, focus, and concentration.
Improves mood. Gardening can make you feel more peaceful and content. Focusing your attention on the immediate tasks and details of gardening can reduce negative thoughts and feelings and can make you feel better in the moment. Just spending time around plants eases stress for many people.
Boosts self-esteem. Self-esteem is how much you value and feel positively about yourself. Helping a plant grow is a big feat. When you see your work pay off with healthy plants, your sense of pride gets a boost.
Improves attention span. Gardening can change how well you pay full attention to a single activity. If you struggle with staying focused on tasks, conversations, or topics in your daily life, gardening can help you learn to concentrate on what’s right in front of you without getting distracted. Studies show that outdoor activities can reduce similar symptoms of ADHD.
Provides exercise. Things like weeding, digging, and raking are a good exercise. Regular exercise reduces anxiety, depression, and other mental issues, and can help prevent dementia. If you don’t like going to the gym, gardening can be an enjoyable way to still get these benefits.
Encourages social bonds. Gardening with others at a community garden or other group setting takes teamwork to achieve shared goals. Being part of a larger group can benefit your mental health by increasing your social connections and your support system.
Limits of Gardening for Mental Health
Mistakes happen. Not every plant will grow exactly how you want or expect. Many common gardening mistakes can lead to sick, wilting, or dead plants:
- Too much sunlight or shade
- Watering too much or not enough
- Planting at the wrong time in the season
- Insects eating leaves or stalks
- Animals getting past your fence
- Too many weeds
- Incorrect soil type or quality
- Not harvesting at the right time.
Almost every gardener will have problems growing and caring for their plants at some point. Learn from your mistakes, and don’t let them keep you from continuing to garden.
Risk of illness and injury. Gardening may carry health risks from things like bacteria and insects. Watch for problems such as:
- Skin itching, blistering, rashes, or breathing problems from poisonous plants (like poison ivy)
- Tetanus and sepsis infections from dirt in cuts or wounds
- Back pain
- Lyme disease and other illnesses spread by insects
- Weil’s disease, a type of leptospirosis spread through animal urine, in compost, or from wet plants
- Legionnaire’s disease bacteria in compost or soil.
You can lower these risks by:
- Wearing gloves while gardening
- Opening bags of compost or soil with your face turned away
- Cleaning your tools regularly
- Washing your hands after gardening
- Keeping your hoses empty and in the shade when you’re not using them
- Checking for ticks after being outside
- Stretching before and after gardening
Don’t ignore other mental health treatments. Gardening isn’t the only way to improve your mental health. Therapy, medication, and other treatments can also manage mental illness. If you notice signs of depression, anxiety, or other issues that interfere with your life even while you garden, talk to your doctor or a specialist.
Tips on Gardening for Mental Health
You can include gardening in your life in many ways.
Get involved at a community garden. A community garden is a shared space where people grow plants in one large area or in smaller individual plots. Search online for community gardens near you. This is also a great place to ask questions and learn from experienced gardeners.
Decide what you want to grow. Do you have a favorite flower, fruit, or vegetable? Different plants need varying amounts of care. Make choices about what to grow based on how much time you have, where you live, and how much money you can invest in your plants.
Grow plants indoors. You don’t need to own land to start gardening. Plenty of plants grow well indoors in pots or planters. All you need is a window or artificial sunlight source, potting soil, containers, and other supplies based on what plants you grow.