It is no secret that time spent in the garden has myriad benefits to our health and well-being. It can provide stress relief, mental clarity and moderate (or depending on the task at hand, intense) physical activity. This holds true under normal circumstances and it may prove to be even more important during this time of uncertainty as we all learn to navigate the new reality of social distancing and COVID-19. An experiment published in the Journal of Health Psychology looked at gardening versus reading as stress-relieving activities. The study found that both reading and gardening decreased stress, however, the decreases were significantly stronger in the gardening group. In the coming weeks as public events are being cancelled and gathering spaces are being closed, people will be looking for a multitude of activities to pass the time. For me, it’s a comfort to know that we can still get outside to connect with nature.
Now, given that this is springtime in Colorado and it is quite possible, quite likely in fact, that we will still get at least one or two good snow storms along with plummeting temperatures, what are our gardening options?? It’s a great time to tackle those winter annual weeds. Since we’ve been getting moisture here and there, it is easy to pull them up by hand. These are plants that germinate in the fall and winter and grow actively in the spring. They are the ones that seem to pop-up overnight and create a carpet of green in your garden. After they bloom in the spring, they will drop their seeds and die. The trick is getting them out of the ground before they set seed which will germinate the following fall or winter. A few of our more common winter annual weeds are prickly lettuce, henbit, cheatgrass, redstem filaree and any of the mustards (ex: blue, flixweed). Spring pruning should be on your list too. If you have fruit trees that need to be pruned, now is the time to get that task done while they are still dormant. Pruning fruit trees is different than pruning shade trees and there are great resources online to guide you through that process. You can also prune shrubs that flower in the summer or fall. If you prune spring blooming shrubs now, such as lilac, you will prune off those buds so pay close attention to the bloom time of your plants. If you have a vegetable garden, you can be planting peas, greens and other cool-season crops. You can also take some of your gardening inside and get seeds started for those warmer-season crops like tomatoes, and squash.
Now, what if you don’t have a garden? Or what do you do when the inevitable spring snow hits? While it’s not quite the same, there are online resources to take advantage of. Many public gardens are closed to the public right now, but they are staying connected with visitors virtually. Check out your favorite local or even international botanic gardens on their websites, Facebook and Instagram accounts. You can peruse photos of their gardens and daydream about warmer days to come. Another great option if you can’t get into the garden is paying attention to your houseplants. Check them for insect pests, clean-up old leaves and give them a little extra attention. By working with your houseplants, you will still reap some of the same benefits as going outside.
Gardening is a simple, and meaningful way to connect with the larger world around you. The opportunity to commune with the plants, birds, and animals that are benefitting from your efforts is truly a gift that I hope will benefit you over the coming weeks, months and years.
By Deryn Davidson. Deryn is an Extension Agent – Horticulture at Colorado State University Extension Boulder County. For more information contact CSU Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Road, Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6386, e-mail [email protected]
or visit boulder.extension.colostate.edu.