Sowing is better than scrolling: Three reasons everyone should be gardening more

A photo compilation of happy people gardening
Gardening is good for people's physical and mental health, community gardens bring people together and fulfill social needs, and it's never been easier to start gardening or build new skills.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, it transformed the way we interact with one another and the world around us. It also set off two competing trends.

That year there was a 50-70% increase in the amount of time we all spent glued to our digital devices, measured in days spent in Zoom meetings, miles scrolled on social media, and – let’s be honest – a lifetime’s worth of really, really bad news.

Garfield County Community Garden, Colorado Master Gardeners & 4-H harvest day.

The cumulative affect was an increase in sleep problems, irritability, emotional exhaustion and isolation.

However, the same year saw 18.6 million people try something new: gardening.

In backyards, community gardens and balconies, they planned their plots and planted in containers, they picked up shovels and starts, struggled under the weight of countless bags of compost and soil, and got things wrong, a lot.

But, the sweat, frustration, dirty fingernails and scraped knees were all in service of a worthy goal: healthier, happier lives.

The joy of coaxing that first, perfect tomato out of the ground improved beginners’ self-esteem (not to mention their dinner plates), fresh picked greens saved a trip to the grocery store and made the next meal just a little bit easier to prepare, and all of the time spent out in nature improved people’s moods.

Those 18.6 million people learned firsthand a secret that seasoned gardeners have been trying to share for, well, ever. Gardening can change your life.

So, why not do more of it?

Get a jump start on the growing season. Don’t miss the free registration window for CSU Online’s Summer 2022 vegetable gardening course.
Register by May 26 >

Three reasons to garden more

A sign in a garden reads: As I work on the garden, the garden works on me
“As I work on the garden, the garden works on me.”

It’s common knowledge that eating healthy and getting outside can make you feel better. But, recent research has established a striking list of physical and mental health benefits that can result from gardening and exposure to green spaces, including:

• Increased happiness and life satisfaction
• Reduced anxiety, stress and depression
• Enhanced creativity, productivity, attention and self-esteem
• Improved memory and reduced effects from dementia and PTSD

Some countries, like New Zealand and Canada, allow doctors to write “green prescriptions” encouraging their patients to spent more time outdoors, emphasizing the benefits it can have across a range of health metrics. This free and accessible approach to improving people’s health could be a key part of decreasing health disparities and improving the quality of life for people across entire nations.

Gardeners also enjoy more frequent, moderate-intensity exercise, a result of common tasks like digging, weeding and watering, increases heart rate and metabolism.

A man sits with his grandchild in a garden.
A man sits with his grandchild in a garden.

This has been shown to reduce the risk of dozens of mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, breast cancer and colon cancer. One Australian study found that daily gardening lowered the risk of dementia by 36%.

Many modern day hospitals are starting to sprout therapeutic natural spaces to support their patients, but the concept of creating gardens that can benefit our health is thousands of years old, tracing its roots back to ancient Egyptian, Asian, Greek and Roman cultures.

Plants can also improve indoor air quality and reduce levels of outdoor air pollution along busy roads and in dense cities. For instance, in one year a single maple tree can remove 48 pounds of particulate matter generated by sources like vehicle exhaust, while also absorbing 100 pounds of carbon.

However, not all the benefits from gardening are a result of its physical nature or time spent in nature. Additional research shows that being in green spaces with other people can improve social interactions, potentially a major contributor to gardening’s overall health benefits.

Colorado Master Gardeners, 4-H volunteers and residents of Cottonwood Apartments in Garfield County work together to plant starts in the spring of 2019.

Getting your start in gardening, or trying to move beyond the basics, can be daunting. But the community that you can find by asking for help, and eventually offering it, is a core part of what it means to be a gardener.

Researchers have found that community gardens lead to numerous social and emotional benefits for participants, including:

• Increased social interaction and greater life satisfaction
• Strengthened family relationships
• Higher levels of community engagement
• Reduced food insecurity and more food self-sufficiency

Grow and Give participants stand together looking at the camera with two boxes filled with harvested vegetables
Grow and Give participants harvest vegetables to donate during the pandemic.

Community gardens also increase the access and availability of healthy food, leading to better food choices like eating more fresh fruit and vegetables, an effect that stretches across both rural and urban areas.

One of the ways that CSU Extension is working to increase this impact is through Colorado Master Gardener programs like Grow and Give, which connects over 700 Colorado community gardens to food banks, pantries and other resource providers seeking food donations. In 2021, Grow and Give helped community gardeners donate over 55,000 lbs. of food across 32 counties.

There are many resources available from CSU Extension, other community organizations, and of course, the internet, that the hardest part of taking that next step might be figuring out where to start.

Whatever your goals are for growing, Colorado Master Gardeners can get you pointed in the right direction.

From their county-by-county list of program contacts to collections of useful online publications and the comprehensive 85-page Colorado Vegetable Guide, you’ll be sure to find a helping hand.

Also, don’t miss your chance to enroll in CSU Online’s Summer 2022 Free Vegetables Course to learn foundational principles for planning a vegetable garden. Register before May 26 to secure your free spot.

Students who successfully complete this course will gain an understanding of:

  • Garden layout and planting times
  • Construction and management of a basic raised bed garden
  • Soil amendment and fertilization for the vegetable garden
  • Routine garden care including mulching, irrigation, and water conservation
  • Routine care for tomatoes and other vegetables
  • How to diagnose (identify and recommend management strategies for) common vegetable insects and diseases
  • Frost protection and microclimate modification

Additional Gardening Resources from CSU

Colorado Horticulturalists’ Blog: Advice and observations from your CSU Extension horticulture agents and specialists.

Colorado Mountain Gardeners: Master Gardeners gardening and blogging in the mountains of Colorado.

Colorado Climate Center: Providing services and expertise related to Colorado’s complex climate.

Green School: Learn the basics of gardening and landscaping in Colorado from CSU Extension horticulture experts and become a Certified Colorado Gardener.

PlantTalk Colorado: Reliable, timely information on more than 600 horticultural topics

Plant Select: Plant Select is a western plant introduction program that’s dedicated to creating smart plant choices inspired by the Rocky Mountain region.

Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory: Offering affordable analysis on soil, water, plant, compost and manure samples.