Some of us grew up with backyard gardens and spent early summer days planting vegetables, pulling weeds and watering the growing plants. Later in the season, we helped our parents and grandparents harvest fresh foods for the dinner table. Other people are relatively new to gardening. They might have a small kitchen garden plotor mix flowers and herbs and veggies together in big decorative pots or raised garden beds. Whatever your green thumb background, today’s gardeners are part of a fast-growing group as more people embrace working in the dirt. And that’s a good thing, as there are a lot of benefits to starting a garden.
Interest in gardening has surged
The most recent surge of interest in gardening was sparked during the pandemic, when people were searching for enjoyable things they could do outside. For many, it hit the sweet spot between home improvement projects and outdoor exercise. A study by the National Gardening Associationshowed there were 18.3 million new gardeners in 2021, with a large section of this new growth coming from the younger generations. And interest is not waning. A 2023 survey by Axiom shows that both Gen Z and Gen Y gardeners planned to spend more time and more money on their gardening hobby this year.
Even inside gardening has become a growing trend, said Sue Hudnut, president of the Master Gardeners Association of Northwest Michigan. She’s seeing the interest reflected in social media posts and even plant trading.
“There’s a big resurgence in houseplants with younger people, and there are a couple of houseplant stores actually here, and people are into trading them,” Hudnut said. “You can use social media and have your own page and people are looking for certain plants and people trade cuttings and trade plants. It’svery interesting. I love it.”
Health benefits of gardening
Gardening can reap bushels full of fresh food - and that’s a nutritious reward. But there are physical and mental health benefits of gardening, too. Working for even short stints outside can give you a mood boost, with the fresh air and sunshine helping to improve your mental state. After hours spent working indoors, gardening can feel invigorating.
“You’re going to go outside and you’re going to improve your mental health,” Hudnut said. “You’re going to get exercise, you’re going to get exposure to soil. And there is also a study about getting your hands dirty and in the dirt, that there are bacteria in the soil that stimulates your serotonin, which gives you a sense of wellbeing and happiness. So, the more you get out there, the happier you will be.”
Whether you’re new to gardening or just need a refresher, Hudnut has some tips as people plan their gardens this year:
- Cool-weather crops are planted first. These include cabbage, onions, kale, leeks, carrots, spinach and radishes.
- By June 1, the warm-weather plants can go into the ground. These include tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
- If you want to focus on easy-to-grow vegetables, consider tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, beets and carrots.
Want to learn more about the benefits of gardening? Listen to this episode of “A Healthier Michigan Podcast” featuring a conversation with Sue Hudnut, president of the Master Gardeners Association of Northwest Michigan.
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