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Cultivate health and wellness with the help of gardening

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In more ways than one, gardening is great for your health. A well-tended vegetable or herb garden provides you with an excuse to eat lots of fresh produce. It's a chance to spend some time outdoors and soak in the immune-boosting vitamin D — just don't forget to protect your skin from the sun. Plus, gardens provide a level of mental satisfaction associated with creating something beautiful and, at the same time, practical. 

carrots in a garden

Yet, gardening does even more. Physically, it's a great form of exercise that might not immediately come to mind. Gardening can be a moderate and sometimes strenuous activity that incorporates many important elements of an ideal exercise routine, such as stretching, repetition, and movement, and even resistance training similar to weight lighting.

While gardening can be a challenging workout, it also tends to be less stressful to the body than other exercises, such as jogging or high-intensity interval training (HIIT)

Warm up before gardening to prevent injuries

Unlike most exercise routines, with gardening, you may become so involved in what you're doing that you won't consider injuries that could result from your activities. Before making your way to the garden, it's a good idea to warm up your muscle groups with some basic stretches. It's extremely important to use proper techniques for lifting objects, bending and carrying.

You may also want to buy some special gardening accessories, such as knee pads, that will relieve pressure on your joints and your back. You'll also find ergonomic tools to help keep your hands in a more natural position while you garden.

Quick tips for starting a garden

If you've never had a garden before, the best thing to do is talk to friends and neighbors for ideas, take a walk around your neighborhood to see what's blooming, or make your way to the local nursery for advice. Whether it's a vegetable garden or a flower garden you're interested in growing, here's some more advice for the beginner.

Start your garden small

If you don't have room for a garden in your backyard, start a container garden on your patio or deck. If it's really sunny, try growing tomatoes and peppers. If it's a shady area where you're planting, try leafy vegetables.

tomato container garden

For a flower garden, start by planting tulips or perennials around a tree, or plant a small plot on one side of your house. You can always add more next season.

Get rid of weeds

Weeds steal much-needed nutrients from the soil and rob your plants of water. Weed your garden whenever you can, and if you see a weed, yank it up by the roots immediately. Use mulch to reserve moisture and cut down on weed growth.

Keep it moist

Gardens require a minimum of one inch of rain per week. Container gardens that are in full sun require more water, and small pots may need to be watered twice a day. Don't wait until your plants are wilting to water them.

Fertilize at the right time

Applying fertilizer at the right time and in the right amount can help plants grow faster, produce better flowers or fruit, and more. There are many effective products on the market. Visit your local nursery and ask about the best way to fertilize the plants you are growing.

Divide and grow

divide and grow gardens with perennials

One of the greatest things about perennials is they bloom in the fall and the whole plant can be divided and replanted External Site in the spring. Give half to a fellow gardener, or use this as a way to expand your garden. With some water and fertilizer, in no time, your plants will flower once again.

A little pruning goes a long way

If your garden contains spring-blooming shrubs, like lilacs or rhododendrons, be diligent about pruning. Pruning is when you cut back some of the plant, such as branches or buds. It's important to wait until your flowers fade and then prune.

Garden away your stress

Not only is gardening great for your physical health, but it also promotes good mental health. Gardening is an excellent means of relieving stress. It can provide some distraction from stress you might be feeling at work, at home or within your relationships. Plus, keeping plants in good health satisfies the human instinct to nurture and provide care. Gardeners are rewarded for their efforts when their plants produce beautiful fruit, and maintain a healthy appearance.

So, take time out to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Take a daily stroll in your garden to admire your work and keep a watchful eye on any new infestation and disease. If you notice problems early, chances are they will be easier to control in the long run.

Worried you missed your planting window? 

While you might associate planting a garden with the month of April or May, the summer is still a great time to plant popular veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash. For more helpful gardening resources, check out university extension offices like Iowa State University Extension and Outreach External Site and South Dakota State University Extension External Site.