Spring is in full swing: The sun is shining, and warmer days are here to stay. It’s the start of the growing season, time to get plants planted so you can watch your garden blossom—not to mention, relieve stress and improve your overall well-being. We hope you embrace the chance spring offers to reconnect with Nature after a winter cooped up indoors.
Whether you’re brand-new to gardening or a more experienced grower, the tips shared here from Gaia’s Farm Operations Manager, Thomas Leonard, and Farm Operations Assistant Manager, Kate Renner, will help set you up for success.
The Health Benefits of Gardening
But before we share their expert advice, we want to dig into—pun intended—a few of the many benefits of gardening. Today, a wealth of research backs up what dedicated gardeners have long known: The activity can help you feel happy and be healthy.1
Nutritious foods for a nourishing diet
When you grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs, you get the freshest, most nutritious foods available. What’s more, you’re in control of how they’re grown, so you can use healthy, sustainable practices and say no to GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and toxic pesticides and fertilizers—as we do on our Certified Organic farm in Brevard, North Carolina.
Indeed, reviews of multiple studies have shown that organically grown foods provide greater amounts of important nutrients such as vitamin C, iron, and magnesium, as well as higher levels of beneficial antioxidant compounds.2
Enjoyable exercise for better wellness
If you’re not a fan of the gym or other traditional forms of exercise, you’ll be happy to know that gardening is an excellent physical activity. Think about it: You’re lifting, carrying, digging, pushing—all forms of aerobic exercise.
In fact, when you’re pulling weeds and planting veggies or flowers, you can burn anywhere from 200 to 400 calories per hour. More intense work in the garden, like raking and bagging leaves, hauling dirt, or moving rocks and creating landscape features, can help you burn up to 600 calories hourly.3
Rosy pastime for a mood boost
Gardening can help relieve stress and bolster mood in a variety of ways. Of course, it’s well established that exercise is good for mental health. Just as we know the sun is the best source of vitamin D, a hormone that plays an important role in regulating mood.4
Gardening also appears to help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. In one study, participants were asked to participate in a stressful activity. They were then randomly separated into two groups: One group was assigned to 30 minutes of outdoor gardening to recover from the stressful experience, while the other was instructed to read indoors for the same time period.
The results? Cortisol levels were significantly lower during the recovery period in the gardening group versus the reading group, and positive mood was fully restored for participants who gardened—but not those who read.5
And this is just one such study to correlate gardening directly with improved mood. Spending time outdoors in general, particularly via forest bathing, has also been linked to reduced cortisol levels, as well as improved heart rate and blood pressure.6
5 Tips for Gardening Success This Spring
If you’re ready to either start gardening or commit to spending more time in your garden in order to have fresh foods and flowers on hand and better your physical and mental health in the process, here’s some expert advice from Thomas Leonard and Kate Renner of the Gaia Herbs Farm team to help you get growing so you can enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Watch the short video below for some of Kate's best gardening tricks and continue reading for all 5 tips to help you sow the seeds of success in your garden this season.
1. Time It Right
Depending on where you live, you are probably safe to start planting as we post this. But to be sure and set yourself up for the best chance of success, both Thomas and Kate recommend determining the average last frost date for your location.
You can do so by entering your zip code in an online frost date calculator; The Old Farmer’s Almanac and the National Gardening Association both have one on their sites, for example. Your local Cooperative Extension may also have one online, or someone in your local extension office will be able to provide this information. There are also great resources on the web for determining when to plant what throughout the season.
2. Plant Near, Not Far
“The closer your garden is to your front or back door, the more success you’re going to have,” Kate stresses, especially if you’re new to gardening.
Keep garden beds or plots in close proximity or opt for containers that you can place on an easily accessible patio. That way, the plants aren’t out of sight, out of mind, and you’re more likely to stay on top of weeding and watering.
And the closer your garden is to your house, the more likely you are to regularly use what you’re growing. Plus, who doesn’t like to look out the window and see thriving veggies and beautiful blooms?!
Thomas notes that proximity is key in permaculture, an agricultural design system that uses zones to position plants for accessibility, as well as other elements of a garden and landscape, based on need and use.
3. Start Small
If you’re a beginning grower, it’s always a good idea to start small. Whether that means a few pots on your porch or windowsill or one or two raised beds or more is up to you. But Thomas and Kate suggest paring back big plans so you don’t get overwhelmed and so that what you do grow thrives.
4. Pick Low-Maintenance, High-Reward Plants
“For home gardens, perennials are perfect,” Thomas says. “These plants, such as berry bushes and fruit trees, are a great way to go because they require less maintenance. You can plant them, take care of them well initially, and then they’ll continue producing—even after you’ve sold your house!” What’s more, they help build soil and promote a healthy habitat for beneficial worms, fungi, and bacteria.
Many, if not most, herbs are perennials. Kate suggests planting your favorite culinary herbs to have on hand. If you’ve planted close by your door as she recommends, you’ll be able to head out from the kitchen while you’re cooking and grab fresh additions to add to your recipe—cutting just what you need from the stalk and leaving the rest of the plant to continue producing.
5. Sow Seeds Smartly
For plants you do start from seed, Thomas shares the following helpful rule: "Plant the seed three times as deep as its diameter." That means you’ll sow larger seeds, like bean seeds, much deeper than you would, say, tiny herb seeds—which may end up being just barely planted under the soil, almost sitting on its surface.
And he cautions you to watch your watering, so you don’t wash your seeds away. Thomas recommends using a watering can with holes to disperse water and not a can with a spout that pours one strong stream. Or, use a hose with a water breaker nozzle.
So Long, Stress
Both Thomas and Kate are firm believers in the stress-relieving power of gardening, sharing that they experience it firsthand daily—and not just at Gaia Herbs. Even after a long day working on our farm, they get home and head straight out into their personal garden spaces for solace as well as meaningful, joyful connection with family and friends.
For an extra mental lift, they remind that you can grow your own mood-boosting herbs at home, including some of those we use in Gaia Herbs stress support supplements.
Kate loves Lemon Balm especially, which is one of the first plants to show green on the Gaia Farm after a long winter. It has been traditionally used to promote a sense of calm in the body, especially during times of stress.* We offer a Lemon Balm extract, but you’ll also find it in our Adrenal Health® Nightly Restore and Sleep & Relax™ capsules and herbal tea, as well as our GaiaKids® Calm Support extract.
We hope you’ll share stories and pictures from your gardens with us this spring and beyond on Instagram and Facebook. We’d love to know what you’re growing and if the tricks shared here are working for you!
PS: Want to try your hand at planting trees, too? Our farm team shares their tree-specific tips here.
- Masashi Sogaa, Kevin J. Gaston, and Yuichi Yamaurac, “Gardening Is Beneficial for Health: A Meta-Analysis,” Preventive Medicine Reports 5 (2017): 92-99, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007.
- Walter J. Crinnion, “Organic Foods Contain Higher Levels of Certain Nutrients, Lower Levels of Pesticides, and May Provide Health Benefits for the Consumer,” Alternative Medicine Review 15, no. 1 (April 2010): 4-12, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20359265; Marcin Barański et al. “Higher Antioxidant and Lower Cadmium Concentrations and Lower Incidence of Pesticide Residues in Organically Grown Crops: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analyses,” British Journal of Nutrition 112, no. 5 (September 14, 2014): 794-811, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4141693.
- Gina Shaw, “Everyday Calorie Burners,” Grow by WebMD, accessed April 12, 2021, https://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/calorie-burners#1.
- Healthline Editorial Team, "The Benefits of Vitamin D," Healthline, updated April 7, 2020, https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/benefits-vitamin-d#fights-disease.
- Agnes Van Den Berg and Mariette H.G. Custers, “Gardening Promotes Neuroendocrine and Affective Restoration from Stress,” Journal of Health Psychology (June 3, 2010), https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1359105310365577.
- Bum Jin Park et al. “The Physiological Effects of Shinrin-yoku (Taking in the Forest Atmosphere or Forest Bathing),” Environmental Health and Preventive Medicine 15, no. 1 (2010): 18-26, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19568835.