Benefits of and Tips for Gardening in Houston
by Susannah Wollman
We all know that being outdoors can reap all kinds of benefits and gardening can provide great-tasting food, but here are some surprising benefits you may not have thought of, and tips for the best practices in and around Houston.
With restrictions on Covid-19 being eased in Texas, you’re probably ready to get outside again (especially after the Great Freeze of 2021). So while the temperatures are still temperate, indulge! Reinvigorate your gardening skills or start a brand new garden, perhaps for the first time. Here are ten surprising—and proven—benefits of doing just that.
1) Did you know that, like plants, your body is capable of photosynthesis, the process where sunlight is turned into nutrition?
It’s true! When you are exposed to the sun, your body produces Vitamin D, which is essential to literally hundreds of functions. It is estimated that a half-hour in the sun can produce between 8,000 and 50,000 international units of Vitamin D. Strengthening your immune system is only one, but as we venture out after the pandemic, it’s an important one.
2) If you hate exercise, gardening may be your best friend.
The CDC says gardening is exercise, and that’s great news. Exercise promotes better sleep, builds strength, and helps you maintain a healthy weight, all-important is our lives, no matter our age.
3) Recent studies have shown that gardening activities may help improve cognitive function.
A 2014 study has shown that horticultural therapy was beneficial for the brain function of people with impaired mental facilities like dementia.
4) Gardening gives a boost to your mood and your self-esteem.
That is, according to a 2011 study of people with depression who received gardening intervention for 12 weeks. In fact, results showed that the positive effects lasted even when the intervention ended.
5) Gardening can help you de-stress.
Researchers in another study found that the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) went down in people who garden after a stressful event even more than in those who quietly read a book. So when you get home from work, spend a few minutes in your garden to unwind instead of watching the news (another stressful event).
6) Recovery from addiction is easier in a garden.
A study in a rehabilitation program that offered art or gardening as therapy discovered that those participating in the gardening component recovered more quickly.
7) Relationships formed in community gardening develop and strengthen.
Families who share a garden and the accompanying activities report more positive interaction among family members.
8) You can develop a sense of agency and empowerment through gardening.
For those who feel the effects of injustice from the world around them often feel a sense of empowerment from managing a garden and reaping its bounty.
9) If you’re concerned about the environment, gardening helps relieve related anxiety by putting your personal environment into your own capable hands.
By using natural conservation methods in your garden, you reduce your own carbon footprint.
10) You can take satisfaction from beautifying your immediate world.
Flowers, shrubs, trees, fruits and vegetables all help to increase natural beauty around you. You can even turn your yard into a Certified Wildlife Habitat and feed the wildlife that is desperately trying to survive in a world increasingly hostile to it.
Tips for successful gardening in May in the Houston area.
The seeds you planted earlier this year should be pretty well established by now. Here are some tips for May to help your gardening efforts achieve the best results.
- Continue to plant container gardens. Using larger containers means less frequent watering. Both summer perennials and annuals like purslane and bougainvillea are heat tolerant and do well in hanging baskets in full sun.
- Spring migration of birds continues at this time of year, so enjoy the many varieties of birds in Houston. Clean birdbaths often and keep feeders full. Remember as the rains come that soggy, spoiled feed can result, so check the feeders especially if it has rained.
- Container transplants in large pots from nurseries are okay to plant, and plant okra, pumpkins, basil, garlic chives, peppers, and sunflowers from seeds in your vegetable or herb garden.
- Mulch to prevent weeds and to retain moisture. If you see weeds developing, pull them early before they have a chance to get established.
- Fertilize your flower beds and vegetable gardens with slow-release organic fertilizers.
- You’ll want to deep-water the roots on trees, shrubs, and lawns as this encourage roots to go deeper, where they are not as susceptible to our summer heat.
- Watch out for pests in your garden and pick them off by hand instead of using insecticides. Keep an eye out for beneficial insects as well. Ladybugs are great for controlling aphids. Snails and slugs are best seen early in the morning or in the evening when they are most active.
Late April and early May are great times to be outdoors and get to know your neighbors, especially after our long year of confinement.