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Garden Talk: New Year, New Me, Better Garden!

By: Sallie Lee

Question:  One of my resolutions for next year is to get more exercise.  Another is to have a better garden than I did this year. I know gardening and exercise go hand in hand but want to feel that an improved garden will result in an improved me. Any thoughts or suggestions on the matter?

Answer:  Without overworking the mantra, gardening has long been associated with improved physical and mental health. Gardening is the sweat equity that produces those amazing azaleas, bountiful blueberries, or lawn that glows like green velvet.  We’ve been urged time and again to get more exercise, so improving a garden or lawn along with our physical health is truly a hand-in-glove relationship.

To stretch yourself and enhance the garden is a sound plan for the upcoming year, here are a few ‘how to’ suggestions.

Dig deep into the many resources available from experienced gardeners in our area. Pay attention to local experts who’ve mastered our particular and peculiar conditions.  Not that someone in California or Maine isn’t a good gardener, but they don’t live here and deal with the heat and humidity that characterizes our climate.  Certainly many techniques are the same, but why not check with local nurseries, botanical gardens, and Extension offices whose staff deals with the same conditions you do?

When you do expend the time, energy, and possibly funds to improve or enhance your garden, do it the smart way and put the right plant in the right place.  Make the calories you burn count toward installing or relocating plant material in properly prepared holes or beds. The plant benefits from its roots getting a head start, you benefit from, you guessed it, digging the hole. A plant, whether tree, shrub, bulb, or perennial that is forced into a site that isn’t ‘the right place’ may struggle bravely for a couple of years before sadly giving up the fight and either dying outright or developing stress-related conditions that slowly kill it.

Other activities that benefit both us and our gardens might include removing old leaf litter and debris lying on the ground. While dead leaves make good compost, if those leaves fell off a tree that was diseased by a fungus, bacteria, or virus, there’s trouble waiting right under our noses. Therefore, removing leaf litter gives muscle groups a workout and reduces the possibility of those fungi, bacteria, and viruses being an issue next season.

So far we’ve focused primarily on ornamentals, but consider the quality and quantity of exercises and benefits if our gardens include vegetables and fruits. Not only are we eating as locally and healthfully as possible, we’re pruning, stretching, pulling, turning, and bending in an effort to keep on top of any pest or disease that threatens our hard work.

Finally, according to the Centers for Disease Control, gardening is compared to “moderate cardiovascular exercise.” Gardening 30 to 45 minutes a day can burn 150 to 300 calories. This isn’t just standing there watering the flowers, but weeding, digging, hoeing, raking and planting.

What a great way to start the new year: improve us and our gardens!  So start slow and grow!!

Garden Talk is written by Sallie Lee of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES). She is housed at the C. Beaty Hanna Horticultural and Environmental Center, which is based at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. This column includes research based information from land-grant universities around the country, including Alabama A&M and Auburn Universities. Email questions to Sallie at leesall@auburn.edu or call 205-879-6964 x11. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System (Alabama A&M University and Auburn University), is an equal opportunity educator and employer.  Everyone is welcome!