How To Reap The Benefits Of Gardening For Mental Health

A smiling woman leans on a raised garden bed
(Image credit: Epiximages)

It’s no secret that getting outside is good for you. A little sunshine, fresh air, and outdoor exercise can banish stress and encourage an elevated mood. Even if you’re not interested in taking long hikes or playing touch football, gardening is an excellent way to harvest the benefits of the outdoors.

There are many studies on mental health gardening benefits, including its stress busting abilities. The benefits of gardening for mental health are greater even than the physical advantages, and can help reduce reliance on pharmaceutical drugs and unhealthy methods of alleviating mental strain.

How Gardening and Soil Help Mental Health

The mechanisms by which gardening achieves such positive outcomes can be difficult to spell out. However, Mycobacterium vaccae, a natural microbe in soil, triggers the release of serotonin in the brain when we contact and inhale particles from soil.

Serotonin, a natural antidepressant transmitter in the brain, eases the ill effects of anxiety and depression. The process that makes this happen is complex and is being studied vigorously. The intercollegiate publication, The Synapse, claims in its 2023 article, “Soil Salvation: The Antidepressant Properties of Dirt,” that “Soil hosts an ecosystem of probiotics that can strengthen the microbiome, a part of the immune system….This microbiome is the collective mixture of protective bacteria, protozoa and fungi that live within the human body.

Mycobacterium vaccae is known to improve the immune system and minimize symptoms of serious diseases. It may be an oversimplification to say that soil alleviates depression, but current studies indicate that it’s true.

Another factor may simply be due to our dependence on plants. We rely upon them for food, shelter, clothing, medicine, and more. Our natural attraction to plants is partially due to wanting to satisfy these needs. Very simply, gardening helps mental health as we access beauty, perform simple, non-threatening tasks, and distract the mind.

Gardening for Mental Health

Many of us hit the gym, eat healthy foods, enjoy outdoor activities and do other things that are beneficial for our overall well being. But is gardening good for mental health? Horticultural therapy has been used for some time to help those with a variety of health issues, including mental health disorders. Gardening and mental health go hand in hand to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. The reasons aren’t clear, but a study of healthy women who attended garden classes two times per week showed a marked improvement in such symptoms. The idea of utilizing gardening to help emotional and mental well being has been around since the 19th century, with numerous studies conducted in the intervening years indicating a positive influence.

Mental Health Benefits of Gardening

Gardening is both a physical and creative endeavor. It involves using the mind to plan, imagine, and design, while the body is used to implement desired changes and tasks. These combined activities have many advantages.

  • Develops a sense of acceptance when we can’t control outcomes
  • Provides a chance to learn something new even in the face of failure
  • Develops good relationships, both human and in nature
  • Neutralizes perfectionism
  • Connects you to nature
  • Centers and provides meditative space
  • Provides physical exercise
  • Enhances a sense of security
  • Encourages new experiences
  • Provides healthful foods
  • Lowers BMI
  • Reduces stress and anxiety

Whose Mental Health Benefits from Gardening?

Gardening has similar attributes for any person, but it is especially helpful for certain groups. Experts have performed studies on people with PTSD in a garden setting and found marked improvement in symptoms. Those with dementia or Alzheimers are also candidates for improved mental state, cognitive awareness, and other benefits. The elderly as a whole receive gentle exercise but also clarity of mind, purpose, and a sense of achievement. Children spending time in a garden acquire knowledge and a sense of connection to the earth and what we eat. Gardening has also been shown to help children with autism and behavioral problems. Any age group or mental health level can find satisfaction and enjoyment in the simple act of gardening.

How to Start Gardening for Your Mental Health

The first step to harnessing all these benefits is to get some dirt. It doesn’t have to be a large plot of land, but could simply be some containers filled with soil. Joining or volunteering at a pea patch, garden club or a community garden are other ways to get one’s hands in dirt.

  • Purchase indoor plants or get plant starts from a friend and begin gardening indoors in areas that aren’t too cold.
  • Plan only to grow what you can manage at first. Trying to do everything can result in failure and too much work that will dim the positive effects of gardening.
  • Grow what you like to increase enjoyment and provide the most satisfactory outcomes.
  • Learn about your plants either from reading, joining a gardening group, picking your neighbor’s brains, or other sources.
  • Don’t spend a lot of money initially. If gardening ends up being a passion, the money will flow later.
  • Garden a little every day even in winter. The off season is a perfect time to peruse plant catalogs, plan the garden layout, and perform other chores.
Bonnie L. Grant

Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.