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Stuck at home? Get in some yard, garden time

Virus issues have taken over the newspaper, private conversations and the internet, and we aren’t talking plant viruses.

COVID-19 is causing great uncertainty and fairly dramatic changes in our human behavior and plans. A few folks are in mandatory quarantine, more in self-imposed quarantine and hundreds of thousands are spending more time at home and getting out much less while we are trying to limit the spread of this new virus.

The question becomes what to do with yourself with this unexpected full or partial staycation. Gardening and time in your yard should be one of your top priorities if you are among the “homebound well” folks.

Doctors recommend time in the sun and fresh air to help prevent virus problems and that is besides the normal health benefits of being outside and getting the vitamin D our skin processes from UV-B rays from the sun. Most doctors suggest a minimum of 15 minutes per day in the sun. More is better for most people as sun exposure battles osteoporosis, depression, cancer, stroke and heart attacks.

Gardening is a good exercise that naturally uses many muscles, and we tend to be at least twice as active outside as we are inside. If you feel sluggish, go outside and garden, and you are likely to get more exercise and feel better. Many studies have proven that gardening and even just being outside can improve your mood. Whether it is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) driven by the short days of winter or just your general attitude, the activity of gardening and time outside in the sun can counteract the winter blues and imbalances in serotonin levels and mood swings.

Gardening and being outside can provide a great break from work and other activities. Studies have shown that children with ADHD and adults in general are able to concentrate better after spending time in green spaces. You can get your steps and other exercise in while gardening and get the chance to enjoy nature as an additional benefit.

The University of Pennsylvania has conducted studies that prove natural light had a positive influence on post surgery recovery and required less pain medicine and had better outcomes. Being outside in nature had the biggest positive impact, but even having visible access to nature through a window had a positive impact.

Gardening almost always improves physical, mental and spiritual heath. With more individuals bottled up at home and the pressures of dealing with all the COVID-19 uncertainty, there are few things you can do at home besides gardening that will have such a positive impact on your body, mind and spirit. This challenge comes at the time of year there is much to do in the garden.

Whether you are a brand-new or experienced food gardener, you can be planting lots of cool-season crops now. We are at the final stages of the planting season for seed potatoes, onion plants, onion sets, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, and many root crops like carrots, beets and radish. These crops need to be planted at once so they can develop and be ready to harvest before we get too hot.

You also can plant fruit and nut trees, grapes, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and many other berries now to harvest fresh fruit and berries for years to come. Plant asparagus, rhubarb and horseradish to harvest in future seasons.

Those who want to work on lawns can plant tall fescue seed in shady areas. You can fertilize your Bermuda grass lawn or apply weed-and-feed fertilizers with pre-emergent weed killer. The pre-emergent won’t kill weeds that are already sprouted, but it will kill crabgrass, sand burrs, goatheads and most summer weeds that have not germinated yet.

This is prime time to plant ornamental trees and shrubs to update your landscape. Container-grown trees and shrubs planted now will have the chance to root out into their new soil home before facing the hot Oklahoma summer. This is a good time to observe spring flowering trees like crabapples, redbuds, and magnolias, as well as flowering shrubs like quince, forsythia, azalea and spirea, and decide which you want to buy and add to your yard.

Now is the time to plant perennial and semi-hardy ornamental plants while we wait another three or four weeks to plant warm-season annuals like petunias, begonias, marigolds, geraniums and warm-season vegetables.

COVID-19 not only has many of us worried about our personal health, but it has millions of small businesses worried for their survival as we confront the unknown. Your local greenhouse, garden centers and nurseries have been growing crops and getting ready for the busy spring season for months. Please get outside and garden for your physical and mental health and support your local growers and garden centers to help maintain their financial health, as well all work to defeat COVID-19.

Rodd Moesel serves as president of Oklahoma Farm Bureau and was inducted into the Oklahoma Agriculture Hall of Fame. Email garden and landscape questions to rmoesel@americanplant.com.