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Editorial: Growing gardens, grass smart move

In a climate with a relatively short growing season, it’s important to get outdoors whenever possible.

One doesn’t need to go far. Locales as close as the back yard offer opportunities to be in touch directly with nature.

Gardening has long been known as a great way to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Gardening also has hidden benefits to boost overall health, including better brain health. Even if not directly involved, just walking in a garden can give one a sensory experience promoting relaxation and reducing stress.

Here are some ways gardening supports health and well-being:

—Low impact exercise. Gardeners work with their hands, so it keeps them exercising even when a gym may not work. When digging, planting and doing other tasks, gardeners have opportunities for low impact exercise. Those who do more physical work like hauling wheelbarrows of rocks or dirt get quite a workout.

—Stress reduction. A recent study in the Netherlands suggests gardening can fight stress even better than other relaxing leisure activities. Study participants either read indoors or gardened for 30 minutes. Afterward, the group that gardened reported being in a better mood than the reading group and they also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

—Tracking accomplishments. Gardeners love to keep records, as well as photos of what they planted-before and after shots-and notes about their garden’s progress. Those are handy reviews of what to plant again and what to forego. But notes written by hand or typed on a computer are beneficial in helping to remember details, too.

—Mood booster. A Norwegian study followed participants with mood disorders who spent six hours a week growing flowers and vegetables. After three months, half of the participants had experienced a measurable improvement in their depression symptoms. Even after they stopped gardening, their good moods continued three months after the gardening experiment ended.

—Eat fresh. Several studies have shown people who garden eat more fresh fruits and vegetables than people who don’t. Growing a garden also provides the convenience of trying new things.

—Executive function. Research has found if one has poor executive decision, they may not stick to goals compared to people with excellent executive functions. Executive function includes such things as planning and being able to thoroughly consider options out front, plus having a prospective memory. That’s defined as having a sharp recall ability to remember to do things or say “no” to other things like becoming sedentary instead of getting exercise.

As long as gardeners are outside in the yard, they might want to take advantage of some tips for invigorating lawns from gardening expert Melinda Myers, as follows:

Water is critical to getting newly seeded and sodded lawns to survive. If the lawn is more than 60 percent weeds or bare soil, it’s probably time to start over. Kill off the existing vegetation, add several inches of organic matter such as compost or peat moss and a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer into the top six-to-eight inches of soil, and rake smooth.

Make sure the grass is suited to the climate and plant according to the label. Then sow the seeds, lightly rake and mulch or lay sod. Water often enough to keep the soil moist until the seeds sprout or the sod roots into the soil below. Then water thoroughly when the top few inches of soil are crumbly, but slightly moist, to encourage deep roots.

Fertilize new, existing and stressed lawns with a low nitrogen slow release fertilizer. Mow high to encourage deeply rooted grass that is more drought tolerant and pest resistant. And mow often, removing only a third of the total height. Be sure to leave these short clippings on the lawn.

Repair small dead and bare patches as needed. Use a lawn patch kit, grass seed and mulch. For small spots, loosen the soil surface, sprinkle grass seed and lightly rake. Or mix a handful of grass seed in a bucket of topsoil. Sprinkle the mix over the soil surface.

When renovating larger dead areas in the lawn, remove or kill any weeds that have filled in these areas. Till two inches of compost, peat moss or other organic matter into the top six inches of soil. Sow seed, rake and mulch or lay sod.

Oversee thin and sparse lawns. Core aerate the lawn, then spread grass seed over the aerated lawn and water as needed. Or rent a slit seeder or hire a professional with this type of equipment.

Core aerate lawns having more than one-half an inch of thatch, those growing in compacted soils or before overseeding. Spot treat weeds on lawns needing minimal repair. Wait at least until fall to treat new and overseeded lawns.