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Don Kinzler, Published April 05 2013

Growing Together: Many find calm, joy when working with plants

Horticulture has a remedy for violence, shootings and political bickering.

And that’s why now is the time to prune your trees and shrubs.

Let me explain.

I found fascinating research indicating that gardening, landscaping and working with plants has a proven positive effect on human behavior.

The findings reinforce what already is known by most gardeners. (I use the term gardening to include all of horticulture, flower gardening, vegetable raising and landscaping.)

As I observe people who work with plants, I notice shared patterns of behavior. Gardeners exhibit patience, inward calm, persistence, optimism – and they smile.

Have you noticed how uptight many politicians are? I see many scowling faces. I don’t think they garden enough.

Now, let’s talk about what the research shows. Plants reduce stress levels. College students under exam stress exhibited reduced fear and anger when plants were present. Workers in office settings containing plants experienced reduced systolic blood pressure compared with equal office settings without plants.

Productivity increases when plants are present. Increased task performance was even more marked in males than females when the environment included plantings.

Patients in hospitals recover more quickly. A comparison was done of gallbladder surgeries within the same hospital. Patients in rooms with a view of trees and shrubs had shorter hospital stays, gave nurses fewer negative comments and required less pain medication than patients without the view of nature.

Gardening reduces aggression. Purdue University research found that gardening projects at prisons had a “strangely soothing effect” on inmates and decreased the number of assaults among prisoners. A study of urban apartments in Chicago revealed that residents living in buildings without landscaping reported more aggression and violence than residents living in similar buildings surrounded by trees and shrubbery.

Gardeners were shown to have a more positive perception of life satisfaction and optimism than non-gardeners.

Good for kids

Effects on children have been well-documented. A University of Colorado study of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders who participated in a one-year gardening program showed a significant increase in self-understanding, relationship skills and the ability to work with others compared with non-participants. Children who garden were more accepting of others who were different than themselves. Juvenile offenders showed improved self-esteem, interpersonal relationships and better attitudes toward school.

Research shows that children who grow their own food are more likely to eat fruits and vegetables, and have a greater knowledge of nutrition.

If gardening can have such a positive impact on human behavior, what should we do? I have noticed that the strong horticultural heritage that our region once enjoyed seems to be decreasing. Let’s re-establish it.

School horticulture projects, 4-H clubs and community gardens would help. But for right now, we parents need to plant something.

Buy an English Ivy houseplant and show the kids the new growth that will soon start to trail. In mid-May, plant a Sweet 100 cherry tomato by the patio with your children. Plant a few seeds of bush pumpkins by the back fence. Help your children plant their own flower bed.

Involve them. Garden with them. Most of all, show by example.

Pruning

Right now is the ideal time to prune your landscape. You’ll also have a chance to relieve any aggression you might be harboring.

Here are 10 rules for pruning:

  1. Deciduous (leafy) shrubs and trees are best pruned before they leaf out in the spring. Exceptions are lilacs, spirea and forsythia, which can be pruned after bloom. Maples, birches, elms, black walnut and honey locust trees can wait until full leaf to avoid sap bleeding.

  2. Evergreen shrubs and trees can be pruned from mid-April until early August.

  3. Pruning is not shearing, unless you have a formal hedge. Or if you live at Disney World and want shrubs sheared to look like Donald Duck.

  4. Prune to keep natural, informal shapes. Use selective cuts at various levels to avoid the crew-cut look.

  5. Use hand-held pruning shears, loppers and saws rather than hedge trimmers.

  6. Make cuts just beyond a side branch or bud. Don’t leave stubs.

  7. Old overgrown leafy shrubs can be rejuvenated by cutting a third to half of the thickest branches back to ground level. Do this for the next two to three years.

  8. This rejuvenation does not work on evergreens. Evergreen pruning must be done within the area of the branch that still has foliage.

  9. Pruning paints or sprays are not necessary and may cause damage.

  10. Remember pruning stimulates new growth just below where you cut.

Whether it’s pruning or another gardening activity, your example will inspire those around you. Collectively, we can rebuild our gardening heritage and reap the benefits.

And don’t worry if you’re not a horticulture blueblood. We’ll learn from one another. Remember, we’re growing together.

Don Kinzler writes a weekly yard and gardening column in SheSays. Readers can reach him at donkinzler@msn.com.