Ground rules and tools for 2004

January 1, 2004
Victoria County
Master Gardener

VCMGA Members from left Pat Plowman, Nancy Zaplac, Diane Alexander, Mary Greeson, Charlotte Sartor

Lawaine Stubblefield and Kathy Schmidt prepare butterfly area

Another year has begun and many of us will go through that yearly resolve to get in shape. Ho-hum, another trek to the gym.

Squeezing my too-soft body into spandex to line up in a room full of other too-soft bodies (or worse yet - hard bodies!) is not my idea of fun. I have never understood how contorting your body to that ultimate stretch to finally discover that hole in your leotard could possibly be a stress reliever.

May I please offer an alternative? Research has shown that gardening is an ideal form of exercise. Gardening can be moderate to strenuous exercise that incorporates many important elements of accepted exercise regimens such as stretching stance, repetition and movement, and even resistance principles similar to weight training, while burning calories.

Gardening provides a challenging workout but is not as stressful to the body as other exercise options, such as jogging or aerobics. It is still important to warm up muscle groups by properly stretching and you must use proper techniques for lifting, bending or carrying.

Regular old garden chores like mowing, weeding, raking or planting can burn anywhere from 250 to 400 calories per hour.

In a recent study by Barbara Ainsworth, exertion values were assigned to human physical activities of all kinds. These values were based on the ratio of the metabolic rate for the specific activity divided by the resting metabolic rate. These studies show that individuals expend just as much energy performing some gardening tasks as they would participating in recommended exercise routines.

On a scale of 0-10, compare the physical exercise gained in gardening to other more conventional forms of exercise.

1.5 - Watering lawn or garden; 2.5 - standing or walking; 3.5 - walking, applying fertilizer, mowing lawn on a riding mower; 4.0 - trimming shrubs or trees, power cutter; 4.5 - raking lawn, sacking grass and leaves, planting trees and shrubs; 4.5 - mowing lawn while walking behind power assisted mower, weeding, cultivating garden, planting trees, trimming shrubs or trees manually; 5.0 - carrying, loading or stacking wood, clearing land, hauling branches, digging sandbox, laying sod; 6.0 - shoveling mulch, chopping wood, splitting logs, mowing lawn while walking behind push mower, gardening with heavy tools, tilling a garden, light shoveling (less than 10 lbs./minute).

Other activities rated include: 0.9 - lying quietly, reclining, sleeping; 1.5 - sitting, knitting, sewing; 2.3 - walking-shopping; 3.0 - carpentry, general, workshop, bowling; 3.5 - walking at 3 mph on a level, moderate pace, firm stance; 4.0 - bicycling at 10 mph at a leisurely pace, water aerobics, fishing; 4.5 - heavy or major cleaning, golf; 4.6 - softball or baseball, hunting, stationary bicycling; 4.7 - heavy or major aerobics, swimming; 5.0 - jogging;

6.0 - non-game level basketball.

Gardening is an excellent means of diverting the mind from work, family conflicts or other issues, hence relieving stress and providing mental relaxation. Gardening is a relaxing activity great for unwinding after a difficult day at work, especially when gardening on a small, personal scale.

Keeping plants in good health also satisfies the human instinct to nurture and provide care. Gardeners are rewarded for their efforts when the plants they have pampered and coddled flower and produce beautiful fruit, and maintain a healthy appearance.

If the health club scene is not your cup of tea, please consider gardening. Whether it is in your own yard or that of a friend, with a parent or a grandchild, there is a joy in all aspects of gardening you will never find walking on a treadmill.

The most rewarding thing I have found in gardening is that it puts my life in perspective with the world around me. I am humbled. Consider Ralph Waldo Emerson's take on gardening: "When I go into my garden with a spade, and dig a bed, I feel such an exhilaration and health that I discover that I have been defrauding myself all this time in letting others do for me what I should have done with my own hands."

So, if you are sufficiently inspired, let me give you some suggestions of what you can be accomplishing in your garden this month. January is a good time to contemplate any changes you may want to make in your garden. Changes in design may now be made, new beds dug and old ones rebuilt. Correct defects in drainage. Incorporate soil amendments and compost.

Are there any plants you would like to move to a more suitable location? Now is the time. Plant woody plants, both evergreen and deciduous, especially trees. Energy will be expanded to roots instead of foliage. Learn ultimate size and cultural needs of trees and plants before buying. Consider dwarf varieties to avoid crowding later. Group plants of similar cultural needs.

Now is the time to plant fruit and nut trees - and also roses. Nurseries should have an ample supply of bare-root fruit and nut trees. Check with the Extension office for the latest recommendations.

Cut back perennials, clean beds of weeds and debris, and mulch. Fertilize daylilies and irises with a complete fertilizer. Give strawberries one-teaspoon ammonium sulfate fertilizer, keeping 6 inches away from plants. Prepare vegetable beds with 50% humus, including manure.

Continue protecting tender plants from freeze; water and remove coverings when temperature rises. Protect low, tender plants with dry leaves, pine needles or mulch but remove when weather warms.

So bundle up in layers when the weather is cool, wear your garden gloves and protect your head and skin from the sun - and get outside.

Many winter days are simply gorgeous, especially days with bright sunshine. January in South Texas is a great time of year. Keep the bird feeders and baths filled and contemplate a change; pluck spent blooms, rake some leaves or fire up the tiller.

It is all up to you. You can do as little or as much as you choose. Open your eyes and smile at the beauty that surrounds you.