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Plant Keeping Helps Improve Mental Health in Stressful Times

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From baking bread to putting together puzzles to learning TikTok dances, Americans found many hobbies to keep themselves sane and occupied during the COVID-19 pandemic. Another popular past-time that emerged is plant-keeping. According to a new survey of 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older, conducted by Trees.com in partnership with online survey platform Pollfish, two-thirds of Americans used this time to try out their green thumbs and spruce up their homes and gardens with plants.

The survey found that not only is plant keeping helping people pass the time, but the hobby is also having a profound impact on people’s mental and physical health during this stressful time, to the point where the majority of people surveyed said they expect to continue with their plant-keeping hobby even when the pandemic is over.

Key Findings

The majority of people who responded to the survey, 64 percent, said they took up plant-keeping as a hobby during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s no surprise when you consider the benefits that gardening has on mental health. For one, it connects us to other living organisms and provides us with a sense of purpose. The act of seeing new life sprout is healing and can provide a sense of rebirth and renewal.

Horticultural therapy, a practice facilitated by a trained therapist who engages people in gardening and other plant-based activities to improve mental and physical health, is becoming increasingly popular among senior communities, thanks to the positive impact it has when it comes to Memory Care. It has been found to help reduce stress and anxiety, create a sense of community, and enhance quality of life.

Gardens have long been used as curative settings and for good reason. Nature is healing. Research reveals that when people engage with nature, it reinforces their sense of self. In fact, natural green and blue spaces (environments with running or still water) were shown to promote physical, mental, and spiritual well-being in older adults. 

Caring for plants is also a relaxing activity that takes us away from our screens. That alone can help boost mental health by relieving the pressure of being constantly connected. The overload of information we get daily can be overwhelming and exhausting. Plants help us detox from our digital devices.

During the pandemic, many people experienced a level of uncertainty they hadn’t known before. By caring for other living things, it’s possible to alleviate some of that uncertainty with the perspective that our actions matter, giving us some sense of control.

A review of data from Google Trends, which compiles and analyzes data on Google searches in real time, reinforces how interest in plant keeping increased as normal routines were upended by shutdown orders and transmission fears in March and April of 2020. Google Trends normalizes and measures search interest on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the maximum search interest in a given topic for the time and location selected.

Searches for “planting” and “plants” started increasing during the week of March 22, 10 days after the federal government declared COVID-19 a national emergency, and right as many states and cities were implementing stay-at-home orders to help halt the spread of the disease. According to Google Trends, searches for “planting” peaked during the week of April 26, with searches for “plants” hitting their high point the following week.

35- to 44-year-olds most likely age group to start plant-keeping hobby during pandemic

Plant-keeping is most popular among people ages 35 to 44 years old; 74 percent of people in this age group said they started caring for plants during the pandemic. People ages 54 and older were the least likely age group to adopt this hobby; only 48 percent of people in this demographic said they started gardening this year.

When it comes to gender breakdown, men were more likely than women to try their hand at gardening. Seventy-three percent of male respondents said they’ve developed a green thumb during the pandemic, compared to 59 percent of female respondents.

Plant-keeping appears to be a popular hobby for couples. Sixty-eight percent of people who are married, and 67 percent of people who live with their partner took up this activity, compared to 60 percent of people who are single, and 55 percent of people who are separated or divorced.

Employment status also appears to influence whether people picked up this hobby. According to our survey, 73 percent of people who started keeping plants are employed, 72 percent are students, and 67 percent are in the military. Meanwhile, only 44 percent of people who are unemployed and 41 percent of retirees started a gardening hobby this year.

93 percent of older Americans say keeping plants helped their mental health during the pandemic

Amid the stress, fear, and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, many health experts continue to express concerns about the short- and long-term impacts the pandemic will have on people’s mental health. The good news is that individuals who began keeping plants during the past year seem to have found a hobby that offers some relief. Eighty-eight percent of respondents who began a plant-keeping hobby said it has had a positive impact on their mental health.

The hobby appears most beneficial for older adults. Ninety-three percent of respondents ages 54 and older said the hobby has positively impacted their mental health, as did 91 percent of retirees. Younger adults also find it helpful; 84 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds who are keeping plants said it is positively impacting their mental health.

Men were more likely than women to say that plant-keeping had a positive impact on their mental health. Ninety-four percent of male respondents said the hobby was beneficial, compared to 86 percent of women.

Although only 50 percent of widowed people said they started keeping plants as a hobby during the pandemic, 100 percent of those who did said it had a positive effect on their mental health. Ninety-two percent of married individuals who began keeping plants, as well as 92 percent of separated or divorced individuals also noticed a positive impact on their mental health. For single people, the hobby was slightly less helpful; only 86 percent of people in this demographic said keeping plants improved their mental health.

The positive aspects of plant-keeping extended to physical health for some survey respondents. A smaller majority of people, 67 percent, said plant-keeping helped their physical health. Three-fourths of 35- to 44-year-olds who were keeping plants reported physical health benefits from the activity, compared to 62 percent of respondents ages 25 to 34.

More than one-fourth of Americans have taken on debt to fund their plant-keeping hobby

The amount of money people are spending on their plant-keeping habit varies from $5 to nearly $2,000, although the survey found that most people spend between $50 and $200.

While most people said they have not gone into any debt to fuel their plant-keeping hobby, 27 percent of respondents said they have. Eighteen- to 24-year-olds were the most likely to have taken on debt to fuel their plant-keeping hobby; 47 percent of people in this demographic said they’ve accumulated debt to maintain their hobby, compared to 16 percent of people 54 and older.

90 percent of Americans expect to continue keeping plants after pandemic ends

As we move into the endemic stage of COVID-19, people who started a plant-keeping hobby during the pandemic are optimistic that they will continue with this activity even after the pandemic ends.

Regardless of age, at least 96 percent of all respondents said they consider themselves a plant-keeping enthusiast for life. Ninety-eight percent of men, and 96 percent of women said they expect to continue keeping plants going forward.

Students were most optimistic about being plant-keeping enthusiasts for life; 100 percent of respondents in this group said they will continue with their plant-keeping hobby after the pandemic. Perhaps in a reflection of their lower rates of mental and physical health benefits, military personnel were the least likely to say they are plant-keeping enthusiasts for life; only 67 percent of people in this group identified as such.

Methodology

The data from this report comes from an online survey administered by online survey platform Pollfish. The survey was created and paid for by Trees.com. In total, 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 54 and older were surveyed on the questions in this report. This survey was conducted from January 6 to 7, 2022.

About The Author
John Haryasz

John is a horticulture writer and landscape designer who holds an accredited degree in landscape architecture from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In the field of landscape architecture, he has led many successful design projects throughout the country for both residential and commercial clients. As a horticulture writer, John writes about various plant species, how-to planting guides for novice gardeners, and landscape design ideas for homeowners. He’s passionate about sharing his horticulture and design knowledge to promote engagement with the outdoors.