Human Health & Plants Research: COVID-19, Anxiety, and the Therapeutic Countermeasure of Gardening

Dr. Charles Guy

Many research studies have well documented the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental health worldwide, particularly regarding assessments of stress, anxiety, and depression.  In the spring of 2020, as the coronavirus spread across the world and the United States, stay-at-home mandates were imposed, and people became sequestered, isolated, and fearful of disease and economic insecurity.  By June 2020, 40% of U.S. adults surveyed reported experiencing anxiety or depression or a stress-associated disorder.  During this time, many people engaged in gardening and outdoor activities.

1Gerdes and colleagues initiated a study to assess the prevalence of anxiety, examine changes in gardening and outdoor activities, and evaluate connections between gardening and outdoor activities and anxiety during COVID-19.  The researchers employed a cross-sectional online survey of 1013 adult participants that met the inclusion requirements of the study to explore whether gardening and other outdoor activities may affect anxiety levels.  The survey collected information on respondents’ COVID experiences, demographics, outdoor and gardening activities, and anxiety.  It contained 37 previously validated questions on gardening habits, experiences, and duration of engaging in gardening and other outdoor activities.  The self-report Generalized Anxiety Disorder 7-item psychometric assessment instrument was also a component of the survey.  The survey was generated and hosted on the Qualtrics online survey platform.

The research study and survey were publicized from June to September 2020 online on the social media platforms Facebook and Twitter and by email to a national Master Gardeners list.  Respondents completed an informed consent agreement before starting the survey.  Nearly all respondents (98%) were active in gardening.  Most respondents were non-Hispanic or Latino (87%), female (86%), white (82%), and between the ages of 18 and 89.  The majority of respondents were from three states: Maryland, Texas, and South Carolina.  COVID-19 had not infected a high percentage of respondents (93%), nor had a family member been infected (89%) before completing the survey.  Therefore, the respondent population demographic was a very selective and narrow non-general population sampling.

The survey study revealed that 46% of respondents reported some level of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.  The prevalence of anxiety differed by age, sex, education, state of residence, and having a family member that had contracted COVID-19.  Younger respondents tended to have higher anxiety scores than older respondents.  At the time of the survey, 85% of respondents had gardened for three hours or more during the previous two weeks, and almost half had gardened for more than eight hours.  Eighty-two percent reported gardening more during the COVID-19 pandemic than the year before.  The researchers suggested that the increase in gardening during COVID-19 may have resulted from having more time at home.  Alternatively, they proposed that respondents may have turned to gardening more as a response to increasing anxiety.  If correct, gardening would have served as a coping mechanism or as a form of self-medication.  Similarly, respondents reported spending more time outdoors during COVID-19 than the previous year.

Respondents that gardened had lower mean and median anxiety scores than nongardeners.  Respondents that gardened for more than 8 hours in the prior two weeks had significantly lower anxiety scores than those that gardened for 1-2 hours.  Similarly, and not surprisingly, respondents that spent less time outdoors during the week had higher median anxiety scores than those that spent more time outdoors.  In contrast, spending more time on weekdays outdoors was correlated with lower anxiety levels.

In summary, respondents that spent the most time gardening or had gardened longest had the lowest anxiety levels during the COVID-19 pandemic.  While the study could not determine the cause and effect of the connection between gardening and anxiety during the pandemic, it has provided a tantalizing glimpse and justification for well-designed clinical trials to rigorously test the cause and effect on general populations.

1Gerdes, M.E., Aistis, L.A., Sachs, N.A., Williams, M., Roberts, J.D., Rosenberg Goldstein, R.E. (2022). Reducing Anxiety with Nature and Gardening (RANG): Evaluating the Impacts of Gardening and Outdoor Activities on Anxiety among U.S. Adults during the COVID-19 Pandemic. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19, 5121.

Charles Guy, Emeritus and Courtesy Professor

Department of Environmental Horticulture, University of Florida

Interestingly, a recent online survey of 1,000 Americans ages 18 to 54 during the pandemic was brought to my attention that was conducted by  The survey was conducted in January 2022.  This survey in some ways parallels the Gerdes and colleagues study findings.  For example, 64% of respondents took up “plant keeping” during the pandemic as a hobby.  When queried, the respondents (88%) reported that keeping plants improved their mental health.

More information on the survey can be found at: