Improving Mental Health Through Gardening

Top Four Ways Gardening Improves Mental Health 

Amongst many other treatments, activities, and connections, gardening has been shown (1) to have a number of mental health benefits. Anecdotally, I always find that working with my hands and caring for a living thing to be relaxing and to improve my mood. Four of the top ways that gardening can improve mental well-being are: 

  1. Stress reduction (2): Gardening can be a relaxing and meditative activity that helps to reduce stress and anxiety. The act of tending to plants and watching them grow can provide a sense of accomplishment and purpose, and the physical activity of gardening can also help to release endorphins and reduce tension.
  2. Social connections: Gardening can be a social activity that allows you to connect with others who share a similar interest. Whether you garden alone, with a group of friends, or in a community garden, the act of working together and sharing the fruits of your labor can foster a sense of community and belonging.
  3. Creativity: Gardening allows you to express your creativity by designing and cultivating your own outdoor space. From choosing plants and planning layouts to experimenting with different techniques and styles, gardening offers endless opportunities to be creative and try new things!
  4. Nature connection: Gardening can help you connect with nature and the outdoors, which has been shown(3) to have several mental health benefits. Research has shown that spending time in nature can have cognitive benefits, improve mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and increase feelings of happiness and well-being.

Overall, gardening is a healthy and enjoyable activity that can have a positive impact on your mental health. Whether you have a large backyard or just a small balcony, there are plenty of ways to get started and enjoy the benefits of gardening.



Gardening For Birds

Gardening For Birds

Gardening for Birds using Florida Native Plants

To attract birds to your yard, think about creating a habitat with food, shelter, and water to meet the needs of both nesting and migratory birds. Building an ecosystem rich with plant and animal life will attract a variety of birds throughout the year.
Migration occurs in spring and fall. Birds need calorie dense foods, like seeds and berries, during their stops to fuel the long distance flights from their summer nesting sites to their winter habitats. Nesting birds are those that breed and raise their young locally. Growing babies need huge amounts of protein in the form of insects. Birds can make hundreds of trips back to the nest per day to feed their growing nestlings. 


To feed migratory birds, use plants that provide seeds, nuts, or berries. Birds migrate north through Florida late April to early May. Fall migration stretches from August through October. Having a variety of plants that flower and fruit throughout the year ensures migrating birds will find something to eat in your yard.
Any flowering plant that attracts pollinators will help support nesting birds. Parent birds will bring the insects found on your plants back to the nest. Be sure to leave some of the “dead” flowers so that seeds can develop to feed birds later in the season.
Oaks are a key group of plants for both migratory and nesting birds. They support nearly 1,000 species of moth and butterfly caterpillars. Those Oak Rollers that hang down and get in your hair? They help make up the base of the food chain that supports birds. Leave the leaf litter below your oak because that is where the caterpillars pupate. 


In order to feel safe, birds need to be able to retreat from open spaces where they may be foraging or drinking. Providing layers of low groundcovers, grasses, shrubs, and trees will give birds a wide variety of places to hide from predators. Vary the density of plants to add interest to your landscape while supporting the nesting preferences of different types of birds.


Provide at least 2 sources of water in your garden for birds to drink and bathe. Bird baths should be shallow with a textured surface. Add fresh water frequently so the birds know they have a reliable source in your yard. Once they are in the habit of using your baths, birds will often wait nearby for a bath when you get the hose out!




Beach Creeper, Ernodia littoralis

Beach Creeper, Ernodia littoralis

Beach Creeper

Beach Creeper
Ernodia littoralis
Beach Creeper, Golden Beach Creeper, Golden Creeper, Beach-Creeper
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Golden Beach Creeper should be a favorite addition to any Central or South Florida coastal landscape. Naturally occurring in the dune systems or just behind, they are well adapted to dry, sandy soils and small amounts of shade.

The beautiful tube shaped flowers will attract virtually all pollinators. The bees can be heard buzzing through the foliage from several feet away, letting you know the flowers are hard at work. 

The yellow to orange fruit will appear after the blooms that are a delicacy to small birds. Because of the dense and arching growth habit, birds enjoy hopping through the dense growth to feed and take shelter. Plant under small trees to reap the benefits of a truly bird friendly planting.

PLEASE NOTE, the Beach Creeper can take some time to fill in, so have the expectation of patience when planting these in the garden.


Plant Specifications

  • Florida Native: YES!
  • Florida Hardiness Zone: 10A-11
  • Light: Full sun to partial shade
  • Soil: Somewhat moist to very long, very dry periods. Lime rock and sandy soils. Adaptable to a wide pH range.
  • Size: 2-3 feet tall by 2-3 feet wide
  • Flower: Tubular white, orange, pink, red blooms
  • Fruit: Yellow
  • Salt tolerance: Tolerant of occasional saltwater inundation, moderate tolerance for salt spray.
  • Landscape form: Spreading shrub or tall groundcover
  • Phenology: Evergreen, long lived perennial
  • Wildlife Factor: The fruit provides an excellent source of food for birds. Flowers attract butterflies and other pollinators.
  • Ecotype: Coastal areas of central and south Florida to include the dune system
  • Availability: Readily available in most native plant retail nurseries

    Landscape Use

    The Beach Creeper will be one of your most versatile plants in sunny or mostly sunny landscapes. Although registered as a shrub, it acts similarly to a groundcover which makes it suitable to fill in and connect portions of the landscape in beautiful waves and shapes.

    Plant in masses along the forward most layer of the landscape or group below a Palm Tree for the most interesting looks to provide dramatic differences in scale.

    Because Beach Creeper will tolerate heavy pruning, shaping and forming will allow it to fit the most formal and manicured of landscapes without sacrificing its wildlife and environmental benefits. It would make a great substitute for non-native species such as boxwood, indian hawthorn, and natal plum.


    Establishment and Care

    When planted in the right soil and lighting conditions, the Beach Creeper will establish quickly. Usually after 2-3 months of a routine watering schedule, the Beach Creeper will thrive on natural rain events. After about a year, they will even thrive through long droughts.

    Beach Creeper will not require pruning to perform or look its best. However, it will tolerate very hard and frequent pruning for more formal landscapes.

    Fertilizer is usually not necessary, especially a year after planting.


    Companion Plants

    Saw Palmetto
    Sea Oat
    Cabbage Palm
    Florida Thatch Palm
    Dune Sunflower
    Blanket Flower
    Muhly Grass
    Sea Grape
    Horizontal Cocoplum
    Sea Purslane

    Wilcox Toughness Scale

    9- This plant will work for most! If you’re looking for a plant that won’t demand much, then pick this one!

    Wilcox Plant Toughness Scale

    Wilcox Plant Toughness Scale

    Welcome to Wilcox Nursery and Landscape’s plant toughness scale where we will grade retail plants on a scale of 1-10 on their establishment success in the landscape.

    A grade of 1 will be the toughest plants to establish and a grade of 10 will be the easiest plants to establish in the landscape. Here we go!

    1- Experienced gardener recommended. These plants require optimal conditions, and close monitoring of water and nutrient needs as well as integrated pest management. You’ll need an outstanding gardeners ego and challenging expectations to grow this plant.

    2- You’ll basically need to be a pro to grow this one. These plants will need your five senses to be sure they are thriving. Monitor closely and do your research for the best outcome.

    3- This one will be a challenge. If you are up for giving your gardening skills a challenge, this is the plant for you. Do your research and make sure the site conditions are optimal.

    4- Please consult with a nursery specialist or grower regularly on this plant. You’ll want some advise as time passes, especially in the beginning. Pay close attention to watering needs and adjust accordingly.

    5- This plant may pose its trials and tribulations, but chances of success are equally as high. If in the right location, you should expect to monitor this plant every few days.

    6- You will need some experience determining watering and nutrient needs, as well as some experience identifying common landscape pests for this one. Be sure to keep some neem oil and copper fungicide on hand and know you also may need to address watering concerns by hand.

    7- This plant will work for most! When planted in the right location, this one is sure to thrive!

    8- This plant has good roots! Planting this one can be relatively challenge free in most locations, but too wet or too dry and the plant could be doomed.

    9- This plant will work for most! If you’re looking for a plant that won’t demand much, then pick this one!

    10- This is one tough plant! Try planting this when nothing else seems to work, or for those lacking a green thumb!

    And there you have it! Challenge your skills by judging a plant species at the nursery based on this scale!

    Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana

    Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana

    Live Oak

    Southern Live Oak
    Quercus virginiana
    Southern Live Oak, Live Oak, Oak Tree
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    The majestic and iconic Southern Live Oak. If you have set foot anywhere in the Southeastern United States, chances are you have stood or passed through the shade of the Live Oak. The Live Oak graces high end venues and establishments, many residential properties, commercial lots, parks and public spaces, and often line the streets creating a cathedral like shape.

    The Live Oak is one of the most important tree species in Florida, giving it a protected status in most counties and municipalities. Not only does the Live Oak benefit a property through shade, but when planted in mass, provide windbreaks for buildings, trees, and landscapes. They can dramatically reduce local wind speeds increasing their hurricane wind resistance and protection. 

    Wildlife also benefits from the Live Oak. It provides a large area for shelter and habitat to a wide range of species, both birds and mammals. It is also a food source for birds, mammals, and insects through its pollen, acorns, and leaves as well as any epiphytic growth.

    PLEASE NOTE, the Live Oak should not be confused with the invasive Chinese Camphor Tree! Although similar in growth and look, the Camphor Tree is notoriously weak and brittle in high wind storms, provides very little wildlife benefits, and outcompetes local vegetation.


    Plant Specifications

    • Florida Native: YES!
    • Florida Hardiness Zone: 8A-11
    • Light: Full sun, partial shade, shade
    • Soil: Moist and usually moist to very long, very dry periods. Loam and sandy soils. Adaptable to a wide pH range.
    • Size: 40-80 feet tall, and 40-100 feet wide
    • Flower: Inconspicuous blooms in Spring
    • Fruit: Brown acorns in fall
    • Salt tolerance: Tolerant of occasional saltwater inundation, moderate tolerance for salt spray.
    • Landscape form: Large, sprawling shade tree
    • Phenology: Evergreen, very long lived tree (300+ years)
    • Wildlife Factor: Extremely beneficial for a wide range of wildlife. Acorns provide food for many birds and mammals. Pollen provides food for hummingbirds. Larval host for up to 300+ species.
    • Ecotype: Almost all areas of Florida.
    • Availability: Readily available in most retail nurseries in many sizes.


    Landscape Use

    The Live Oak should find a home in every landscape, big and small. They can drastically reduce temperatures in the hot summer months by as much as twenty degrees! They have the possibility of increasing property value when lively and healthy.

    There are many reasons to plant the Live Oak. Whether you are seeking shade to reduce energy costs associated with cooling a home or building, increasing wildlife factor on a property, or aiming for the regal, upscale look of a large Live Oak Tree.

    Plant the Live Oak no closer than 15 feet to a building to reduce encroachment of large roots and limbs on foundations and roofs. Underplant with shade loving native species that will further compliment the regal structure of this tree.

    Establishment and Care

    Establishment of the Live Oak Tree is relatively easy. Routine water for the first one to two years will ensure a healthy tree that can fend for itself after that period. Because they tolerate such a wide range of soil types, there is usually very little issue with establishment as long as they are provided plenty of water in the beginning.

    Live Oaks should receive routine pruning from the moment they go in the ground. Usually once a year pruning on a young tree of 1-5 years in age is necessary to promote optimal branching habits. After that, structural pruning every 3-5 years is usually enough to ensure the tree is strong and free of issues.

    Specimens planted in small areas, such as between the sidewalk and road, will benefit from more frequent watering and fertilizer.


    Companion Plants

    Saw Palmetto
    Blue Stem Palmetto
    Cabbage Palm
    Tropical Sage
    Shiny Coffee
    Softleaf Coffee
    Wild Petunia
    Hammock Twinflower

    Wilcox Toughness Scale

    10- This plant is tough! Try planting this when nothing else seems to work, or for those lacking a green thumb!