4 Ways to Avoid Garden Burnout

June 4, 2023

Whether or not you have heard the term “garden burnout” – I bet you know exactly what I am talking about. It always sneaks up on me towards the end of spring/beginning of summer. After 3 to 4 months of garden planning, seed starting, soil amending, planting, planting, planting – I finally hit a wall of exhaustion. It’s a delicate balance between completing all of our garden tasks and not depleting our energy. Not sure if you’re headed towards garden burnout? Let’s review some warning signs.

Signs* You May Be Experiencing Garden Burnout

Garden Burnout
  • Overwhelming feelings about completing garden tasks
  • Inability to figure out how to prioritize your tasks
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of sleep
  • Anxiety that you are missing something
  • Physical, mental and emotional exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty solving problems in the garden
  • Resentment towards the garden
  • Feeling like a failure in the garden

I have personally experienced every single one of these signs* during my garden burnout. Oftentimes, I wouldn’t recognize it until those last two signs. Over the years, I have developed my own practices to avoid garden burnout, and I share them with you in hopes you can avoid garden burnout too!

* It is critical to note that many of these signs can be symptoms anxiety and depression and should not be ignored. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect they may be related to anxiety and/or depression, please speak to your doctor or a mental health professional for help.

1) Break projects up into manageable steps over time

Whenever I notice garden burnout starting to creep in, I realize that I have been constantly thinking about a laundry list of things I need to do. And no matter how much I accomplish, that mental list seems to always get longer and longer. When facing garden projects, all of the tasks are free-floating in my head, and I have difficulty keeping track of what to do next.

Enter the “To Do List”. I’m sure you are well familiar with this handy list. Perhaps you already have one – or maybe it was abandoned some time ago. But I would highly recommend creating a To Do List specifically for your garden tasks. Make a list of all of the things you need to do – from watering the garden to buying compost to planting your tomatoes. Don’t worry about the order in which they will happen – just let your stream of consciousness flow onto the pages.

Avoid Garden Burnout

Once you have them all down on paper, you can review them and start to organize based on categories and urgency. From there, you can start to develop a plan that will unfold over time that feels manageable. Studies have also shown that developing plans reduces intrusive thoughts and frees up cognitive resources towards other pursuits. And these intrusive thoughts are a sign that you are headed towards garden burnout.

We often have unrealistic expectations for how long something may take us. Simply putting together a plan may right-size our expectations so that we can avoid the inevitable garden burnout that comes from doing too much.

2) Let go of perfection

Speaking of unrealistic expectations – let’s talk about perfectionism. No doubt you have heard the quote from the late Winston Churchill, “Perfectionism is the enemy of progress”. And those words could not be more true in the garden. 

I’ll let you in on a secret – great gardens will never attain perfection. There will always be weeds, pests, disease and death. Your garden is a living breathing life force with a mind and intention of its own. You alone are not calling the shots. Whenever I start to feel garden burnout, I realize that I am disappointed that my garden is not fitting in the perfect image I have in my head. And that disappointment steals my enjoyment of the garden in its imperfect beauty.

I’d like to invite you in on a practice I have recently started. Whenever you invite someone into your garden – refrain from pointing out everything that isn’t done yet. Don’t point out the weeds you haven’t pulled, or the mulch you still need to spread, or explain away the bare spot in your garden. Accept the compliments when they are given without diminishing the beauty that others witness. Your garden is beautiful – no matter how unfinished it may be.

3) Develop a practice that allows you to “be” in the garden – not “do”

Gardens are a lot of work – there is no arguing that fact. But gardens are more than work. They fulfill a deeper part of ourselves that wishes to commune with nature. To watch food grow from seed to harvest. To tune into the changes of the season. To witness the beauty of a plant’s life cycle. 

Whenever you start to feel garden burnout, I’d like you to think about your “why” for gardening. What motivated you to start? How did you envision your days? How did you see yourself enjoy the fruits of your labor? Turn those things into a practice or a ritual – and prioritize it just as intensely as you prioritize the garden work.

For me, I like to spend at least 30 minutes every morning sitting in my garden and writing in my journal. This is a daily practice for me that allows me to listen to the birds sing and watch as the sun first hits my garden. I make it a point to not think of any of the things on my To Do List. Remember, we wrote those things down so we are not overwhelmed by them in our daily lives.

Here are some other ways I love to “be” in the garden:

  • Bird watching
  • Pollinator watching
  • Reading a book
  • Napping in a hammock
  • Watercolor painting
  • Photographing whatever moves me
  • Inviting friends over for a garden dinner party
Avoid Garden Burnout

4) Get away from the garden

Let’s face it – no matter how much we love something, we must find time away from it. This can be difficult to remember when you are right in the middle of a time sensitive project. Or when your To Do list feels too daunting to walk away from. But without time away, you will inevitably develop garden burnout, which can look like a lack of motivation and creativity.

Studies have shown that taking breaks can help prevent “decision fatigue” as well as increase our motivation, productivity and creativity. No matter how powerful our brains and bodies may be, they need rest and diversity to perform well. It’s no accident that the best ideas come to us while in the shower or brushing our teeth. We need time away from our To Do’s in order to experience joy and find inspiration outside of our work.

Avoid Garden Burnout

When I say get away from the garden – I mean get away from gardens in general! It’s far too easy to visit another garden and start to compare yours or to add to your To Do list. Find a different setting that brings you joy. Perhaps a museum, a bookstore, the beach, the mountains, have a picnic in a park, or go paddle boarding with friends. Find something that brings you joy in a new environment and let the garden go. I promise it will still be there when you get back.

Happy gardening, dear friend. Take care of yourself, just as preciously as you do your garden.

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