Digging Into the Pandemic Gardening Growth


During the pandemic, new interests and old hobbies helped distract from lockdown boredom and the news cycle. We tried, we learned, we bragged, we stopped, we tried something else.

Many popular quarantine companies had a distinctly analogous taste. (Do you remember baking sourdough bread and cross-stitching swear words?) But when it came to using our hands to control our thoughts and emotions, people’s choice fell on plants.

Home gardens have popped up all over the place during the quarantine and they still have their moment in the sun. A quick scroll through social media reveals thousands of houseplant influencers offering tips on fogging, propagating, and repotting. Pictures of plants on the coffee table replaced selfies with friends in the café.

With a world-class arboretum, thriving horticulture program, wide reach, and tons of learning resources, NC State has a lot of gardening covered. When you’re ready to start your first yard or take better care of your yard, look no further.

Our horticultural and hobby gardening experts are here to help you and your chlorophyll crew continue to thrive after the lockdown.

Inside and outside, home gardens thrive

What about the fascination of fronds? Horticulture took root during the pandemic for many reasons.

With more time at home, people viewed their yards as extensions to their homes and safer meeting places. Plants are beautiful; many of them smell and taste amazing. During times of stress and uncertainty, taking care of the growth of something can feel productive.

And gardening is accessible. No sprawling yards or expensive equipment are required; A flowering family of plants can grow in raised beds, vertical pallets, or terracotta pots.

It is also very individual and customizable: herbaceous borders, hanging Pothos collections, patio vegetable gardens, kitchen window experiments – everything that gets dirt under your fingernails counts.

From lonely succulents to personal jungles

Although the “plant parent” trend took root years ago, indoor plants enjoyed great popularity during quarantine.

Endless days at home led many to redecorate and rearrange their surroundings, and unlike many decorations, plants grow and change, providing something to keep track of when Tuesdays are indistinguishable from Saturdays. They can also improve the air quality and lift the mood – an inexpensive way to add vibrancy during a dark time.

If you’re looking to create your own indoor garden or just need help with your potting mates, NC State’s experts offer advice in the following posts.


Choosing the right houseplant

Improve air quality and increase visual interest by choosing the facility that best suits your space and engagement.

Learn More


A hanging plant in the light from a window

Stop killing your plants

Green thumb challenged? Get simple tips on how to keep your houseplants healthy and beautiful for years to come.

Learn More

Own know-how

An important part of NC State’s land grant mission is to put research in the hands of people across the state. An example? Homegrown, a one-stop info shop operated by NC State Extension, has useful information for novice container gardeners to seasoned farm workers, plus food safety recipes and tips for whatever produce you grow.

Justin Moore, director of marketing and communications at NC State Extension, says the homegrown program – and the expansion as a whole – expanded significantly during the pandemic to serve as a timely resource for North Carolinas during uncertain times.


Bunch of spring onions in a box

Discover homegrown

Explore fertile farmland, backyard flowers, and nutritious recipes with tips on everything from growing to canning.

Learn More

“Especially at the beginning, when communities across the country – and around the world, by the way – were closed, people were isolated, scared and looking to escape,” says Moore. “What better way to distract yourself from a public health emergency than to grow something bright and beautiful?”

What better way to distract yourself from a public health emergency than to grow something bright and beautiful?

With helpful tips from local experts, Homegrown offers a friendly voice on relevant – and reassuring – topics like growing vegetables on the porch and enjoying your harvest, however small it may be.

“The pandemic was unlike anything most people have experienced,” says Moore. “We were able to help our neighbors to regain a certain sense of normalcy and control in an otherwise chaotic situation, which can be strengthening. It’s like reminding yourself, ‘I have this, it will be fine.’ “

Urban gardening with an expert

Lucy Bradley is the director of NC State Extension’s Urban Horticulture Program, which includes consumer horticulture, community horticulture, therapeutic horticulture, and the Extension Master Gardener Volunteer program.

Bradley points out a number of factors that led to gardening becoming increasingly popular during the pandemic.

“First, people had more time at home. And with the initial challenges in the supply chain, they got interested in growing food, ”says Bradley. “In fact, many seed companies ran out of seeds during the pandemic.”


Two monarch butterflies on a white flower

How to grow a pollinator garden

Bees and butterflies are food system superheroes, but their numbers are declining due to habitat loss and disease. See how you can support these vital insects in your own garden.

Learn More

Bradley also points out that the money normally spent on travel was used for home improvement, including landscaping and beautification.

Your top tips for new gardeners are simple. “Start small. A vibrant, blooming little garden is fun and manageable, ”says Bradley. “Then expand gradually.”

Start small. A lively, blooming little garden is fun and manageable.

Due to a wide variety of growing needs, Bradley recommends following a local planting calendar to help identify the right time for a particular climate. “Some plants thrive better in spring and autumn, while others thrive in the long summer days,” she explains. Planting calendars are available for eastern, central, and western regions of North Carolina.

Bradley also has advice to stave off common gardener frustrations: “I hear most questions about tomatoes,” she says. “It’s difficult to grow tomatoes in North Carolina. You are prone to a wide variety of diseases. If you want to grow tomatoes, plant cherry tomatoes. They are much more resilient. “

Tomatoes on the vines at the Mountain Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Henderson County.Tomatoes on the vines at the Mountain Horticultural Research and Extension Center in Henderson County.

What’s the Best Way to Learn More About Gardening? “There are several strategies that can help,” says Bradley. She suggests taking a course at your local Cooperative Extension Center or connecting with mentors in your neighborhood garden. Also helpful? The Extension Gardener Handbook and Vegetable Garden Portal on the NC State Extension Site.

A botanical wonderland next door

If there is one place that knows plants, it is the JC Raulston Arboretum. This nationally celebrated 10 hectare wonder features 13 large gardens with more than 6,000 species of plants from 50 countries. The arboretum functions as a living laboratory; Plants are collected and assessed to find superior species for use in southern landscapes.


Silver gate to Raulston Arboretum, decorated with Japanese maple leaves.

Visit the JC Raulston Arboretum

Discover a vibrant landscaped library just minutes from downtown Raleigh. This nationally recognized garden is a plant lover’s paradise, complete with courses, tours, and events.

Learn More

We spoke to Arboretum Director Mark Weathington about the 2020 horticultural boom.

He cites the popularity of gardening as an antidote to cabin fever. “We were stuck at home for a long time and just being outside was one way to get out of the house,” he said.

During frequent walks, people also peeked into the courtyards of their neighbors and dreamed of plans.

“I think a lot of people spent time gardening and talking to neighbors and dog walkers, from a safe distance of course,” said Weathington. “I know I did.”

His top tips for home gardeners? “Your garden should make you happy and it is not there for anyone. Enjoy what you do and don’t worry about the so-called rules. ”The smartest garden investment, he says, is to infuse the soil with good organic matter.

Your garden should make you happy and is not for others.

For new gardeners in particular, Weathington emphasizes that plant death is only part of gardening; the only mistake is giving up. “After all,” he said, “gardening is the slowest of the performing arts, and death is only part of the whole ongoing process.”

The arboretum’s popular annual spring plant sales continued to grow in 2020. “There has been so much excitement and interest in hard-to-find plants this year,” said Weathington. “Kindergartens across the state reported the same thing. For many it was a record year. “

A woman and child walk through a garden at JC Raulston ArboretumThe JC Raulston Arboretum

To learn more about gardening, Weathington suggests participating in one of the arboretum’s many educational programs, such as Gardening in the South, which caters to new gardeners in North Carolina, or Gardening Basics with Bryce Lane. The arboretum also has a robust and varied YouTube channel.

In the end, says Weathington, “it’s often all about getting your hands dirty and experimenting.”


A student smiles from a greenhouse full of peanut plants.

Build your future with horticultural science

Ready to bloom? We offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees in an area that is rich in career opportunities.

Learn More


Balcony gardening fresh and organic vegetables

No yard? No problem.

One of the easiest ways to grow your own fresh vegetables and herbs is to create a container garden. All you need is soil, sun, seeds, water – and a few simple tips.

Learn More


A stack of sweet potatoes at the farmers market

Gardening in the trash can

Try this unusual way of adding to your plant collection with discarded pieces of common fruits and vegetables like pineapples, sweet potatoes, garlic, and lentils.

Learn More