For most of us, gardening provides an opportunity to commune with the natural world, and creates a sanctuary that promises relief from the stresses of everyday life. Yet for older adults, all the digging, hoeing, weeding, mowing and watering—the necessities that make a garden beautiful—can be especially hard on backs, shoulders and knees. And that can turn a labor of love into a chore we dread, or even one we must give up as we become physically less able. The following tips for modifying tools and gardening techniques can make all the difference for the senior gardener.
Gardening Tip #1: Start with the right tools, and make them do the work.
• Give away those heavy steel tools. Look for lightweight hand tools with resilient rubber handles and ergonomic designs that will be easier on your hands and require less effort. Gardening tools with offset handles make digging and weeding easier.
• Keep your tools sharp. This is an important gardening tip because sharp, clean tools work better and require less effort from you to do the gardening job. Look for pruners with ratcheting action because they require less hand strength.
• Use the right tool for the job. For example, bulb planting tools make that repetitive job go faster, with less wear on your hands and arms.
• Handle extenders save your back. Add handle extenders to shovels and other gardening tools to reduce bending.
• Use a reacher to reduce stretching, reaching and bending, especially if you have back problems or arthritis. A reacher could pick up weeds or dead leaves, or even help you plant seedlings, and will help you put your tools away when you're done.
Gardening Tip #2: Use gardening gloves to protect your hands and provide extra cushioning.
• This gardening tip will protect your hands and prevent injuries. Spend a little more and get gardening gloves with leather palms, or get "rose gloves" that protect your hands from thorns.
Gardening Tip #3: Use shortcuts to make gardening go faster.
• Replace annuals with perennials to get garden color with less effort each year. Stagger planting times and choose plants that bloom at different times to provide color through most of the year.
• Choose the best time to do certain tasks. Soil is softer after it rains, making it a good time to dig.
Gardening Tip #4: Keep cool and protected with the right clothes and accessories
• Wear lightweight clothing, a long sleeved shirt, eye protection, sunscreen, and a big hat.
• Garden early in the morning or late in the day. Avoid being out between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Drink plenty of non-caffeinated fluids to prevent dehydration. Also, allow time for breaks in the shade.
Gardening Tip #5: Try container gardening for ease and accessibility
• Containers can provide a variety of colorful and fragrant flowers, as well as delicious vegetables, and they are easier to manage than a garden.
• Save your back by placing the container where you want it, then filling it with soil, natural fertilizer, and plants. A layer of stones or broken pottery will improve drainage. And buy smaller bags of soil—they are much easier to handle.
• Start small with your container gardens. Pace yourself and buy only what you can plant at one time. Even if buying a whole flat is cheaper, the wear and tear on your body to get all those plants in the dirt does not make it a sound purchase.
You can reduce the effort it takes to start and maintain a colorful and healthy garden. Know your limits, and try not to tackle it all at once. With some strategic planning and using the right tools, you’ll have a garden you'll enjoy for years to come.
By Caren Parnes
For The Senior’s Choice. Used with permission.