There is no doubt that gardening is not only an enjoyable pastime but also a productive activity that many can enjoy. As we age, working in the garden can continue to be a healthy, enjoyable part of life. However, for older gardeners, there are some things that need to be considered to ensure that this outdoor activity is a safe and beneficial one.
For senior gardeners, good body form and avoiding stress or overuse of certain areas of the body are very important. Especially vulnerable are the back, arms, wrists, hands, legs, and knees. Before starting any garden activity, seniors need to take time to warm up by doing some stretching. These stretches should be focused on the lower back, legs, and arms. After stretching, garden work can begin but it is important not to spend more than 15 minutes at any single garden chore. Rotate tasks by alternating large muscle jobs, such as digging or watering, with small muscle jobs, such as weeding or deadheading.
Proper garden tools are essential for senior gardeners. Gardening stools and kneeling pads provide super protection for knees and backs. Long-handled shovels, hoes, and rakes, etc. and oversized shovels and rakes with padded handles can reduce strain on the back. Ergonomic garden tools are also available to reduce strain on arms, wrists, and backs while doing garden chores. These tools come with shorter handles or fatter handles making them easier to grip and use. To find these tools check www.yardbutlerstore.com, www.radiusgarden.com, or www.gardeningwithease.com.
Garden carts with large wheels make moving heavy loads much easier and reduce the strain on the legs, arms and back.
Watering is an essential part of any gardening project. For older gardeners, carrying water or struggling with heavy hoses can be daunting. Of course, sprinklers or automated watering systems are the ideal, but if these are not available, drip or soaker hoses snaked through garden areas work quite well. Coil hoses are easy to use for patio or deck gardens and a hose caddy and reel makes it much easier to carry the hose around a yard. For a small yard or garden area, a large centralized water container can supply water for smaller watering cans that can be filled and carried to the plants in the garden. To cut down on the need for frequent watering, mulch around the base of plants to hold in the moisture.
Some other tips for ensuring safe gardening for seniors include:
• Keep hydrated – carry a container of drinking water along in the garden.
• Try not to work outside in the heat of the day and wear sunscreen.
• Wear a hat and garden gloves and attend to any scratches, cuts, or bites right away.
• Avoid twisting or straining your back, arms, wrists, or legs.
• If regular gardening becomes too difficult try container gardening using large pots, window boxes, tub planters, etc. Trellises allow for vertical gardening which enables seniors to work standing up and raised beds eliminate the need for bending, stooping, or kneeling while working.
By giving attention to these cautions and adapting where needed, seniors can continue to regularly participate in the productive activities of gardening. Helen, Paul, Ella and Allen are great examples of senior gardeners who, in their senior years, are still enjoying and benefiting from gardening.
Helen, at 76, enjoys gardening as a pleasant way to exercise and give her arthritic joints regular movement which maintains their strength and range of motion. Eighty-six-year old Paul works in his garden every day. A few years ago, Paul suffered a stroke which left him unable to be independently active the way he wanted to be. Now however, after therapy and strength building, he gardens to maintain his progress and because of his keen interest in growing things.
Allen and his wife Ella, at ages 91 and 89, enjoy their gardens and work together to keep them attractive and productive. They enjoy growing their own produce and credit their fresh fruits and vegetables with helping them stay healthy and active.
June garden tips: Now is the time to stake plants that will grow tall and need extra support as the season progresses. Add extra mulch to perennial and vegetable beds, around transplants and young plants to keep them cool and moist as temperatures increase. Finish planting tender transplants such as coleus, tomatoes, pumpkins, and begonias.