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Some folks have gone through life as the “black thumb” for all the cacti they have killed. Others are the perennial winners of “Best Garden in Smallville.” It doesn’t matter. Either way, gardening is a satisfying, joyful activity for seniors. It checks off all the boxes. Gardening for seniors is a way to improve or maintain physical, mental and emotional health; tap into that (perhaps underused) fount of creativity; and make one little corner of the world more beautiful.
Whether you are a senior or the loving caretaker of one, below you will discover the benefits of gardening and advice on getting started and being safe. Caretakers, children, grandchildren: Gardening is a very special way to bond with the seniors in your lives. Spending time with one another and chatting about a common interest is sure to delight the senior and create priceless memories for you.
Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors
Gardening is a great way to get some exercise. You are enjoying yourself so much that you do not notice that you are improving your mobility and flexibility, increasing your strength and endurance. You are working your muscles and burning calories without even thinking about it. You want to get in your 30 minutes of exercise each day? Why not spend it in a garden?
Studies have shown that working in a garden can lower cholesterol and increase serotonin levels in the brain. Less cholesterol = less stress and reduced risk of high blood pressure. Serotonin is the “feel good” chemical that makes us feel happier and more peaceful. There are health professionals advising “horticulture therapy” for patients suffering from depression.
The exposure to sunshine provides you with Vitamin D, a necessary nutrient that contributes to bone health and reduces the risk of heart disease.
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Safety First: Gardening for the Elderly Rules
- Garden before 10 AM or after 4 PM when the sun is not as strong and the day not as hot.
- Wear a hat, gloves, sunglasses, a long-sleeve shirt, and pants.
- Wear sunscreen, even when the sun isn’t shining or if it is not especially hot out. Those UV rays are still there and can result in red and burning skin—through rain and fog, by the way. Also, there are medications that heighten your sensitivity to the sun.
- Carry a cell phone—just in case.
- Keep hydrated.
- Know your limits. Take a break whenever you need to. If you do not get to everything that day, you can do it the next day—or the day after that. We are not going to get stressed over the gardening, remember?
Gardening Tools for the Elderly: What to Keep in Mind
- Use lightweight tools. If you are a seasoned gardener, you already have the tools, but be sure to replace them as they start to feel too heavy.
- Ergonomic pruners prevent tendinitis and need less effort to cut or prune. They keep your wrist straight in what is known as the neutral position, not bent in either position. Some handles rotate as you cut and reduce the strain on your hand muscles.
- The Arthritis Foundation website has a comprehensive list of suggested gardening tools.
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Ergonomic Gardens for Seniors
For many seniors, the thought of a garden appeals to them, but the bending, stooping, squatting, kneeling and fear of falling due to uneven ground keeps them from the health benefits and delight of a garden. So what if I told you that none of those things are necessary? We have ideas that make gardening easier for seniors!
Vertical gardens are not only more accessible and less strenuous for seniors, they also tend to be more aesthetically pleasing for both you as the gardener and passersby. Your handiwork is right there at eye level. Rather than being hunched over as you plant, water, debug, you can walk along your garden with your precious plants within reach.
The vertical planters on outlandliving.com come with durable and reusable food-safe plastic bins that contain no BPA, phthalates, or styrene. The bins can be detached, for instance, if easier access is needed or to clean. Clean-up is quick with only warm water and an environmentally friendly water-based cleaning solution. With the optional cascading drainage system, the water flows from row to row, so that every plant is sufficiently watered. No stagnant water is left behind and there is no chance of leaks—especially important if the garden is inside.
There are various types for you to choose from, but you must make sure that your bed is about waist high. It is much easier and a lot more fun to garden when you can plant, weed and water without bending. Also, a bed three feet wide is easiest to manage.
The bed does double duty as a decorative element in your yard, and it works to keep critters away. Groundhogs, gophers and the like cannot get to your plants. And you will have a lot fewer weeds!
A container can be anything that will hold soil and plants—or even small trees. It is wide open, and that is part of the fun. Here are some suggestions, but feel free to come up with your own ideas.
- Vertical gardens
- Felt grow bags
- Hanging baskets
- Terra cotta pots
- Plastic pots
- Metal planters
- Wash tubs
- Wicker baskets
A container garden is especially recommended for new gardeners. You are not making a big commitment—not of space, not of money. A few pots on a patio or balcony and, voila!, you have a garden. Add some, subtract some, change the arrangement around—it is the most flexible way to garden!
Selecting Container Sizes
- Container sizes are important when determining what to grow.
- 6 inch deep containers are ideal for low rooting salad vegetables, herbs and flowers.
- 8 inch deep containers are also perfect for low rooting salad vegetables, herbs and flowers, plus deeper rooted vegetables, like carrots, beets, radishes and kale.
- 12” (5-10 gallon) is the minimum depth for determinate bush tomatoes (Roma) and delivers longer carrot lengths if you prefer.
- 20 gallon containers with a ring caging trellis are required for growing indeterminate tomatoes (beefsteak, Cherokee purple, heirlooms, etc. ).
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How-to Tips for Vertical Gardens
- Use a good soil that is appropriate for the particular plants. Your local garden center can advise.
- Have “matching” plants in a bin, meaning they all have the same requirements to thrive: e.g., light, watering, fertilizer.
- Fill each bin halfway with the soil, add the plants, then more soil, tamping it down as you go.
- Make sure that each plant has adequate space.
- Have back-ups. Some plants will die. There’s no getting away from that. To avoid having bare spots in your beautifully arranged garden, have a few “understudies” ready to take the stage.
For more comprehensive advice, see our Vertical Garden Tutorial.