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Ways to Make Gardening Easier as You Age

Hand tools for gardening.

What gardening tips can you offer to older seniors? I love to putter around and work in the garden, but my back and knees have caused me to curtail my gardening activities, which I miss greatly.
--Older Gardner

Dear Older,
There's no doubt that gardening can be hard on an aging body. Joints stiffen up, kneeling for prolonged periods hurts, and bending and reaching can strain muscles. But that doesn't mean you have to give up your hobby. You just need to garden differently, add some special tools and know your limits. Here are some tips that may help you.

Limber Up
With gardening, good form is very important as well as not overdoing any one activity. A common problem is that gardeners often kneel or squat, putting extra pressure on their knees. Then, to spare their knees, they might stand and bend over for long stretches to weed, dig and plant, straining their back and spine.

To help protect your body, you need to warm up before beginning. Start by stretching, focusing on the legs and lower back. And keep changing positions and activities. Don't spend hours weeding a flowerbed. After 15 minutes of weeding, you should stand up, stretch, and switch to another activity like pruning the bushes or just take a break.

It's also important that you recognize your physical limitations and don't try to do too much all at once. And, when lifting heavier objects, remember to use your legs to preserve your back. You can do this by keeping the item close to your body and squatting to keep your back as vertical as possible.

Get Better Tools
The right gardening equipment can help too. Kneeling pads can protect knees, and garden seats or stools are both back and knee savers. Lightweight garden carts can make hauling bags of mulch, dirt, plants or other heavy objects much easier. And long-handled gardening and weeding tools can help ease the strain on the back by keeping you in a standing upright position versus bent over.

There are also ergonomic gardening and pruning tools with fatter handles and other design features that can make lawn and garden activities a little easier. Fiskars and Felco make a number of specialty tools that you can buy online or at local retail stores that sell lawn and garden supplies. Also check out Gardeners.com and RadiusGarden.com, two online stores that sell specialized gardening tools and equipment that are very helpful to older gardeners.

Make Watering Easier
The chore of carrying water or handling a heavy, awkward hose can also be difficult for older gardeners. Some helpful options include lightweight fabric or expandable hoses instead of heavy rubber hoses; soaker or drip hoses that can be snaked throughout the garden; thin coil hoses that can be used on the patio or small areas; a hose caddy and reel for easier hose transport around the yard; and a self-winding hose chest that puts the hose up automatically. There are also a variety of ergonomic watering wands that are lightweight, easy to grip, and reach those hard to-get-to plants.

To find these types of watering aids check with your local lawn and garden supplies stores or visit Gardeners.com.

Bring the Garden to You
If your backyard garden has become too much to handle, you should consider elevated garden beds or container gardening - using big pots, window boxes, hanging baskets, barrels or tub planters. This is a much easier way to garden because it eliminates much of the bend and strain of gardening but still provides the pleasure of making things grow.

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