Part 3: How to Garden Despite Aches and Pains - Planting and Tending
Discerning the type of garden that best suits your space and abilities was addressed in Part 1: “Preparation” by considering planting size, height and placement. Choosing the appropriate tools will largely facilitate the ease in which a garden can be planted and maintained. This was discussed in Part 2 “Tools for the Trade”. There are still a few more hacks to be considered to actually plant and care for the garden while protecting your body.
Planting: The soil for containers or raised beds can be purchased premixed for density and water-retention or combined to your own specifications. Pay attention to what your plants require for sun and water and situate them accordingly. Consider using a mug for ease of scooping seed starter mix or container soil, fingernail scissors for thinning seedlings or a teaspoon for gentle cultivations.
Bending is not necessarily required even for working at ground level if one uses long handled tools, dibble tools (a hole maker), and seed wheels.
You can make a seed dispenser by attaching a funnel to the top of a ½” diameter tube. Simply make a trough with a hoe, then send a seed down the tube at regular intervals. Similarly, to transplant a small plant you would use a 3 inch diameter tube and send the pre-started plant into a hole made by a spade or dibble tool.
Watering: Soaker hoses and drip irrigation hoses save water and do not need to be moved once they have been positioned for the season. If you choose to use a standard hose system be sure it can be easily moved on a wheeled carrier and can be retracted without too much effort. Wand attachments can limit reaching and protect the shoulder, neck and back. It is safer to refill a watering can several times than to try to lift, carry and control one that is too large or awkwardly balanced. Regardless of how you choose to wet your garden, a good layer of mulch will slow the drying of the soil.
Weed and pest control: Mulching is imperative for weed control. Even so, weeds are a fact of life in the garden. The best approach is to perform this task in regular short bursts so that the chore never becomes too great. Perform the task sitting or standing with a long handled cultivator. Pests can be hand picked or managed with proper care of the soil, companion plants, beneficial insects or pesticides.
The Lawn: The lawn is a garden as well with its own complications for care. Of course, selection of the best type of seed for soil, light, water, temperature and rate of growth can eliminate many difficulties. Also consider alternatives to grass such as wildflower meadows, ground covers, decorative mulch or stonework.
When planning your grassy areas, limit obstacles and avoid sharp corners as well as narrow strips or bottle-necks. This will make mowing more efficient by reducing turns and repeated tracts. In general, trimmers, edgers and mowers operated by electricity are lighter than those operated by gas. The more expensive battery operated tools are even lighter. Push mowers should be self-propelling and ride-on mowers should have a comfortable seat and be able to absorb shock. Never dismiss the option of mowing your lawn in several sessions rather than all at once.
Again, the garden can be best enjoyed if one stays as healthy as possible. This article describes a few general techniques to garden safely despite arthritis, injury or disease. Please consider asking your PT or OT how to improve your strength, flexibility and body awareness to lift, carry or move material safely and with good body mechanics. Then go and enjoy your garden!
Sources and Resources:
The books, companies and organizations below, as well as many unlisted here, can provide ideas, sources of equipment and techniques to enable anyone who has the desire to garden to do so! No particular company, resource or tool is recommended more highly than another.
- Adil, Janeen R., Accessible Gardening for People with Physical Disabilities: A Guide to Methods, Tools and Plants, Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House, 1994
- American Horticulture Therapy Association, www.ahta.org
- Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritis.org
- Baras, Tyler, DIY Hydroponic Gardens: How to Design and Build an Inexpensive System, Minneapolis, MN: The Quartus Group, 2018
- Bartholomew, Mel, All New Square Foot Gardening, 3rd Edition, Minneapolis, MN: The Quartus Group, 2018.
- Chicago Botanical Gardens, www.chicago-botanic.org
- Coleman, Elliot, The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools, and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener, 30th Anniversary Edition, White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018.
- Dowding, Charles, Organic Gardening the Natural, No-Dig Way, N.P.: Green Books. 2018.
- Fiskar https://www.fiskars.com/en-us/gardening-and-yard-care/products
- Gardener’s Supply Company www.gardeners.com
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds, https://www.johnnyseeds.com/
- New York Botanical Garden, www.nybg.org
- Radius Tools https://radiusgarden.com/
- Warnock, Caleb. No-Till Gardening: The No-Till Method for Richer Soil, Healthier Crops and Fewer Weeds, N.P.: Familius LLC, 2015.
- Yeomans, Kathleen, The Able Gardener: Overcoming Barriers of Age and Physical Limitations, Pownal, VT: Storey Communications 1992
Kristin S. Peters, MSPT, CHT is a Physical Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist who loves to see the joy in someone’s eyes when they realize they can keep on gardening!