Watching Things Grow: Gardening as a Senior

Gardening for the elderly has been a great pastime for decades. There are many benefits to gardening for older adults to enjoy. Gardening can be done in the comfort of your home, like outside in …

Gardening for the elderly has been a great pastime for decades. There are many benefits to gardening for older adults to enjoy. Gardening can be done in the comfort of your home, like outside in the backyard, or by visiting nurseries or garden communities. The average gardener got their start with gardening when they were either during their teenage years or early twenties. However, there are some who started to garden well in their 50s or 60s. Some choose it to find a new hobby, while others want to learn a new skill. There are many reasons to pick up gardening. Gardening allows you to reconnect to nature, provide relief from physical ailments like arthritis, and can even decrease loneliness. Some people with mental health concerns, such as dementia, also have shown positive reactions to gardening. There are plenty of types of gardening activities for seniors. Below we will share gardening tips for seniors, how gardening can be easy for older adults, and how gardening can spice up your life.  Plus, share some of the many benefits that gardening can provide to older adults. 

Gardening Tips for Seniors: how to get started

There are many ways for seniors can get started making a garden, whether in the home, out in the backyard, or on their front porch. Here are some basic tips that can help you along the way. 

Consider your space: some seniors live in small communities with limited space. If you have limited space, consider little window boxes or a vertical gardening rack for small plants. Seniors may also consider hanging plants. They are not only help in using the space you have, it can look very elegant in the living room or dining area. 

Choose a variety: Seniors can have both small and large plants. Plus, make sure you have different options, such as small herbs, leafy greens, and colorful flowers.

Make safety a priority: some plants can be poisonous,if ingested. Caregivers and loved ones should be involved in the gardening activity, especially when planting an indoor garden with dementia patients.

Choose plants with the family: family members and caregivers should pick and select the right plants for the garden. Loved ones may provide pictures of plants online so choosing is easier and more fun for both the caregiver and the senior.
Make plants accessible to the senior: when planting, make sure the senior can easily water and give it attention when need it needs to be nurtured; without much bending, stretching, or climbing.

Have fun: gardening should be an enjoyable pastime, not a chore. Seniors should consider gardening as a fun hobby. Most people that garden do not necessarily need to be great at it, but it does help to have a green thumb. Seniors who garden can pick out stylish pots, plant markers, or add some beautiful vases for fresh cut flowers from the garden. This will help seniors be creative while having a fun time.

How to make Gardening Easier for Seniors

1. Consider Vertical Gardening

A great way to tend a garden for older adults is by providing vertical trellises or poles in the garden. It can be easier to maintain and grow certain plants that many seniors love. Examples of vertical garden plants are beans, cucumbers, squash, and tomatoes. Having vertical plants can also help seniors with limited mobility still enjoy this activity since there is not much walking or bending involved. 

2. Learn Proper Form

There are several forms to use while in the garden. Here are some tips:

Kneeling: when weeding, gardeners should use a kneeling stool or pad. This can help you from putting too much strain on your ligaments. For those that do squat, it is good to keep your heels on the ground. 

Pruning: some seniors are prone to tendinitis if they prune in the garden for long periods of time. Seniors should also keep their wrist straight and avoid bending your wrist too much while pruning. 

Tools: having the proper tools are a must. Investing in a lightweight, ergonomic pruning tool with comfortable handles can help. Also, avoid tools that may be too short; remember, not every tool is right for each person. The Arthritis Foundation provides a list of useful tools for gardening. 

3. Raise Your Beds

As we age, bending over or kneeling down can be painful to some seniors, especially if they suffer from arthritis or similar conditions. However, if you raise your garden beds, this can solve the issue and give you some relief while gardening. Plus, when seniors raise the plant beds, they may experience better soil drainage, cut down on space problems, and also improve the overall quality of your soil for your plants. 

4. Reduce Your Lawn 

Having a large property with lots of lawn cover can be difficult to maintain for some older adults. One one to help is by planting herbs, veggies, or flowers, such as perennials. This can reduce the amount of grass to care for. Another suggestion is placing small stones or gravel that will enhance the appeal of your garden. Other low-maintenance ground cover includes creeping phlox, low-growing herbs like wooly thyme, or juniper, which is a woodier ground cover. Some seniors may also enjoy adding a small waterfall feature to the backyard, which may be an inviting bonus to local birds. 

5. Take Proper Precautions

Tending a garden can give seniors a sense of peace and solitude; spending time alone in your own quiet place. However, older adults should let loved ones or a caregiver where they are. You should always carry a cellphone while in the garden, that way you can contact others if you need assistance. The best time to garden is early in the morning or later in the afternoon. That way it is not too hot. You may also experience a cool breeze once the sun goes down. If you must do some gardening during the day, wear protective gear, such as a hat, sunglasses, a long-sleeve shirt, and pants. The shirt and pants can help protect seniors from disease-carry ticks. Don’t forget your sunscreen too! Especially if you have fragile and thin skin. 

Gardening Tools for Seniors

When working in a garden, whether it be indoors or outside, having the right tools can help make a difference in how your plants not only grow, but how they are properly used. These tools are also very useful for those struggling with arthritis or similar conditions. Here are some simple but helpful tools while working in the garden.

Garden Kneeler and Seat

This first tool is more for comfort that an actually tool. It is very lightweight and is easy to carry around. Some seniors have weak knees, so using this gardening tool can provide comfort to your knees or give you some extra cushion for your bottom. Most kneelers offer side handles as well. 

Ergonomic Pruning Shears

Got arthritis? Not too worry, the soft rubber handles on these pruning shears provide seniors with less squeezing effort, which is better for your hands. The shears work well on both thick and thin stems and typically are available with a 3-stage ratchet. 

Gardening Tool Apron

Another handy tool to have is a gardening apron. When seniors spend time gardening, there could be quite a few tools to carry around. To make things easier, wearing an apron with lots of pockets will make this fun pastime worthwhile. 

Long Weed Grabber

If you like many other seniors living with back, knee, or joint pain, then this next gardening tool will be your lifesaver. This ergonomic tool will help you pull up those stubborn weeds, as well as provide plenty of back support while you clean up the yard with this weed grabber. It comes with an easy-to-use foam handle too!

Retractable Garden Hose Reel

Who wants to manually roll up a garden hose after working all day? Well, here is the answer to your problem; a retractable garden hose reel. The hose will retract to the hanging reel by giving it a little pull. This is helpful because it eliminates the stress and task of caring the hose all around the garden. Especially if you are the one with the chore of rolling it back up. 

Elevated Planters and Garden Beds

One last helpful tool that seniors should have while working in the garden is elevated planters and garden beds. These are so helpful for not only seniors, but for anybody with mobility issues; including those in wheelchairs. Using elevated planters will provide relief for those that have trouble bending or kneeling. Seniors can also build their own raised beds without much effort.

Social Benefits for Seniors who enjoy Gardening

Depending where you live, some communities provide what is called “community gardening” options. These are great ways to socialize with new people entering the town or just reconnecting with old friends you haven’t seen in a while. Some towns may also offer a gardening club or class to join, which can benefit those who live alone. This is often a good way to combat loneliness and isolation. In some cases, there may be a membership fee to join, but normally it is not too much. 

How plants spice up your life and other benefits

One of the best benefits for seniors having a garden is how they spice up your life. There are many types of herbs that not only provide good nutrients to the body, they also promote healthy living habits. Garden herbs such as basil, rosemary sage, and thyme are useful for many cooking recipes. Mint is also a great addition, since is often used for making tea. Seniors can also benefit from planting lavender, which can calm your spirit and reduce stress. The combination of ginger and some peaches can calm a  weak stomach. 

Plants also provide mental clarity for older adults. Some studies also suggest that those with dementia have improved cognitive behaviors while gardening. Plants also changes how we see life around us. In fact, according to a study by The London School of Economics, many people find themselves happier when looking at something beautiful, such as flower or a piece of art. 

Having a home garden can also improve your physical activity. Many seniors struggle with getting enough movement as they age, so doing even just a little light movement throughout a garden can help increase exercise and may also prevent osteoporosis in the joints, reduce the chance of diabetes, and lower the risk of heart disease.  

Finally, having a garden can also improve a senior’s sleep habits. Studies suggest that after a few hours in the garden can be very calming and allow the body to sleep better throughout the night. 

Here are more ideas on how Gardening can be beneficial to seniors and older adults: 

  • Gardening is an enjoyable form of exercise
  • It will increase levels of physical activity and helps with mobility and flexibility
  • Gardening encourages use of all your motor skills
  • It can also improve endurance and strength for older adults
  • It may also help reduce the chances or prevent diseases like osteoporosis
  • Gardening may reduce a senior’s stress levels and promotes relaxation
  • Many consider gardening because it provides stimulation and interest in nature and the outdoors
  • Becoming a gardener may improve your wellbeing, and also improve social interaction
  • Gardening can provide nutritious, home-grown produce. 

Seniors are encouraged to check out community gardens, nurseries, or garden centers to participate in gardening activities. Older adults can also assist a gardener at community gardens if they are new to gardening and want to learn more on how to get started. Whatever your reasoning to start gardening, creating or making a garden will provide seniors with plenty of benefits. Just remember to always stay safe, enjoy yourself, and have fun.