En español | Karen Beauchemin calls gardening her therapy. Widowed seven months before the pandemic began, she's spent a lot of time in her West Yarmouth, Massachusetts, garden this year, tending to her vegetables and flowers from her perch on “my little bench.”
That bench is actually a rolling garden seat that wheels around her raised beds and allows her to comfortably get down, and stay at, plant level.
"Everything seems to have grown this year,” says Beauchemin, 72. “I don't know whether it's the weather. … Maybe it was my being out there talking to [the plants] all the time."
Gardening should be fun, not back breaking. So, like Beauchemin, invest in the tools that make it an easier and safer activity as you age. Those tools are often simple and inexpensive — or things you can adapt yourself.
And while these implements can help every gardener, those who suffer from arthritic hands or bad knees, or struggle to rise from the ground, may find them essential.
"If you make it easier on you, you're going to be doing it longer,” says Phyllis Turner, 73, a master gardener with the Bedford County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension. Turner, a retired nurse, works with a therapeutic gardening program that encourages people of all abilities to garden, and often highlights supportive techniques, such as how to adapt gardening tools.
Turner and her husband tend a quarter-acre vegetable garden and 25 flower beds. Her favorite leaf rake is one her husband made lighter by cutting 12 inches off the handle. He then wrapped the rake with pipe insulation, making it easier to grasp.
"Long-handled tools … can get very heavy and they tend to be much longer than they need to be,” Turner says.
Reduce Stress and Strain
If you don't want to do it yourself, several gardening tool companies offer ergonomic implements such as long-handled weeders or hand shovels with arced handles to take the pressure off wrists.
"It does reduce a lot of stress and strain,” says Christine Kelly-Begazo, 61, an agricultural agent with Indian County Extension near Vero Beach, Florida, who has researched gardening ergonomics, and grows vegetables, flowers and about 30 pineapple plants.
As for favorite tools, experiment based on your physical abilities, garden and terrain. Turner, for example, says her ground is too uneven for a wheeled cart. She prefers “to just scoot around on my butt.” That said, here are five tools that she and other gardeners say make the work easier.
Other strategies for easier gardening
While gardeners have favorite tools, they also have advice that applies to anything in your gardening arsenal. For example:
- Bring your garden up to you with a raised bed, garden bag or wheeled containers.
- Paint tool handles a bright color so you can see them in the weeds.
- Break up repetitive jobs like weeding or switch hands to avoid overuse.
- Wear gloves to protect hands and reduce vibration from power tools.
- Wash tools after use and keep them sharp. To store them, some experts suggests filling a container with builders sand, which drains well and is often used for mixing concrete. Then, add mineral oil and mix until slightly damp. Brush debris off tools and stick blades or tines into the sand. The sand helps keep the blades sharp; the oil prevents rust.