When my mother finally retired at the age of 72, she immersed herself in gardening. She had a beautiful small fenced in backyard which she filled with herbs and flowers. It was a hobby she enjoyed very much for 15 years until the day she fell while she was in the yard. I wanted to help her keep up her gardening but we needed to make it safer for her to participate in.
So, I began to do some research on safe gardening tips for seniors and found the following:
- Install a walkway with very large square stones so an elderly person would not have to walk on the uneven grassy areas
- Install raised gardening beds
- Add tall large pots (for container gardening)
- Install window boxes onto the top of the fence
- Purchase gardening tools that are easier to handle
- Consider indoor gardening
If your elderly parent (or a senior you know) has had to reduce how much they work in their garden or they’ve had to stop it all together simply because it isn’t safe for them any longer then read on because I am going to give you some wonderful tips on how you can give the hobby of gardening back to them.
A Word Of Caution: As summer rolls in during 2019 – record heat temperatures are popping up throughout the world. Make sure that your aging parent does not get dehydrated nor do they spend more than 10 minutes in direct sunlight 2-3 times per week.
Gardening For Seniors – Making It Safer And Easier
Ok – so let’s get to the multiple ways that you can make gardening safer (and easier) for older adults.
Making gardening easier and safer for those seniors who love it is a big part of home safety matters. After all, hobbies are a large part of retirement and being able to continue doing what you love is important to anyone’s overall health.
Below is a checklist of how you can make gardening easier and safer for the seniors in your life.
- The very first thing you need to do is to make it accessible. That means to create a walkway that they can maneuver with a cane, a walker or a wheelchair. Of course, a solid cement walkway would be the best solution but that can be very costly. So, another solution would be to use large, square stones and either place them or cement them together to create a walkway that’s as smooth as possible.
- The next step would be to raise the level of the garden. This can be accomplished several ways:
- Build or buy an elevated garden bed. You can even take it a step further and install or place “benches” on the sides of these raised gardens.
- Use large and tall pots to also raise the level of gardening. Any kind of container gardening that is elevated would work.
- If there’s a wall or fence, consider installing window boxes to make the garden more vertical.
- Note that there are vertical gardens that you can install (or build) and they can be placed on a wall, like the side of the house.
- For some seniors, handling gardening tools can be difficult. You will want to look for ergonomic tools that have larger than normal handles that are not slippery. (But not so large that your elderly mother or father could not handle.) You also want to consider the weight of the tool as well.
- The tool(s) that you select truly depends on the issue(s) the elderly person is having. Whether it be arthritis, Parkinsons, vision problems or mobility problems – the idea is to do your best to accommodate that problem.
- I would avoid power tools completely and only use manual ones.
- If, for whatever reason, your elderly parent cannot go outside – consider creating a space within the home for indoor gardening. Of course you can use pots on shelves and tower gardens. You can also get ultra fancy and purchase indoor garden kits that come complete with their own LED lights.
- Hire help for the tasks that are just too difficult or strenuous to do.
- Make sure to wear the proper clothing. Proper shoes (no sandals or anything that can slip off easily), large brimmed hats to keep the sun off of you, gardening gloves and use bug spray.
- Keep a jug or bottle of water nearby and within easy access and of course, drink often to avoid dehydration.
Gardening Trolley For The Elderly
I considered getting my mother this scooter pictured here. But the majority of her garden did not have a cement or flat surface adjacent to it so pushing this along the tough Florida grass was too difficult for her.
But, I do know of several older friends and relatives who love their Garden Trolleys (or Garden Scooters). They are perfect for seniors and anyone who happens to have a bad back!
There are many different varieties and I encourage you to take a look at this one and the others that are available at Amazon and your local hardware and gardening centers.
The one caution I would give when using these trolleys is to be aware of any problems the user may have concerning balance and/or coordination. The complications could include:
- It may be too difficult to sit down onto the trolley. These are not very tall, and lowering oneself down onto it may prove to be a challenge for some older adults.
- The same would be true for getting up from these types of scooters. There are no lift chair options here so it will take some strength and a bit of coordination to get up from such a low position.
- Trolleys are on wheels and if it’s on a cement patio or pathway – there is the potential that while getting up or down, it could begin to roll which could cause the user to fall onto the ground.
Gardening Tools For Seniors
In addition to any products I mention in this article, check out more on our Recommended Gardening Products page.
Other products that could be helpful to make gardening safer are…
- Lightweight coiled hose – my mother loved this product very much. It was so easy to pull out and to put away when she was done. We attached this extended nozzle (aka watering wand) that had an on / off switch right on the handle. It was really one of the best things we got for her.
- Garden tools with easy to grip handles – many seniors suffer from arthritis and generally weakened muscles and grip. Using garden tools that have easy to grip handles which are larger and usually have a no slip type of material on them makes it so much easier to garden with.
- Safer weeding – my mother did a lot of weeding. In fact I don’t think she ever went a day (unless the rain was too severe) that she did not get out in the yard and weed, even if it was just a small portion of the garden. So, it was a no-brainer to get her a tool that would make it easier to weed.
There are many different brands but the one we chose was the Yard Butler Rocket Weeder – it seemed the easiest one to use and she was able to manage it as long as the ground was soft enough for her to push the weeder down with one hand.
CAUTION: If your senior loved has poor balance and/or poor upper body strength then I would recommend to NOT use any kind of weeder. Most require the user to hold the tool with two hands and then step on the pedal to push the weeder down into the ground. I strongly urge you to consult with your physician and/or physical therapist first.
- Garden kneeler bench and pads – there are products that can make it easier for anyone to get down to the ground level for their gardening. I personally am not a fan of these, I strongly prefer to raise the garden itself via raised garden beds or container gardens (which is what we did for our mother). But, I do understand there are many healthy seniors who are very capable of getting down on the ground or lower level and get back up safely so be aware that these products could be beneficial for them.
- Garden tool apron – my mom loved her garden apron. Such an easy way for her to carry the few things that she needed (gloves, spade, seeds, etc.). When she was done, she would just hang the apron on a hook in her porch. So, when she needed to go back out again, everything she needed was still in the apron waiting for her.
Container Gardening For Seniors
Container gardens are wonderful for seniors, for apartment dwellers, for the handicapped and for anyone who simply wants to make gardening as creative and easy as possible.
The reason I threw in “creative” there is because you can use so many different objects as a container.
I mean, if you really get creative, and you don’t mind a little quirky, you can really have some fun with this type of gardening.
There are many different kinds of objects you can use as a container – basically as long as it can hold dirt, you can make a plant container out of it.
Here are some ideas on what you can use as a container garden:
- Tool Boxes
- Rain boots
- Dresser drawers
- Pots / Collanders
- Concrete blocks
- Stacked tires
- Toy trucks
- Old paint cans
- Large cans (like the ones for pureed tomatoes)
- Large plastic soda bottles
- Large outdoor garbage cans
Just scroll through some of these images on Google for creative ideas for plant containers and I am sure you will be inspired and maybe just a little surprised. For sure you’ll have a few things in your home that you’ll be able to use!
Now, it’s true, my mother was not into “quirky” so I didn’t implement any of these ideas in her garden but I just thought they were too awesome to pass up and not tell you about them!
Container Gardening Tips For Seniors
Now, there are just a few tips that I can give you when it comes to making container gardening safer for your elderly parent(s).
- The first thing I want to emphasize is that if you’re creating a container garden for your elderly mother or father, you want to make sure that the container is big enough that they won’t trip over it or knock it over. And in case there might be a need to move these containers it would be beneficial to use a lightweight product / container.
- Another note for moving plants, to avoid injury I would recommend placing containers on planter caddies (aka planter dollies).
- When upcycling or recycling a container to use as a garden make sure to make holes for drainage and I would recommend to add a layer of rocks at the bottom of the container so that your dirt doesn’t just seep out.
- Make sure that the placement of these containers is set up in such a way that you don’t have to overstretch to water or tend to the plants.
- For outdoor containers, a drip watering system is a great way to water container gardens. No need to hand-water each container. It’s surely a safer alternative for seniors.
- For indoor containers, a self watering system can be used. You can buy some or you make your own with bottles. You can fill a long-necked bottle (plastic or glass) with water and invert it into a plant watering stake. Then put that in the soil OR you can punch holes in a plastic water bottom, bury it in the soil (but leave the opening above the soil) – fill it with water which will disperse through the holes.
Raised Bed Gardening For Seniors
The advice for gardening in raised beds or elevated beds is generally the same as it is for container gardening. The main difference is the size.
Generally, raised beds are larger so they would require more soil and a larger footprint but they will also allow you to plant more plants, herbs, flowers or vegetables. So, depending on the space you have, the types of plants you want to care for and how much you want to spend on materials, you can make the decision whether a raised or elevated garden bed would work for you.
Personally, I think a mixture of the two types would work best. You will just have to assess the needs and wants of your senior parent and what they can and cannot do safely.
Benefits Of Gardening For The Elderly
I want to start off by encouraging you to do all you can to keep your senior loved one participating in this beloved hobby of gardening – simply because it’s so beneficial for them – mentally and physically. Just make sure to speak to your doctor about possible precautions and limitations that should be adhered to.
Read our article on The Benefits Of Outdoor Activities For Seniors.
The health benefits from gardening are evident in any population that participates in this great hobby. But for seniors, the perks can have a greater impact.
Gardening, as a hobby for elders provides:
- Physical well being
- Mental well being
Physically – gardening is an excellent low impact exercise that improves flexibility through stretching and bending. It promotes strengthening and endurance as well.
Mentally – the fresh air and sunshine that you get from just being outdoors is very helpful to reducing stress and anxiety. But in addition to just being outside, gardening provides a project that provides purpose which plays a significant role in improving one’s level of happiness and life satisfaction.
Singapore is working to curb the loneliness in their elderly population. They created a community garden for their residents, which many of their seniors are taking full advantage of.
It has proven popular. More than 1,000 allotment gardens have been leased out to residents at 57 Singapore dollars ($41) annually in national parks across the island, which is dominated by densely packed high rises…Retired taxi driver Roger Loh said he has been spending at least an hour every day at his allotment, tending to his papaya, chili and spinach plants. – thejapantimes.co.jp
The issues I would caution any older adult on, as far as gardening goes, is to be careful and to be smart.
Being outdoors for too long under the sun and heat can be unhealthy. I would recommend to talk with your doctor and discuss what he/she thinks about you participating in this activity.
The tasks of weeding and pruning can cause you to bend, squat and kneel which can wreak havoc on your joints if you are arthritic. They can cause you to fall if you have poor balance. These are not good and it’s important to know your limitations and to be safe at all times.
Is Gardening Good Exercise?
Of course, gardening can be wonderful exercise but the amount of exercise anyone would get depends on how much they are able to do to begin with.
But what gardening does mostly for seniors is that it…
- Gets them moving!
- It’s functional exercise in that a task is being performed (you’re not just running on a treadmill here!)
- It improves balance, sensory perception and flexibility.
- The extra physical movements promote the release of endorphins and helps to strengthen muscles (including the heart).
Even if your elderly mother or father is in a wheelchair, gardening can be performed with container gardens, raised beds and even indoors. Even from a wheelchair or seated position, the amount of exercise they are getting is much more than if they were just sitting in front of the television set.
For seniors who are living alone, the issue is always safety. I would strongly recommend to make sure that your senior loved one uses a medical alert device (that’s on them at all times) so that IF they were to lose their balance or fall or injure themselves somehow while gardening, they could get some help immediately.
I would recommend to do your gardening in the early morning or at dusk when the sun is not as harsh.
How Does Gardening Help Mental Health?
Gardening can help to improve not only physical but mental functioning as well – In a wonderful article in Psychology Today, author Sarah Rayner lists 10 benefits gardening provides for mental health:
- Looking after plants gives us a sense of responsibility.
- Gardening allows us to be nurturers.
- Gardening keeps us connected to other living things.
- Gardening helps us relax and let go.
- Working in nature releases happy hormones.
- Being amongst plants and flowers reminds us to live in the present moment.
- Gardening reminds us of the cycle of life, and thus come to terms with that most universal of anxieties: death.
- Some aspects of gardening allow us to vent anger and aggression…
- …whilst others allow us to feel in control.
- Last but not least, gardening is easy.
What is the best soil for container vegetables? Generally, any plant in containers or raised beds require soil that’s lighter than traditional gardens. For vegetables the recommendation is to use equal parts of potting soil, vermiculite and peat moss.
Do raised garden beds need drainage? If the raised bed sits on the ground then the answer is no. But if the raised bed is elevated above the ground then the answer is yes. I would recommend drilling a few holes in the center and the corners of the raised bed. You could also add a layer of rocks at the bottom to help prevent the holes from getting clogged with soil.