Whether you’re new to gardening or already enjoying it but dealing with more aches and pains than in the past, don’t put your trowel away just yet. Gardening experts offer the following tips for staying safe and healthy while continuing to enjoy the many benefits of gardening well into your retirement years.
Bodies Change, Adjust Accordingly
Age-related changes can include anything from thinner skin to achy joints and reduced stamina. For gardeners, those changes often mean realizing that they won’t be able to keep doing things the way they always have.
“Older gardeners should remember that their skin is more susceptible to sunburns and other damage, so wearing proper clothes for protection is necessary. This should include broad-brimmed hats and light cotton long sleeves,” says landscape designer and gardening expert Bryan McKenzie.
He adds that the body’s ability to regulate temperature also changes with age, so staying hydrated and taking more shade breaks to avoid heat exhaustion and heat strokes is important.
Bending over to weed and plant can be hard on older backs, while arthritic joints often make kneeling or gripping tools more difficult than they used to be. Because of this, McKenzie recommends elevated or raised plant beds, while Kate Russell, author of “Stop Wasting Your Yard,” says, “Transfer plants from the ground to containers that can be placed at a comfortable height.”
Upgrade Your Tools
Investing in gardening tools such as well-padded kneeling mats designed with older joints in mind can make a big difference, too. Mary-Kate Mackey, a gardening columnist and co-author of “The Healthy Garden: Simple Steps for a Greener World,” says her favorite tool in recent years is a rice sickle.
“Made originally to harvest rice, it’s the best for cutting spent vegetation, grasses, vines, whatever you’ve got. Use it to avoid the repetitive motion of clippers, and the job gets done faster,” she says.
Mackey also recommends avoiding a one-glove-fits-all approach. Choose longer gloves for pruning roses and thin, flexible gloves for tasks such as weeding and planting. She says to look for an extra-thick pair to protect your hands from thorns and tool blades.
“As our skin ages, we are more susceptible to fungal and other infections from thorn pokes and cuts. The only time I don’t wear gloves is when I’m transplanting tiny seedlings,” she adds.
Gardening expert Erinn Witz, co-founder of Seeds and Spades, recommends retractable hose reels and ratchet pruners. The reel eliminates wrestling with unwieldy hoses, and the pruner is kinder to aging hands. “Squeezing can be a difficult task for older people or those with disabilities, and a ratchet pruner breaks the job of cutting through a tough material into smaller chunks,” she says.
Ask for Help
Ergonomic gardening tools are one form of help, and people are another. Helping others makes people feel good, so don’t hesitate to ask for assistance with tasks that require more strength than you have or that outright bore you. The benefits of gardening don’t only extend to the gardener. Anyone you invite to help you will benefit as well.
“Family, friends, neighbors, 4-H kids, Scouts—you might be surprised to learn that there are a lot of people just waiting to be asked. And you can teach them whatever they need to know to become better gardeners themselves,” says Russell.
Even with the right tools to help make gardening easier, some work is just plain harder to do when you’re not in your 30s anymore. “When I was younger, I could go out and dig holes all day to plant fruit trees, and sure, I’d be tired by nightfall, but I wouldn’t be hurting,” says Mackey, who is in the second half of life.
That’s why she recommends mixing up tasks in 15- or 20-minute increments, so you’re exercising multiple muscle sets rather than overdoing it by focusing on just one.
The additional benefit of this approach is that you can stop and smell the roses—literally. “It lets us reflect, observe, and meditate on what is often overlooked. It allows us to get into the tiny world of scavenging ants, tune in to the birdsong, or simply step off the usual hamster wheel of thought,” Mackey says.
The benefits of gardening are many, and with the right approach and tools, you can reap those rewards for many years to come.
This article is intended for general informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as financial or tax advice. For more information about whether a reverse mortgage may be right for you, you should consult an independent financial advisor. For tax advice, please consult a tax professional.