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Gardening Tips

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Past Articles Library | Gardening Benefits for Seniors

Gardening can provide almost endless activities for seniors with a little care and some modifications in how and where the gardens are planted.  There is no reason getting older should deprive one of a lifelong hobby.  Studies going back to the early 1900s have shown that gardening increases the mental health of the mentally ill.  Newer studies document how seniors benefit from gardening.

Gardening Benefits

Some of those benefits are:

  • Provides exercise that is enjoyable
  • Increases the levels of physical activity seniors engage in
  • Helps mobility and flexibility
  • Encourages use of all motor skills
  • Helps improve endurance and strength
  • Helps prevent diseases such as osteoporosis
  • Reduces stress levels and promotes relaxation
  • Provides intellectual stimulation
  • Stimulates an interest in nature and the outdoors
  • Improves well being as a result of social interaction
  • Can provide nutritious, home-grown produce
  • Spending just 2.5 hours in the garden a week significantly improved both physical and mental health in seniors
  • Helps keep bones strong because the seniors are in the sun more and receive more vitamin D
  • Improved sleep cycles
  • Improvement in attention
  •  Reduction of chronic pain
  • Reduction of falls
  • Help decrease depression and anxiety
  • Increasing a person’s sense of stability
  • Increases self esteem
  • Give someone a reason to get up in the morning; their plants need to be watered and weeded and taken care of
  • Gardening is considered a medium stressful cardiac workout
  • Extensive studies have found that gardening has special benefits for patients with Alzheimer’s and other dementias. Walking through gardens gives them exercise and reduces the incidence of wandering off by releasing the pent off energy that causes them to wander.  The different scents and textures of flowers stimulate the senses in a pleasant way.  Eating the produce from the garden improves the patient’s diet and induces them to eat more.


Modifications to Improve the Gardening Experience

Some modifications should be made to the gardening areas to make them safer for seniors.  Some of these modifications are:

  • Train plants to grow up a vertical space so they are more easily reached
  • Use vertical planting by planting vegetables and flowers in a trellis
  • Raising raised beds to four feet tall so people in wheel chairs can easily reach them
  •  Make raised beds no wider than four feet so that all areas of the raised bed can be reached from the outside of the bed
  • Provide a stool for seniors to sit on while they garden
  • Providing adaptive tools and equipment for seniors that need it
  • Modify tools with foam, tape, and plastic tubing so they are easier to grasp and use
  • Use light weight tools that are easier to handle
  • Providing shade areas for seniors to rest in while working in the garden
  • Use drip irrigation so that seniors do not have to wrestle with hoses and sprinklers to water the garden.
  • Paths should be at least four feet wide and be made out of pavers so it is easy for those in wheelchairs to get around the garden
  • Steps should be replaces with gradual paths down to the lower level items
  • To lower maintenance, remove turf grass and replace it with groundcovers that do not have to be maintained weekly like turf grass does
  • Gardens should have lots of easy to grow plants so that it does not become a burden
  • Gardens should have stools or benches around them so that the senior gardener can sit if they get tired
  • The garden should be fenced to provide security and keep deer out
  • Paint the handles of tools a bright color for easy visibility
  • Provide a wheeled garden caddy for the senior to carry plants, tools, and other necessary things in.  The cart can also stabilize a senior with difficulty walking
  • Seniors should change their position and activity every twenty to thirty minutes, then rest for ten minutes before resuming gardening
  • Plant native plants that do not need as much care as exotic plants do
  • Mix sand with small seed to make the seed easier to hold and plant
  • Buy small seeds on seed tape, the senior can plant them easily
  • Growing things from seed is less expensive than buying the plant at a nursery
  • Buying common bedding plants that are easily planted can help those who cannot grow things from seed.  The bedding plants can grow right in the garden and produce instant gratification.

Cautions for Seniors

There are a few cautions for senior gardeners.  They should:

  • Wear a long sleeved shirt, gloves, and a hat to protect themselves from the sun
  • Wear sunscreen on all exposed skin and reapply it every two hours
  • Apply DEET to clothes to repel insects while outside
  • Drink plenty of water while gardening so that dehydration does not become a problem
  • Garden early in the morning or later in the evening to miss most of the heat of the day.

If a senior citizen lives in an apartment, container gardening can provide all of these benefits.  Choose light containers and put them on rollers so they can be moved if needed.  Vegetables grow well in containers and so do most flowers. There are attachments that will allow the senior to attach a hose to the kitchen faucet and use that to water the plants instead of carrying a heavy watering can around. Containers can also be worked with smaller tools than a large garden so the senior does not have to lift things that are heavy.

Seniors should have someone else carry the heavy items, such as bags of potting soil or mulch.  This helps them avoid injury but allows them to enjoy planting and growing things.  If the senior plants flowers that draw hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees, they can spend a lot of time enjoying the creatures in their garden.