Gardening for Seniors – Adjusting to Limitations

Posted by on May 21, 2017 in Do-It-Yourself, Frugal For Everyone, Gardening, Green Living, Health, Herbs | 19 comments

Gardening for Seniors – Where there’s a will, there’s a way.                                    


Adapting to limitations has to be the gardening senior’s biggest annoyance in addition to being an ongoing challenge.  Just when you’ve adjusted to accommodate one problem another one pops up and you have to try something else again. 

Seniors come with a bunch of different physical or mobility problems so for them to continue to garden safely means adjustments geared to each individual.

I’ve had to adjust many times the older I get. I started with “in the field” gardens, moved on to raised beds set on the ground and next moved up to the current garden beds raised to table height.  My gardens have also become smaller each year. This year I won’t grow any vegetables as I did in the past but concentrate solely on my salad and herb gardens.   

Gardening for Seniors

1. Easy Garden Bed Raised to Table Height

Garden size becomes another limitation.  Seniors often downsize and move into smaller townhouses, apartments or condos where they feel they no longer have the room to garden, so they quit. Gardening is such a healthy activity with both physical and psychological benefits that seniors should be encouraged to carry on. Putting one of the methods shown below in place allows the small size gardener to continue. When my parents moved from their country home to a city apartment you could tell where they lived from a mile away – mom’s balcony was a blaze of colour, flowers of every kind growing in pots and placed everywhere, even hanging from the balcony rail. The smaller area certainly didn’t stop her from enjoying her flowers.

Gardening for Seniors

2. Patio Pots, Vertical Gardens, Hanging Pocket Gardens, Pails/Buckets for Larger Plants.

Gardening for Seniors – Adjustments:

Most seniors find bending over difficult which makes the garden beds raised to table height ideal. The beds can be built any size, even as small as 1 or 2 feet wide by 3 or 4 feet longFor details about raised bed gardens, click here. The senior should be able to reach the centre of the garden without leaning on the soil to prevent compacting the soil. My gardens are 4 feet wide but that is because I can walk all around them and easily reach the centre from both sides. For anyone able to access only one side or for those less mobile, 2 or 3 feet wide will be the better choice.

All walkways should be kept clear to prevent falls and to never obstruct safe movement, whether walking, using a walker or in a wheel chair. 

Gardens should be placed in the most convenient locations – especially salad and herb gardens which should be close to the kitchen door for easy harvest.

If space is limited any of the gardens shown in picture 2 are an attractive alternative. A previous post “vegetable gardens for small space gardeners” details how easy it is to adopt the alternative methods.

When large patio pots are used they should first be placed on wheeled platforms. We seniors are a determined lot and if we don’t like where a planter is situated we’ll do what we can to move it. Having the wheeled platform will help avoid muscle strains, damaged backs or worse.

A super idea is to wrap the handles of garden hand tools with bright coloured duct tape. This serves two purposes – it makes it easier to keep track of the tools and also provides a better grip for arthritic hands. Electric tools shouldn’t be used. Older hands can’t always be counted on to do what’s required and they may let go at the most critical times which could lead to serious injury. Instead use manual tools – not necessarily specific garden tools either. A couple of my favourite and most often used tools are a good pair of scissors and a large serving spoon.

Garden tools should be stored in a convenient place. I recently read about fastening a rural mailbox to the raised beds (or even the railing of a deck or balcony) to use for garden tool storage. What a great idea and one I’ll be using myself this summer.

Many flowerbeds including the ones in front of my house are at ground level yet one of the most common problems seniors have is getting up and down. You can buy stools with sides – like the picture shown at the top – but I simply turn a lawn chair upside down. This provides me with good stable support for getting up and down.

Hanging baskets, unless they can easily be reached, are risky for seniors. They need more care than most planters and generally are much harder to reach. Seniors may take chances watering or feeding them. Best to avoid those unnecessary concerns and possible accidents.

Gardens can’t flourish without water therefore a safe water source is a definite requirement. I have soaker hoses with quick connections in the bottom of my raised beds. The water source hose is easily accessible and it takes very little time to connect the two. For alternative planters, a watering can may be the answer but this should be the right size – not too big – in order to avoid injury. A hose with a water wand attachment would be much safer.

The Senior Gardener.

The senior gardener can’t just go outside and start gardening. Some care must be taken. I remember one time when my mother had spent time gardening, walked up to the house and passed out with sun-stroke. That was pretty scary and not something we want to happen to others. Therefore:

  • Don’t garden in the heat of the day – before 10 o’clock and after 2 are the safest times;
  • Be sure to wear sunscreen – SPF of 30 or better;
  • Apply lip balm with the same SPF factor;
  • Apply a good hand lotion before and after gardening. Wear gardening gloves;
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade face and put on sunglasses; Pin some lavender, mint, lemon thyme or lemon balm to the front, sides and back of your hat. These work as natural bug repellents.
  • Wear sturdy shoes – gardening requires some bending and twisting and sloppy shoes can easily lead to a fall;
  • Wear a light-weight, long-sleeved shirt;
  • Keep a bottle of water handy, add some lemon if possible. Stay hydrated.

Gardening is an important activity for seniors. Besides providing needed exercise and fresh air, gardening gives a person a purpose; it calms the mind; encourages thankfulness; and improves the mood. As a senior gardener myself I delight in walking out my backdoor and gain tremendous joy from tending to my gardens (and I love the additional benefit of eating super fresh organic salads, pestos and more). I hope this post will keep all senior gardeners enjoying their gardens, whatever the size, for years to come.

Talk to you again soon,


Note: This is part One of Gardening for Seniors. Next week I’ll be publishing part Two – a guest post on Horticultural Therapy by Stephen Pettengill from  Stephen has a degree in gerontology and uses his knowledge to help seniors remain active and engaged in the natural world. Great information for all seniors but should be of particular interest to Activity Directors in Nursing Homes.

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  1. I’m cutting back on my gardening this year due to fatigue related to going through chemo. It’s frustrating to not be able to do as much. When I bend down and squat my muscles get tired much faster than they used to. At least I should be able to bound back in a year or so, but I do think the idea of table height beds are great.

    • Jeri, once you start feeling better you should ask Susan to send you a picture of her water trough raised gardens – they’re lovely for in the suburban area. In the meantime, use all your strength to keep fighting the breast cancer. My thoughts and love are often with you and cheering you on. 🙂

  2. I don’t know what the daytime temperature profile is like up there in Canada, but I do know that in New Orleans, whose approaching June-September period is brutally hot, the daytime temperature actually peaks at around 3:15 p.m. So I would be wary about gardening after 2 p.m.; before 10 a.m. would be a lot better. Once your gardening is finished for the day, you can spend the afternoon as it is meant to be spent: lounging in the shade with a tall glass of iced tea in hand. 🙂

    • Good morning Andy. Actually with global warming, temperature here is turning into the same all the time. Winters are mild, spring and fall non-existent and summer’s cool. I guess you folk in New Orleans are hogging all the hot summer weather and while you are drinking iced tea we are drinking hot tea. However, with the way things are going our weather will slowly drift down to New Orleans so it’s possible that in a few years time, we’ll be drinking the iced tea and you’ll want the hot stuff – how about that? 🙂

  3. Time just keeps going by, never seems to slow down, in fact I think it is speeding up for me.
    Although, I do not do as much gardening as I once did, I still have some plants I take care of. I can get down to take care of them, but getting back up is the hard part.

  4. When I read your bullet points on things seniors should do when gardening I had to admit I’m pretty much guilty of ignoring all of them. All except the shoes.I did wear a sturdy pair of shoes today as I went out in the middle of the day with my short sleeve shirt, baseball cap and electric hedge trimmers and trimmed away. I’m on the young end of seniordom so I should have a little time to sort these things out.

    • Hi Ken, I hope you have many years ahead where you can garden without having to make adjustments. It seems that I’ve been making adjustments on an annual basis but just being able to continue to garden makes it all worthwhile.

  5. What a terrific resource this is Lenie! I’ve never been a gardener myself, although I keep saying one day I’ll give it a try. Still, I love being in nature so I can well imagine how beneficial this activity can be. Happy to share, and looking forward to the next installment. 🙂

    • Marquita, you really should try a small salad/herb garden, even if just in a large patio pot. I think you would enjoy it and am pretty sure that you would enjoy eating the fresh organic produce you grow. Totally different taste that what you buy. Many seniors do have to give up many of their activities but with care gardening needn’t be one of them. Thanks for sharing – I can always count on you.

  6. Will keep what you write in mind when I get old. Hopefully I will not have any restrictions but if I do, your post will be helpful.

    • Catarina, I sincerely hope that you will age without restrictions. You have way to much energy and curiosity to be stopped but if you ever do have to adapt, I know you will adapt so gracefully (after thinking strategically). 🙂

  7. Great post Lenie. I am not naturally green fingered but like a pretty garden (who doesn’t?)

    For some, gardening brings peace and gets them out of the house. It is hard work on top of running a home, working and raising a family which is why I struggle. The end results are second to none!

    • Hi Phoenicia, I believe it is the appreciation for the natural world that brings such peace and satisfaction with gardening. I know for myself it just totally calms me down.

  8. Lenie — When I lived at home as a young woman my father was a devoted gardner of vegetables. I never picked up the habit, I think because it was his “special” garden. I do love flowers and color so while I live in an apartment I have large tubs of artificial flowers in my apartment and by my door. I honestly enjoy them as much as if they were real.

    • Jeannette, I can well believe how pretty your apartment is with the artificial flowers – they somehow suit you. I enjoy flowers but they seem to take second place to my herb gardens which I absolutely adore working in.

  9. I love the tips. Happily I don’t have any major restrictions but you never know. I like the creative way to raise a garden bed. I just installed 4 good size water troughs that stand 3 ft tall for my herb garden. ?

    • Hi Susan – I find that I’m using more and more of these tips myself so I’m sharing from experience. I like the idea you have for the water troughs – if you can, I’d love to see a picture. Maybe I can incorporate it into a future post. 🙂

      • I just sent you an image 🙂

        • Susan, what a fantastic idea for raised gardening – BTW, your gardens are beautiful. Thanks so much for the photo. You will be hearing from me for more information – would love to do a post on it or if you’re so inclined have you do one as a guest on my blog. Love it. 🙂

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