15 Safe Gardening Tips For Seniors

By: Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS®

Just like is the case with any other activity, gardening can become more difficult in old age, but with the proper precautions, it can be a safe, fun, and rewarding pastime for older adults. Here are 15 ways to make gardening a more senior-friendly activity.

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Gardening offers various physical and mental health benefits for people of different ages. It helps to improve strength and stamina, reduce stress, and boost the spirit. For older adults, the benefits of gardening are even greater.

1. Yard Safety Check

It only takes just one misstep for an older adult to trip and fall, which may lead to serious injury. It is always advisable to have a family member or friend walk around the yard checking for possible hazards such as uneven ground, roots that stand out, loose rocks, loose steps, etc.

A person who isn’t the senior in question is ideal for performing the yard safety check since he/she might identify things the senior might have otherwise taken for granted.

2. Pick a Partner

Gardening is always more fun and easier when done with a partner. Older couples often garden together while other seniors love spending time in the garden with a friend.

Seniors that find gardening somewhat unsafe or even difficult can partner with a caregiver who can lend a helping hand. The caregiver can be a professional from a senior care agency or a family caregiver such as a child or grandchild.

3. Always Carry a Cellphone

Being alone while gardening is probably the most dangerous situation for a senior to find herself/himself in. You might assume that you are more than capable of handling any situation you encounter, but having an accident in the garden when you are alone can be deadly.

senior woman watering flowers in her garden
Gardening brings a sense of purpose and a more active lifestyle for many seniors.

Whether you have a mishap with the equipment or fall, you need to receive help immediately. That’s why you should always have a senior-friendly cell phone or emergency alert system close by with you when gardening.

4. Inform Someone About Your Plans

Informing somebody that you are heading out to the garden might sound silly, but it could be ultimately what ends up saving your life.

Telling a friend or family member of your plans means that they will remember to check in with you later in the day to make sure that everything went according to plan. You just might actually convince them to lend a helping hand.

5. Warm Up

You need to admit to yourself that you no longer have the body of a 25-year-old. Keep in mind that gardening is a rather strenuous activity.

That’s why it is so important to take a few minutes to stretch and warm up your joints and muscles before heading out to work in the garden. Stretching and loosening up the joints and muscles is the best way to avoid unnecessary injuries.

senior planting an indoor herb garden
Gardens can be as simple as an indoor herb garden if outdoor activities are unsafe.

6. Plant Smarter

Many seniors become first-time gardeners after they retire. Meanwhile, other seniors in their 70s or even 80s find that gardening becomes harder with every passing year. In either case, it can be a good idea to plant plants that don’t require a lot of effort to care for.

For instance, you should consider looking for plants that are resistant to weeds, those that can withstand some neglect, and those that don’t require a lot of pruning.

7. Kneel Properly

If you are a senior gardener, it can be a good idea to learn how to kneel properly. You should avoid putting both knees on the ground. Instead, you should have one knee bent on the ground with a pad underneath it an the other bent in front of you.

The good thing about this position is that it encourages you to keep the back more upright without the need to add an additional pull on the lower back. Don’t forget to frequently change the knee that’s on the ground.

RELATED: Garden Kneelers for Seniors

8. Sun Protection

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to sunburn, dehydration, and heat stroke. Considering these risks, seniors should always take the right precautions when engaging in outdoor activities such as gardening especially during the warm months.

If you are gardening, do it in the morning, before it is too hot outside. When you go out, wear light-colored, lightweight, and long-sleeved clothes, a shady hat, and plenty of sunscreen. Always drink plenty of water to stay properly hydrated, and take breaks in the shade if you will be gardening for more than 15 minutes at a time.

9. Raise the Ground

If it is becoming increasingly difficult for an older adult to safely get up and down from the ground, it can be a good idea to have raised flower beds. The height of the flower bed may vary, but the width should always be about an arm’s length to allow for easy access to the plants without losing your balance while reaching across.

Raised beds can be constructed using a wide variety of materials, from secondhand lumber and treated wood to concrete blocks or even piles of dirt. If you cannot construct the raised flower beds yourself, you can always buy them from commercial outlets that can be used either indoors or outdoors.

10. Use a Walking Stick or Cane for Uneven Ground

When you walk in difficult areas, you should give yourself additional support. If you do fall, having a cane will make it much easier to get up. A ski pole can be useful for this since it has a pointed tip; it is also an excellent gardening cane, handy for holding down branches that might be in your way or even picking up trash.

RELATED: Best Walking Canes for Seniors

11. Avoid Heavy Power Tools

Power tools often require a lot of physical strength to operate and if you don’t have the strength to use a tool relatively easily, you probably should not be using it at all. Instead of using gas-powered tools, you should try using battery powered devices that are typically much lighter. Cordless chainsaws, leaf blowers, and lawn mowers are all viable alternatives.

12. Add Lighting

Vision declines as people age, which is why outdoor lighting is so important for ensuring safe movement to and from the garden. Good lighting makes it easier for you to identify obstacles thus reducing the risk of falling.

Walkways should ideally be down-lit as opposed to horizontally-lit to illuminate any possible tripping hazards. Motion-activated lights are great for entrances in case you stay out past dusk. Solar-powered lights are a great option since they require less maintenance.

13. Avoid Ladders

Ladders are already dangerous even to younger people that still have their strength and only become a greater hazard as people age. As we age, we lose our sense of balance and if you are struck with a sudden dizzy spell while atop a ladder, a serious fall is likely.

If you must use a ladder, such as when pruning taller trees or bushes, it can be a better idea to call in a professional and eliminate the risk of falling completely. It just is not worth the risk.

14. Paint the Handles

If you are a senior with vision loss but still love gardening, it can be difficult to find tools amid the flowers and grass. Fortunately, you can make them easier to find by painting the handles a bright color that stands out among the vegetation.

15. Wise Equipment Selection

Hand pain is another common problem that seniors face when gardening. It is usually caused by arthritis-related discomfort. To avoid such pain, you should pick your equipment carefully if you are a senior. Only use ergonomic hand tools and pruners and only use comfortable gloves that provide sufficient skin protection.

Final Thoughts

Gardening for seniors has many benefits, it helps keep you physically fit and keeps the mind active. Still, tending to a garden can put a lot of stress on the body, particularly as we age. Fortunately, there are many ways to make gardening a safe and fun activity for people of all ages such as those discussed here.

Happy gardening!

References

  1. https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/gardening-for-older-people
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