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Gardening for seniors

Raised bed flowers at Elim Care Center in Fargo. Special to the Pioneer. 1 / 2
Raised bed flowers at Elim Care Center. Special to the Pioneer. 2 / 2

I just had a birthday and as each year passes I realize that it is not as easy to do things as when I was younger. Many gardeners do not want to give up their passion just because they are getting older. We must adapt new ways and means to continue our love, especially since as we age the pleasures of gardens become more important.

Winter months are a good time for planning, perhaps to plan a natural or informal garden that would be less work than a formal garden. Although gardening is good exercise for the body and the mind we want to avoid Consider first what to plant in the garden. Study the seed catalogs and select things that are easy to grow and maintain. We may have to give up on some our labor intensive vegetables, flowers and shrubs. These would include plants that need frequent dividing, clipping, pruning or just a lot of TLC.

The use of seed tapes or broadcasting seed while standing may work for some annuals. Buying cell-packs of seedlings at the nurseries is less work than starting seeds yourself unless that is something you enjoy doing. Flowering shrubs could take up some of the space of annuals or perennials. Naturally compact shrubs are available that require little clipping. Get rid of old ones that outgrow their space and require heavy pruning to keep them inbounds. It is never too late to plant a tree, but select old reliable trees and leave the experimental ones to the younger gardeners.

Using 3- foot or waist high raised beds allows you to sit or stand to garden. Large containers, trellises, window boxes and tripods or tomato cages also raise the height for easier access. Get family or hired help to do the heavy digging and building projects.

Bending and frequently getting up and down are hard on the back and legs. Use tools with long handles to do many jobs while standing. To avoid bending and stooping use a hoe for most weeds and get a long handled bulb planter to plant bulbs. Apply mulch to suppress weeds and add compost yearly to make digging easier.

Use a stool, chair or bench to stop stooping and squatting. Or, get a kneeler stool with handles that help you get up and down and that flips over so that you can sit. Even with this I get tired getting up and down to move the kneeler and my back gets sore while sitting and leaning over to plant. Instead, I use two kneeling pads and just keep moving one ahead without getting up while planting my row of seedlings. A good pair of rubber knee pads is another option. If you do squat keep your heels on the ground so not to strain your ligaments or kneel on one knee.

When using the pruner don't bend your wrist down. There are ergonomic tools available. Get good tools and keep them sharp. It is a good idea to paint them in a bright color like red or yellow so that they are easily seen when you set them down.

We often need to move heavy objects. A hand truck is very useful as is a wheelbarrow. A dolly with wheels may be used or tip the object on some burlap and pull it to its new location.

Garden early or late and not between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Drink plenty of fluids, take frequent breaks and change your task every 15 minutes.