Tips for the Aging Gardener
It happens. As your garden matures, so do you. There comes a year when it dawns on you your garden calls for more work than you can do. We don’t lose interest in growing things just because it becomes harder, but hiring someone to do our hobby seems a little silly. The solution: You have to garden differently.
Use Tools of the Trade
Switch to ergonomic tools – a smart idea at any age. The function remains the same, but the handles look a little goofy with big curves in them. They reduce back, wrist and hand strain.
Get Going on Wheels
Gardening involves a lot of lifting and moving: pots, bags of soil or mulch, water and yard waste. All that lifting and carrying becomes too much for older muscles, especially backs. Switching from leg power to wheel power saves work. If you don’t have a place to store these extra tools, use a tarp. You’ll discover the surprising ease of dragging stuff around on lightweight plastic.
Wheelbarrows, hand trucks and wagons take care of the moving, but the lifting problem remains. I try to use gravity whenever possible. I pull a bag of mulch out of the SUV down into a wheelbarrow, wheel it to the garden and shovel it where I want it. I lift nothing besides the empty sack.
Liven Up Landscape
Consider replacing high-maintenance perennials with blooming shrubs. Perennials need to be fertilized, deadheaded, divided, contained, staked, watered often, and cut back each fall or spring. Not so with shrubs. Plant them, throw on a shovel of compost annually and occasionally prune them. Some shrubs come with four seasons of interest: flowers in spring, berries in summer, leaf color in fall, and interesting bark and garden “bones” in winter. Dwarf shrubs grow 2 to 3 feet tall, the same height as many perennials.
Flowering shrubs benefit pollinators (such as bees and other insects) as do perennials, but they also attract birds, so you the gardener, get ease of care plus additional wildlife.
Grow Vegetables With Ease
Let’s face it. Growing a vegetable garden requires a lot of work. You must prepare the soil and replant every year. Weeding becomes a summer-long chore. Ruth Stout popularized a less work-intense system when she became too old for conventional vegetable gardening.
It involves covering the garden with a deep layer of organic mulch, usually straw. Pull it aside to plant, and after harvest leave the plant debris on top of the mulch to decompose in place, adding organic matter to the soil.
While we can’t slow the march of time, we can continue to grow plants by gardening smart.
Ask the Expert
Q: My angel wing begonia leaves are green on top and red underneath. When I moved it outside last summer, the red tint disappeared. How do I get it back?
A: It gets too much light outside. You probably discovered the red returned once it came inside for the winter. Leave it inside year round.
Q: Every winter my Christmas cactus gets mushy and dies. What am I doing wrong?
A: You over watered. Cut back by half.