By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Gardening is a healthy and fun hobby for any person, including those with physical disabilities. Gardeners with limitations can still enjoy planting and growing their own crops and brighten their home interior with interesting selections. Those with mobility problems can use adaptive garden tools to help them successfully tend their landscape. The industry is responding by making garden tools easier to use.
Adaptive Gardening at Home
There is no reason why a person with some limitations cannot enjoy gardening. The hobby is a healthy way to get moderate exercise, enjoy the outdoors and engage in an activity that produces pride and a sense of accomplishment. Adaptive gardening utilizes new, innovative lightweight tools for disabled persons.
Many garden tools can be adapted at home to save you money and allow you to use a favorite item with ease. For instance, if you have trouble bending to plant your garden, mix seed in a jar with small holes punched in the lid and sprinkle them on the soil from a standing position. You can also mix them in gelatin blocks and allow the sun to melt them into the ground.
Simple additions of old broom handles or PVC pipe to existing tools will extend your reach. You can also use bike tape or foam to increase grips on handles or help conform to a prosthetic limb.
Making garden tools easier to use in the home is relatively easy and only limited by your imagination.
Adaptive Garden Tools
The health benefits of fresh air, new sites and sounds and moderate exercise are all found in gardening. Those gardening with limitations can experience the same benefits if they use adaptive garden tools.
Tools for disabled gardeners can also be found online and in flower and garden centers. Some examples of adaptive garden tools are attachable extension rods, quick release tools, cushioned handles and a variety of “grabbers.”
A garden seat with wheels makes mobility easier for some gardeners, providing movement assistance on firm soil and paths.
Arm cuffs go around your forearm and attach to a variety of tools to help extend reach and increase leverage and grip. The tools available for attachment are trowels, forks and cultivators.
Gardening with Limitations
Gardeners with mobility problems may find that a garden seat is a valuable tool. A raised table garden bed also makes reaching the plants easier on some gardeners. Make a plan to ensure that the final design will be something you can care for with your specific limitations.
A container garden is an excellent way to enjoy gardening and may be done indoors or on your patio. Create a system where you can spend shorter sessions working when gardening with limitations. Listen to your body and use adaptive garden tools to make projects safe and accessible.
Preparation can go a long way to a lifelong enjoyment of your garden, no matter what your limitations may be. Get help, if necessary, putting in paths, seating areas for resting and a good irrigation or drip system.
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Wheelchair Gardening Tips
Getting out into nature can be difficult for people with mobility challenges, as most hiking trails and many gardens are not designed for wheelchairs, walkers, scooters or similar mobility assistance devices. The simple pleasures which gardening offers can have added value for those with limited access to nature.
Planting seeds and nurturing their growth is a healthy prescription for anyone, and especially for people with fewer options for getting out into the natural environment.
An existing garden can be modified to accommodate a wheelchair or walker, with the main requirements being pathway width, grade and surface condition. Pathways need to be well-spaced for wheelchairs, at least 3’ wide, with turn-around areas built into the garden layout. Pathways should be near level, with grades not exceeding 5%, and the surface condition should be solid in varying weather. Dirt pathways can become rutted with use, with low spots holding water after a rain and eventually becoming a muddy track difficult to wheel through. Pathways can be improved with pavers, flagstone or wood. Gravel or compact mulch such as small bark chips are more difficult to wheel through, but still manageable for people in wheelchairs. Be sure to put down a layer or two of landscape cloth before adding the surface treatment.
Modifying an existing garden can require substantial work and investment. Ideally, the beds should be raised to a height of 24” or more for a person in a wheelchair to work comfortably. This is a big job, but worth it for the wheelchair gardener with a long-term commitment to gardening.
An option for those without an existing garden is to use smaller raised garden beds, or ‘elevated planters’, which can be situated in easily accessible areas with firm ground, such as patios, balconies and decks. Smaller planters can also better accommodate gardeners with limited energy who prefer to garden intensively in a smaller space.
In writing this article, we have drawn on our own gardening experience and also consulted with an occupational therapist specializing in creating gardens at rest homes and health care facilities. Here below are some tips which may help the wheelchair-bound, disabled, or elderly gardeners enjoy the benefits of tending their own garden.
15 Tips to Make Gardening for Seniors Easier and More Accessible
Tasha has been an active herb gardener, foodie, and from-scratch cook since the year 2000. In 2014, she started homesteading for greater self-sufficiency in rural Surry County, North Carolina. She currently keeps dairy goats, chickens, ducks, a pet turkey, worms, and (occasionally) pigs. She gardens on about two acres and grows a large variety of annual and perennial edible, medicinal, and ecosystem support plants. She is an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer and teaches classes in her community related to Edible Landscaping, Organic Gardening, and Introduction to Permaculture. She has also co-authored several books about backyard chickens, livestock watering systems, and vinegar production.
A lot of people think you have to be in great health with excellent mobility to grow a garden. There’s so much lifting of things like bags of compost. You have to push around a wheelbarrow. Then there are all those watering cans to cart around to plants.
Don’t forget the squatting to weed and seed. Of course, you have to dig big holes too!
Frankly, you do have to be in a state of peak fitness to garden like that. But luckily, you don’t have to garden like that at all. There are plenty of ways to garden smart rather than relying on brawn and bending.
Let me inspire you to garden at any age and even with ailments that make traditional gardening more difficult with these smart tricks and shortcuts.
Improve Your Mobility
I have a friend who has been gardening her entire adult life. When some age-related health conditions made it impossible to reach her in-ground garden beds, she still refused to stop gardening.
Instead, she widened the spaces between her beds so she could fit her golf cart through. She lost some garden space, but she was able to keep on gardening.
1. Use Wheels
While not everyone can get or has a golf cart to whizz around the garden with, there are a few other options that will also give you increased mobility.
These days riding lawnmowers all have options for attachments such as pulling a cart. A popular workhorse is the 4-wheeler or ATV, and then for extreme versatility, consider a farm utility vehicle.
3. Optimize Space & Heavy Lifting
As with my friend I mentioned before, she had to change her gardening space to accommodate her golf cart, and for whichever option you select for your own mobility, you will also have to adapt your garden layout to make more room for you to maneuver.
Even if you are restricted to a wheelchair, you will need extra space in your garden to allow you to easily wheel around and not get stuck in a dead-end. With some creativity, a wheelchair can be adapted with attachments for bags and a ‘desk’ over the lap, it all depends on your creativity and your ability to manage a somewhat heavier wheelchair.
My friend’s solution for all the heavy lifting that goes with garden materials is also brilliantly simple. She has the people at the store load her car by placing big bags of garden amendments on the seats close to the doors. Then, when she gets home, she uses a hand shovel to transfer the amendments into smaller bags that she can easily lift.
3. Re-think Your Tools
Further using her creativity, my friend engineered tools to use to seed, harvest, and weed right from the seat of her cart.
For example, she created her own long-reach plant seeder. She did this by attaching a spoon to the end of a hard PVC pipe. She uses the spoon to make divots in the soil.
Then she drops the seeds down the pipe tube. Finally, she uses the spoon end to cover the seeds with soil. Using this method, she seeds her whole garden while comfortably seated in her golf cart.
4. Make Use of a Garden Seat Kneeler
Can you still reach down to tie your shoes without discomfort? If so, then you may be able to keep on gardening in the ground with the use of a garden seat kneeler.
These are lightweight devices that do double duty as a kneeler and a bench. If you use the bench side, you can sit on them as you do your weeding and harvesting using similar muscles as you use to tie your shoes.
You will want to keep your garden rows narrow to make reaching easy. Alternatively, you can access wider rows from both sides. This bench tool makes it possible to garden while taking a load off! That sounds like a smart gardening for seniors strategy to me.
On the flip side, the seat portion becomes a kneeling board. The bench legs become handles you can use to push yourself up. So, if you are still able to kneel, but just need a little help up, the kneeler is a perfect self-help solution.
5. Rolling Garden Benches
If you want to go for a deluxe garden bench, you can also find rolling garden benches. These are basically like garden carts with handles. They usually have room to hold your tools and a few plants or some small bags of potting soil.
But they also have heavy-duty garden wheels and easy steering. That makes them useful for navigating the hard corners of your garden beds and landscape.
They aren’t quite as luxurious as gardening from a golf cart, as my friend does, but they don’t take up quite as much room or cost nearly as much as a golf cart either!
6. Long-handled vs Short-handled Tools
Garden tools often come in two forms, hand-held or long-handled. For example, you can get a hand-held hoe or a long-handled hoe. The hand-held hoe requires you to get on the ground or use the kneeler bench to get down and up. Whereas, the long-handled tools can be operated from a standing position.
Unless you have easily workable soil, it can require a lot of strength to use long-handled tools. Trying to hoe weeds in compacted soil using a long-handled hoe is like trying to scrape pavement off the road. But when you put them to use in raised beds that are filled with potting soil or square-foot mix, they are a fabulous answer to gardening for seniors while standing.
Contained Gardening Methods
That brings me to my next recommendation. If you have difficulty getting up and down, then raised beds or containers might be a better answer.
7. Garden in Raised Beds
Raised beds come in all shapes and sizes. Here are some things to think about before you install them.
– Ground Level Beds
Beds that are 6-8 inches deep and sit on top of the soil can be accessed using long-handled tools, benches, or kneelers. As long as you fill them with lightweight soil mixes that include things like peat moss or vermiculite, working the beds can be done easily from a standing or sitting position.
– Knee Wall Beds
Personally, though, if you are going to go to the trouble of building beds (or hiring someone to do it), opting for a bed style that includes a knee wall that can be used as a bench is an even better bet. Then, you can skip dragging a bench out to the garden and instead just sit on the edge of your beds to garden.
– Waist Height Beds
Keyhole garden bed
Some people even opt for taller beds that you can stand upright to work in them. A keyhole bed is a good example of this. I love these kind of beds for the ease of gardening for seniors.
Just keep in mind that when you need to do things like add compost, you’ll have to be able to lift things up from the ground to your waist level. Bending and lifting at the same time is a common cause of injury as we age especially if you don’t lift by bending your knees.
So, you’ll want to find ways to avoid lifting heavy things into your bed. You can do what my golf-cart gardening friend does and unload from the seat of your car by opening packages and moving smaller increments at a time.
– Salad Table Garden
The first time I saw a salad table I immediately thought ‘this is just what my mom needs.’ It optimizes your space, can be set up on a balcony and brings your salad veggies up to a comfortable height. No matter how restricted you are in your movements, a salad table can make gardening for seniors and anyone else much easier.
8. Try Large Container Gardening
Along with raised bed gardening, you can also consider container gardening for seniors. Containers full of soil are heavy. As such, you’ll want to put large containers in a permanent location and treat them like a raised bed.
You may also want to opt for lightweight containers such as those made out of plastic or grow bags. With large enough containers, you can grow a lot of food even in a small space. Dwarf fruit trees and shrubs may also be good options.
If you do need to move your plants, such as indoors for the winter, consider asking a family member or neighbor for help. Or use a hand-truck rather than lifting.
In our post discussing the best wheelbarrow, option number 5 is a versatile workhorse, with an innovative plant mover dolly which is a brilliant way to move heavy pots around. Still, you would need a strong hand to manipulate the wheelbarrow, so asking a neighbor or friend would still be a good idea.
– Gardening in Tires
By gardening in tires, you not only reduce, reuse, and recycle, but you also make gardening for seniors easier and more accessible. Tires can be stacked on top of each other creating deep beds. You can place them wide apart to navigate through if you are using a mobile device, even something like a golf cart, or even pile them up to be just the right height for someone in a wheelchair.
We share 13 great ideas tire gardens ideas here, as well as a guide on how to create a tire garden.
9. Use a Multitude of Small Containers
Or, rather than growing plants in large containers opt for plants that do well in small containers. You can even grow a full edible container garden using annual vegetables with shallow roots, dwarf-sized or compact perennial plants, or grow full-sized vegetables but harvest in baby form.
I recently picked up a blueberry plant that can produce abundant fruit in a two-gallon soil pot. I also came across Tom Thumb green peas that get less than a foot tall and still make abundant full-sized pea pods even on a sunny windowsill. There are also continuous harvest cherry tomatoes that produce in less than 1 gallon-sized pots.
Read our post on window box gardening for seniors with ideas on what plants to use, or these brilliant ideas for a hanging vegetable garden.
You may need to grow lots of little containers to get good production. But you can put them on an outdoor tabletop to make tending and harvesting easy. Plus, since they are small in size, you can lift and move them with less difficulty when needed.
Easy Moisture Management
I have to tell you, water is heavy. Most plants need the equivalent of an inch of rain per week. An inch of rain weighs about 5.2 pounds per square foot of soil.
So, if you have a 4 x 4 square foot garden bed, and it doesn’t rain for a week, you’ll need to deliver about 22 pounds of water to your bed. In hot dry weather, plants need even more moisture, which means that weight goes up to 30 pounds or more.
10. Install an Irrigation System
You can avoid lifting water by using installed irrigation rather than a watering can. Drip tape and tubes are relatively lightweight. If you buy kits that allow you to install your own emitters, you can even use them for container gardens simply by putting the emitters where your plants are.
Irrigation takes planning and access to a pressurized water source such as a house hose bibb. But once installed, you don’t have to lug water around anymore.
11. Use Mulch to Preserve Water
Mulch helps preserve water in the soil so you don’t have to water as frequently. If irrigation isn’t possible, then consider adding mulch around your plants to lighten your water load.
Mulch can be heavy to haul, especially when wet. Ask retailers for dry bags. Or consider lightweight options such as covering the soil with newspapers before watering. Once wet, those papers won’t move and can preserve moisture for weeks before they are decomposed.
12. Invest in Lightweight Hoses
I can tell you that just about every gardener hates lugging around heavy garden hoses. As such, manufacturers now make heavy-duty, lightweight hoses that can weigh 30-40% less than traditional hoses.
If you do need to move hoses around your garden, spending a little extra to buy light-weight hoses can save your back and your frustration level! Also, make sure your hoses are empty when you move them. If you have a spray nozzle on your hose, you’ll need to discharge it fully after turning off your water.
13. Self-Watering Systems
If you are going to grow in containers, then you may also want to consider self-watering planters. These have water reservoirs that deliver water when needed.
Now, you may still have to lug water to your device. However, bottom watering systems often use less water than top watering. Also, you can fill them in smaller increments rather than adding gallons at a time.
Read our post with ideas for automatic watering systems you can set up yourself.
Alternative Gardening Methods for Seniors
So far we’ve been talking mostly about adapting traditional gardening methods such as in-ground, raised beds, or container gardening. These days though, there are lots more options for gardening for seniors.
14. Stay Sharp with Hydroponics
You can buy lightweight hydroponic plant kits that sit on your countertop. You can also set up systems using PVC or other materials to garden vertically so bending isn’t as necessary. IF you install lights, you can even grow them indoors.
As we age, the old adage “use it or lose it” rings all too true. With hydroponic gardening for seniors, you have to pay attention to things like pH and nutrients and make some calculations to have good results long term. You also need to learn to use pumps and timers and such.
Mastering these new skills and managing your hydroponic systems can help you keep learning and focusing so that your mental skills stay sharp.
15. Go Vertical
– Vertical Gardening and Living Walls
Vertical gardening is now easier than ever. There are lots of different designs of wall mounted plant pouches and self-watering planters you can buy or DIY.
You can add self-circulating watering systems that use pumps to pull water from a ground-level reservoir to a drip irrigation system that starts at the top.
These can be used indoors or out. They can be planted with things you can use in small containers including vegetables. Or you can stock them with succulents and ferns for beauty and the pleasure of gardening.
The sky (or your ceiling) is the limit when it comes to ways to garden vertically!
Although this next topic – living walls – is not quite applicable to people with reduced mobility, it is still stunningly beautiful to see what can be done when thinking outside of the box, and I gladly share the How to Make a Living Wall post with you.
– Tower Garden
A tower garden makes optimal use of garden space. If you had to reduce your gardening space to improve your mobility, then a tower garden can give you so much value back.
It also places your veggies and fruit within easy reach and looks beautiful in my opinion. We share a few clever tower garden ideas, and how to create them.
7 thoughts on “ Make Gardening Easier With These Helpful Garden Tools ”
Thanks for sharing these different tools for improving your garden. I just moved into a property that has a big yard, so I can finally start gardening! However, I was told that my lawn has a problem with weeds, which is why I’ve been looking online for weeding tools. The weed mat liner might be a great preventative tool I’ll be sure to try it out and see if it can keep my garden free of weeds.
Great collection of items , especially for persons not in active treatment who may have questions about gardening. This should be a booklet available through the AF. Thanks for bringing it to my attention
I am so glad I enrolled in the Arthritis Foundation email services! In just a few short weeks, I have learned many ways to say my ailing body of R.A. Thank you! Your tips are very helpful!
I suffer from RSI, which is most affected when planting. So some of these tools look like they should be able to help keep it at bay.
Thank you for sharing this tips and the tools necessary for the job its really a big help.
Any aids for turning the water on at house / the sillcock?
I love my Fiskar’s & they’re worth every penny as it has multiple lopping options in 1 tool!
Gardening Trolley For The Elderly
One of the most popular gardening tools for seniors are trolleys (aka scooters).
I considered getting my mother this scooter pictured here. But the majority of her garden did not have a cement or flat surface adjacent to it so pushing this along the tough Florida grass was too difficult for her.
But, I do know of several older friends and relatives who love their Garden Trolleys (or Garden Scooters). They are perfect for seniors and anyone who happens to have a bad back!
There are many different varieties and I encourage you to take a look at this one and the others that are available at Amazon and your local hardware and gardening centers.
The one caution I would give when using these trolleys is to be aware of any problems the user may have concerning balance and/or coordination. The complications could include:
- It may be too difficult to sit down onto the trolley. These are not very tall, and lowering oneself down onto it may prove to be a challenge for some older adults.
- The same would be true for getting up from these types of scooters. There are no lift chair options here so it will take some strength and a bit of coordination to get up from such a low position.
- Trolleys are on wheels and if it’s on a cement patio or pathway – there is the potential that while getting up or down, it could begin to roll which could cause the user to fall onto the ground.
The right tools make sure gardening is within reach at any age
Marty Ross is a garden journalist and gardener who lives in Kansas City, MO, and Virginia’s Tidewater region. She has a community garden plot and grows lettuce and herbs in pots on her front porch.
Gardening is easier when you can sit, swivel and roll. Our back-saving Tractor Scoot lets you work from a seated position virtually anywhere in your yard or garden.
Being retired has its advantages: You have all day to spend in the garden, if you want to. But after a couple of hours, you're free to take a break. Getting holes dug, weeding flowerbeds, and tending a vegetable garden start to seem less urgent when you're 65, and not 35, and you really don't have to be back at work on Monday morning. But older people still have choices to make.
"I've had to adjust my attitude," says Dean Failor, 72, who lives in South Beach, OR, and has been gardening for half a century. He grows broccoli, sugar snap peas, and a few other crops, but he plants in raised beds now, not long rows, so the weeding is easier, and he buys produce at a local farmers' market to supplement his harvest. He grows roses, too, but he sticks to low-maintenance varieties that are suited to his climate. "There comes a time when you just have to say 'I'm not up to all that,'" Failor says. "'Easy-care' is the watchword."
Gardening is good for you, of course, and research confirms that the health benefits are striking for those who have reached the age of AARP eligibility. Routine activity — such as a little bit of gardening every day — reduces the risk of stroke and promotes a longer, healthier life, according to results of a study published last fall by the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The researchers studied a group of 4,000 60-year-olds in Stockholm, Sweden, for 12 years. Those with the highest level of daily physical activity had a 27 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke, and a 30 percent reduced risk of death from all causes.
The challenges of gardening are complicated by physical limitations as we age, but "we accommodate these changes by adding some helpful tools or altering how we go about tasks," says Barb Kreski, director of horticulture services at the Chicago Botanic Garden, where the Buehler Enabling Garden is designed to inspire older gardeners and people with physical limitations to keep their hands in the dirt. Hanging baskets are rigged on pulley systems so they can be lowered to be worked on. Levers, not knobs, are used on gates and faucets. The plantings emphasize dwarf and low-maintenance trees and shrubs.
Kreski recommends raised beds and large pots and planters, which can be worked without bending over, and tools that make gardening easier. Soaker hoses and drip-irrigation systems eliminate the effort of dragging hoses around. A garden cart lets you haul tools and supplies easily.
Paying a little more for well-made, ergonomically designed tools should be part of everyone's retirement plan. Failor uses a garden fork instead of a spade for many tasks. "Not only is the fork lighter, but it doesn't cut stuff," he says. When it comes to weeding, his favorite is the Cape Cod Weeder, a hand-held tool with a sharp, hook-shaped blade.
Scaling back is also important. "Note what you enjoy most, as well as what you dread doing," Kreski says.
Gardeners of all ages should wear a hat and sunscreen, Kreski says, and older gardeners, especially, should wear gloves. "Invest in a pair of really good gloves that you will keep on no matter what the task," she says. "Cuts and abrasions in the skin of the hands are an invitation to infection."
The late Jim Wilson, co-host of The Victory Garden for 13 years and author of more than a dozen gardening books, kept at his hobby for all of his 85 years. His book, Gardening Through Your Golden Years, is full of good advice for what he called "seasoned gardeners." When he was 78, he described his approach as "slow, steady, safe, and thoughtful, … not a bad approach to any task, and especially gardening."
Wilson says that one of the things he learned was to recruit help for heavy garden jobs and mowing. He adapted his gardening style to suit his situation, and refined the plant selection in his garden.
"I would like to convince tidy gardeners that it is OK to slack off, to stop trimming shrubs into little green meatballs, to rely more on mulching and less on weeding," Wilson said. His goal was not to talk anyone into giving up gardening as they grow older, but to convince them that they should, above all, keep it up.
It may be surprising, but the plants themselves actually play a part in making a garden suitable for wheelchair users. Plants that require a lot of attention can make it difficult to keep up with the demands of a garden, so focus on building a garden with plenty of low-maintenance plants.
Cut down on the amount of time spent pruning by featuring slow-growing plants that rarely need to be trimmed. Here are some slow-growers worth considering.
Hardy, drought-tolerant plants are also high on the list because they are tough enough to survive even if you can only get out there to water them every once in a while. Plus, drought-tolerant plants typically need less water in general, so they inherently help conserve water. Check out this page for a list of drought-tolerant plants.
Finally, it may be worth considering bringing in plants that naturally repel pests to help keep the garden clear of unwanted guests. This page features a handful of pest-repelling plants.
Following these five steps can help ensure that a garden space is accessible for wheelchair users and visitors. Do you know of other solutions that improve wheelchair accessibility in the garden? Comment below and let us know!
This post was written by Jason Biddle from The Helping Home. The Helping Home is a comprehensive online directory complete with in-depth guides on how to age safely at home through the use of home modifications, medical equipment, and assistive devices.