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Gardening With Limitations and Awesome Tools

Gardening is a wonderful outdoor activity that relieves stress and connects us to nature. It also helps us to maintain flexibility and mobility as we age. Though very beneficial, gardening requires a lot of bending over, pulling and other very physical movements, thus making it difficult for some seniors and people with disabilities. A stiff back and knees, or arthritic hands can restrict activities and prevent us from participating in this rewarding hobby. Luckily there are a wide number of gardening techniques and tools that will allow you to keep using your green thumbs without discomfort. The following equipment can help reduce joint strain and may be easier to handle than other gardening tools.

Weed Control

One of these tools is an ergonomic hand weeder, which makes pulling weeds a piece of cake! There are different designs which can easily slice through roots. It will also prevent leaving long taproots broken in the soil which regrow. So this is a great option to save time with pesky weeds. It even has a bended hand grip which gives more leverage so that it is easier to handle. If carpal tunnel, joint problems or arthritis are affecting your enjoyment in the garden, then check out this tool.

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Pulling weeds can be straining for individuals both with and without disabilities. Fortunately there are handy tools such as a stand-up weed grabber, which makes weeding easier for anyone who has trouble bending over to pick up weeds. This lightweight aluminum tool allows you to keep your back straight and has an easy-eject mechanism on the handle . There are foam-padded handles for ease of use. You can use these highly effective ergonomic tools for combating weeds, but you can also be proactive and spend very little in this regard. You can put down a layer of newspaper and then cover that with mulch or use weed mats that are available to reduce the amount of weeding that has to be done.

No-bend Weed Removal Demonstration:

Extendable Tools

There is no longer a need to risk straining your neck, back or arms when pruning, raking or working the ground. There are now a number of tools available for gardeners with physical limitations from specialty garden product makers like Fiskars, Corona, Gripworks, disABILITY Work Tools, Life With Ease and others. Chris Sabbarese of Corona Tools says, "We have tools that can extend from anywhere like 18 inches out to 30 or more and give people in a wheelchair the ability to sit there and garden with trowels, rakes and cultivators."

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Adaptive Tools for Pruning

For pruning, there are different options that don’t require as much pressure for arthritic hands. A ratchet pruner makes cutting thicker stems easy, as it only requires an additional squeeze to continue cutting, so you don’t need a strong grip to use it. It also has a soft rubber hand grip to absorb pressure. A good thing to note is to make sure to find the right size pruner for your hands to prevent strain.

In recent years, garden tools have become more customized to provide better support and functionality through ergonomic design. These new products are crafted to fit better in your hand and are made from lighter, yet durable, materials. You might love your trusty hickory handle steel spade, but using one made from cast aluminum and mounted on a fiber glass shaft can greatly reduce the pressure and wear on your hand. Gardeners suffering from arthritis and fibromyalgia, in particular, are able to enjoy gardening again thanks to tools like the Fiskars PowerGear Softgrip Pruner, which features a handle that rolls to follow your hand's natural clenching motion, reducing fatigue and allowing you to make effortless cuts.

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Watering with Nozzles and Soaker Hoses

Watering your beautiful begonias doesn’t have to cause pain with the proper garden hose nozzle. If you have arthritic fingers, or just want something easier on your hands, there are lightweight, thumb-controlled, rubber-padded nozzles that can be easily turned on by pressing a button with your thumb. If you are watering a large garden on a regular basis it can be a tiring task if you are doing it manually with a regular garden hose. Save your energy for more important tasks and use water conservative soaker hoses instead. Not only are they designed for better saturation for the soil but your water bills will be lower as a result. Automated sprinkler systems might seem more convenient but they are expensive, require repair maintenance and can waste water. Soaker hoses only need to be set up once and you are done. Growing plants in window boxes using drip irrigation is another easy and effective way to water.

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Raised Garden Beds

A raised garden bed can make a huge difference in your gardening experience. They are ideal for post-op patients, those with bad backs, and people using wheelchairs. Elevated garden boxes help gardeners with physical restrictions continue to enjoy growing without having to bend over. You can find these planters in all shapes and sizes, with useful storage panels. There are beds with wheels and fencing to prevent animals from snacking on your plants. Have them built to a height of 28 to 30 inches with easy access to the bed center so you can water and tend to the plants from any side. This will greatly reduce bending over and eliminate gardening on your knees.

If you maintain multiple raised beds, you might consider creating wide, level pathways between them composed of pea gravel, pavers or brick. This will help with weed control but also provide flat, secure grounding that is wheelchair-friendly. Wall mounted planters or trellises are also a good option to avoid back strain. It is much easier to monitor and tend to a plant's needs using an approach that eliminates physical tasks that come with managing large garden plots.

Container gardening on a balcony or patio is an easy way to have vegetables and flowers when it’s not feasible to have a large plot in the ground. A small drip irrigation system that costs around $50 can be used to make watering large containers easy and cost effective. I have three of these systems on various parts of my landscape and find them to be highly useful.

Garden Aids

If you have a tendency to bend over too much while gardening or need additional support, why not consider investing in a garden stool or a rolling work seat that you can easily move around the yard? The only concern is the potential danger of tripping over the stool or work seat if you aren't paying close attention. If using one with wheels, it must have locking devices for safety, as it can roll and cause a jerking movement, a fall or twist of the body that would be painful or injurious.

Foam knee pads are another garden aid that offer great support and are inexpensive. It is also wise to keep the essential tools you need with you, either in a portable wagon or bucket or a handyman's tote. This will prevent you from accidentally misplacing them while gardening or making constant trips to the tool shed.

A very well used product in my garden is my bench/seat/kneeler. You can view the following video demonstration to see whether it might be helpful for your gardening activities.

Colorful Reminders - Don’t lose that tool!

Your garden needs to age with you. For some of us that are starting to experience memory loss or become more forgetful as we age, here is a simple solution for keeping track of garden tools: Paint them bright colors so they stand out against the greenery or brown earth tones of the garden. Another way to prevent losing or misplacing them in the yard is to tie brightly-colored ribbons or labels to them.

Keep your garden design simple. A distinctive and familiar focal point allows for easier orientation and plants that trigger memories such as a favorite herb that gives off a scent of simmering stew or vegetables that bring back fond memories. Not only are these planted areas easy to maintain but they help keep us active, both physically and mentally.

When buying gardening tools for special needs like arthritis, or a stiff back, it is important to consider the price and sturdiness of the tool as well as the ease of use. As with many things, it’s not worth it to go for the cheapest tools on the market because in the long run you will pay more on replacements. One well-known gardening tool brand, WOLF-Garten Tools, has high quality and very reliable tools. Website carriers like Duluth Trading Company often have life-time warranties and their products are built to last for a long time.

Now that you are comfortable with the tools and tricks that enable you to keep gardening, here is a chart showing when to plant vegetables in Central Texas. If you live elsewhere, my suggestion is to check the local agricultural university or county extension service websites.

For people moving to Texas from the East or West coast, knowing when to plant determines failure or success in Texas' unpredictable seasons.


For Austin and Travis County:

Above is a list of Texas A&M’s favorite gardening resources which has an incredible amount of information about growing gardens, pest management, composting and soils, landscaping plants, irrigation and rainwater harvesting, greenhouse and tool care. You can also access the college’s online bookstore for even more gardening resources. Finally there are links to recorded Webinars and Facebook Live videos about all kinds of subjects related to gardening in Texas.


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