Tips from Olle Garden Bed: Protect your joints while gardening
If you'd like to try gardening but aren't sure if it is right for you, keep in mind that it can be adapted to your specific needs. That said, it does take time—and perhaps some back pain —to get used to the idea of adapting gardening for people with arthritis, but it's worth the effort. Gardening is a fun and productive hobby that everyone deserves to enjoy. A raised garden bed can also help you for this.
Rarely and often is usually the best approach, and switching between different jobs will give your joints a break. Good protective clothing such as gloves, as well as hand and wrist splints can help protect your joints. Using lightweight equipment can make things much easier.
Change tasks to reduce stress
Don't try to keep working until the job is done. Try switching tasks after 20 minutes, or in a shorter amount of time if you need to. Take a break if you need to, then switch to tasks that use different joints. For example, break up harder work such as weeding with gentler work such as dead branches or prickling seedlings. If you think it will help, you can set a reminder on your phone.
When carrying items, try to distribute the weight of the items by placing them on your forearms and hands, rather than trying to pick them up with just your fingers. For example, try placing a tray of seedlings on your forearm. Keep your elbows tucked to reduce pressure on your shoulders and elbows.
Use a garden stool
This will save you energy and reduce load on load-bearing joints. This can limit your coverage, so you need to plan your boundaries around this, or you can purchase lightweight, long-distance, or expandable handle tools. For other tasks, sitting allows you to use shorter, and therefore lighter, tools. Make sure you can get up from your stool easily - avoid sitting for too long and becoming stiff, as this can make getting up more difficult. Some garden stools are reversed to form seats with handles.
Slide the sponge rubber condom over the handle of a hoe or rake for extra grip. This will reduce the pressure on the knuckles and the vibration of the joints.
A good pair of gloves will also help you grip more easily. If you find it difficult to find the right glove - for example, if your arthritis changes the shape of your hands - consider trying gloves made of an elastic material that fits the hand and can then be tied using Velcro. Alternatively, gloves that do not have the full finger length but have flexible materials may be useful.
Wear a splint
An occupational therapist can suggest whether a splint can support your hand and wrist joints to reduce stress on certain tasks.
If your wrist is sore or weak, a wrist splint may help, while a thumb splint may be useful for tasks that require a firm grip, such as trimming. Wear gardening gloves, or gloves with rubber on the palms and fingertips, to keep the splint clean and increase grip.
Plan ahead to avoid unnecessary work
If walking is difficult, avoid making too many trips up and down the garden and put everything you need in a wheelbarrow, bucket or trug. This will reduce the strain on your hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders. Whether you want to or not, try not to start too many must-haves, and don't worry too much about weeds and not getting everything done -- they can always wait for another day.
Get help with heavier work
Decide in advance what help you need and what you prefer to do on your own. Make sure a well-meaning and enthusiastic helper doesn't take on more than you really want.
If it suits you, can you afford to pay for professional help regularly or from time to time? You can ask them to do your hard work and let you continue doing tasks you enjoy without finding it difficult.
Consider purchasing two or more small bags instead of one large bag if you are unable to get help lifting compost bags, especially from the trunk of your car. Many manufacturers now include handles on compost bags, which makes them easier to carry. Another option is to find expandable compost that is dehydrated and lighter.
Some garden centers provide items such as compost, sand or gravel and place them in your shed or garage.
Use the right equipment
Investing in a few good, lightweight tools can make a big difference.
Holding and squeezing pruning tools for too long can damage finger joints. Try using tools with padded handles and taking regular breaks or doing other work in between. The following tools may make things a little easier:
Ratchet trimmers require less work to cut branches than most trimmers. Instead of squeezing, it takes a few bites to cut through and relieve the pressure on your knuckles.
Two-handed shackles effortlessly provide good leverage and gently grip your palms and wrists, protecting your finger joints from strain. Some manufacturers also make "ratchet pendants" - these devices hold the blade in place if you need to stop on a mid-cut.
Trimmers, pruners, and secateurs have cutting and holding actions that secure the cut stem in the jaw so that it doesn't fall to the ground, saving you the time you have to bend over to pick up the cut.
English pruning shears can be used for light pruning of heather and lavender after flowering. You can squeeze the blades together without moving too many fingers, and you can use them with one hand.
Border shovels are lighter and easier to handle than digging shovels. See the "Preparing the Soil" section for more information on how to simplify digging.
Planning your garden and choosing low-maintenance plants will make things easier for you if you go on vacation or to the hospital, or if you don't feel like gardening for a while.
Lawns need to be mowed regularly throughout the summer, so if you're often away from home and don't have reliable help, it may be worth replacing the lawn with a low-maintenance area (such as paving or gravel). There are many artificial grasses available as alternatives to lawns. Growing in raised beds, POTS and containers are other ways to appreciate plants after removing lawns and borders.
Plants such as elephant ear, cranbeak, lavender and periwinkle, supported by shrubs such as barberry, Escaronia, Senecio and viburnum, can take care of themselves for a long time once their roots have sunk deep into the soil.
Create a wildlife area using wildflower seeds, which usually don't require care, although you will need to prepare the ground beforehand to avoid weeds outgrowing flowers. This is also good for encouraging wildlife into the garden.
Working in a garden is much easier if you think about the layout of the garden. You may need to get some help making changes to your garden initially, but in the long run this should allow you to manage most of the gardening yourself.
Path and bed
Ideally, there should be solid paths next to the bed and border, especially if you have trouble balancing on uneven ground. You can then take care of most of the area without stepping on the soil. The bed should be narrow so that you can reach the middle and back without stretching.
Non-slip paving slabs and compressed gravel are safe paths. Cutting boards can be used for shallow steps where the ground level changes. Wooden handrails by the steps are also helpful.
If you find it difficult to bend to the ground or need to work from a wheelchair, a raised bed can help. If you have a sloping garden, you can make a patio by building a low wall and filling it with soil behind it, which has the effect of making a raised bed. Even slightly raising the soil level will make the bed more manageable.
Containers are another way to ensure that you can work at a convenient height. Annual bedding plants, heather, herbs, spring scales and even smaller vegetables and fruit trees can be grown this way. Heavy tubs can be placed on wheels in case you need to move them. Wheeled containers with braking systems are also offered - these may be easier to manage, but they are more expensive. You can place the container on a brick, or on a heavier container that is tilted up.
The word herb means a plant that has no woody stem on the ground. They can be perennials, meaning they last more than two years, or they can be shorter lived annuals and biennials.
Traditional herbaceous borders require a lot of attention - lofting, trimming, dividing, dying and weeding. You can reduce the need for taller plants by choosing self-supporting varieties such as lupine, Phlox, yarrow, and Japanese anemone.
If you can't easily get to the back of the boundary, it's best to plant shrubs that require less attention. Spurs, spindles, spotted bay, colorful foil, and orange blossom are good examples. Small annuals such as pansy and marigold plants can be planted near the trail, but pink or the edge of a lady's cape will create less work.
Improving soil quality will make farming easier. Heavy clay can be reduced in weight by digging manure or composting. Add sharp sand or gravel to let air into the soil, making it easier for the roots to sleep. It also makes it easier to dig in the future. Turning the soil in the fall exposes it to winter frosts, making it easier to break down and prepare it for planting the next season.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you do need to dig:
Border shovels are lighter and easier to handle than digging shovels. The blade is smaller, so you won't be trying to dig a large spade.
Soil tends to stick to regular carbon steel shovels, which adds weight, so stainless steel is a better choice. It's also easier to clean afterwards.
Shovels with extra long handles make it easier to move soil and reduce the need for bending.
If your soil is light and brittle, use a border fork instead of a spade -- it's lighter and easier to move through the soil.
Clamping the extra handle portion to the shaft of the shovel or fork prevents bending too far and provides a comfortable grip for the underhand without straining the wrist.
If the soil is light and sandy, you may not need to dig at all. A soil mill is a tool with star-shaped wheels that breaks the soil down into fine particles as you move it back and forth.
Rotting manure scattered on the surface can be incorporated into the soil through a soil mill. This is a good tool to use with deep bed systems.
You can reduce the amount of weeds you have to deal with by mulching the soil with 5 centimeters (2 inches) of shredded bark. This prevents the soil from getting any light and makes it harder for weeds to grow. Alternatively, you can cover the bed with black polyethylene, cut slits in the sheet, and plant seeds through the holes. A layer of gravel is spread over the top to hold down the polyethylene and improve the appearance of the frame.
Annual weeds should be hoed when they are young and easy to handle. We do not recommend using a pull hoe or Dutch hoe because the blade must be raised and lowered over and over again, which can strain your joints. Push and pull tools, such as soil mills, shown below, skim back and forth across the surface of the soil, effortlessly cutting weeds from the ground. You can install extra long handles if desired.
Weeding by hand can be tiring if you cannot easily reach the ground. You can try a weed remover. The mower has a steel blade that you can push into the ground next to the weeds. Closing the handle catches the weed and pulls it out. Although only one weed is dealt with this time, it saves raking together and picking up weeds afterwards. It's also easy to use when sitting down.
If you don't want to use a weed whacker, you can collect a small amount of weeds and leaves in a bucket or bag. You can purchase tools to help you pick up garden litter without bending it.
Some people increase the size of their lawns to reduce the area at the boundary of their arable land. However, lawns need regular attention if they are to look their best. If you find it difficult to care for, it is best to partition narrow beds with trails or pave or gravel to allow space for shrubs or annuals.
Island beds in lawns further complicate mowing. It is easier to move the mower if the lawn is a simple shape with straight edges. Make sure the mower is stored where it can be easily accessed.
Mow and mow the lawn
If you suffer from arthritis, a lightweight mower with easy-to-push buttons may be the best option. Look for a handlebar with a single horizontal and large grip instead of two separate handlebars. This will allow you to do some thrusts with your stomach to reduce pressure on your arms and wrists.
Many electric models are quite light. Cordless battery powered mowers are also available. These can be easier to move because you don't have to keep moving the cable, but some models do have heavy batteries. Gasoline-engine mowers are usually heavy to move and manage.
If you have a large garden, a driving mower may be an option. Robotic lawnmowers have improved in recent years, and while they are expensive, they do get good reviews.
You don't have to collect grass clippings - especially in dry weather, when it's best to leave them on the lawn - so you can reduce the weight you have to push by leaving the grass box.
Lightweight edge shears with long handles, filled in large quantities, will provide a more comfortable grip and reduce vibration in the joint. Or you can use a vertically operated nylon rope trimmer -- you simply lean it against the edge of the lawn.
If you have trouble bending down to the ground, you can purchase tools to help with planting. The loaded tool is pushed along the bit, emptying the seed as the bit moves. You can also buy or make your own "seed tape," which are soft strips of paper that seeds attach to an even space. You can drop them into shallow ditches and cover them.
To plant peas or beans, you can plant them along a length of plastic pipe into a ditch. Use a lightweight mini rake to paint a shallow layer of soil over the trench to cover the seeds.
Growing summer bedding plants involves a lot of bending. You can avoid this by planting only shrubs and perennial herbs. Alternatively, you can use a long-handled trowel to dig a hole, place the plant on the blade and drop it into the soil. If it's easier, you can sit down and do it. Potted plants work best for this method.
Water the plants
It's useful to have a tap water supply at a central point in the garden so you can use a short hose or sprinkler to water any part. If this is not possible, attach a short hose to an external faucet (if available) or place the water butt where it is most needed. If needed, you can fill them with a hose from time to time, and dip a small watering can into the tank when you need to water the plants. When using a watering can, distribute the weight between your hands.
If you have sunny free-draining borders, it's best to use them for drought-resistant plants such as wallflowers, rosemary, brooms, and cotton lavender, which won't hurt if they dry out for a few days. This will help reduce the amount of watering you need to do.
Mulch with chopped bark can reduce water loss, but mulch should only be placed in moist soil. Hanging baskets retain moisture longer in light shade, and plants such as fuchsia, ivy leaf geranium, leaf and busy Ritz do well in these conditions.
Basket sprayers can be used to water baskets that are too high to be reached with a watering can. You can purchase special hanging basket compost with crystals that help retain moisture so you don't have to water as often. Crystals can also be used to mix with standard compost.
Grow fruits and vegetables
You can purchase fruit trees grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks. This limits their growth and makes the fruit easy to reach. You can plant fruit trees as a cordon for sloping lines, or espaliers and fans against a wall or fence. You can limit their height by trimming them in August to suit your height.
Gooseberry plants can grow on one leg - a transparent stem 60-90 cm (2-3 feet) tall. This will save you time bending over to pick them. Strawberries are easier to collect if they are grown through holes in buckets or hanging baskets.
If you want to grow tomatoes and zucchini outside, but your soil isn't good enough, you can use planting bags. Planter bags used to grow tomatoes and cucumbers in greenhouses can be recycled the following year for salad crops such as lettuce, radishes, scallions and beetroot.
If it is easier to reach the bag, you can leave it on the bench. Many fruits and vegetables can also be grown in hanging baskets or raised containers, which can make them easier to care for and harvest.
Deep and no-dig method
A labor-saving way to grow vegetables is the deep-bed method. You may need help digging through the plot, but you won't need to dig any further for a few years. Divide the plot into strips 1.2 meters (4 feet) wide, separated by paved paths. Dig the ground well and add compost or a substitute to each ditch. Do not walk through the soil after this stage. All tilling, planting, weeding, feeding and harvesting is done from the path using long-handled tools.
Because the soil is not compacting, the sowing of root crops can be more densely spread over the entire surface than normal - growing plants pushing against each other in soil that is prone to fragmentation. You don't need to plant in rows, and planting lots of seeds will make it harder for weeds to grow.
In the following fall, you will need to lay fresh compost or mulch on the surface. This will enter the soil through the action of worms and weathering in winter. A light ploughing in the spring will ensure it blends in.
Garden architecture and furniture
If you can, keep garden buildings such as greenhouses, potting sheds, tool sheds and cold shelves close to each other. This will save you time carrying POTS, compost and seed trays too far away.
Some glazed cold frames have LIDS that are very heavy and difficult to lift. Raised frames with hinged covers are covered with lightweight corrugated plastic sheeting and attached to pulleys and balancing weights for greater security and ease of management.
The stage in the greenhouse should be at the correct height. You should be able to work comfortably in a chair. You may prefer to work with your elbows and forearms on the stage. If all stages are at the same height, you can easily slide the tray without lifting it.
Thermostatically controlled fan heaters, automatic exhausts and capillary watering systems go a long way in providing the right growing conditions with minimal effort. By using tomato and cucumber planting bags, you can even avoid digging into the border soil.
Garden seating should not be too low and should have a supportive back. If you are considering buying some new garden seats, it is worth trying them out before buying to ensure it is highly comfortable and provides the right support for your back.
Sitting in your garden will encourage you to pace yourself and take frequent breaks, especially if it is placed in the area where you work the most. It will also provide you with places to appreciate and enjoy your work. Using light folding chairs is useful because they can be kept in a shed or garage when not in use.
Hedges and fences
Even slow-growing hedges like taxus require annual pruning, but hand clippers can cause joint pain and some hedge trimmers are very heavy. Keep the hedge low so you don't have to stretch out too much.
Lavender and box are the low hedges that divide the garden. A line of fruit trees was planted as a cordon to form a decorative hedge, perhaps to separate the ornamental garden from the vegetable patch.
Properly placed and treated with preservatives, wooden fences can last for years without attracting attention and can be used as support for climbing plants. Plastic fencing is also available and should require less attention. If your garden is located in a windy area, look for storm fence options.
What if I don't have a garden?
If you don't have a garden, do you have a chance to have a mini garden in your home or on your balcony? This could be a plate of plants, fruit or vegetables.