After a long winter likely spent indoors, getting outside can give the spirit a boost. Gardening is an activity older adults can safely enjoy even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, gardening doesn’t require a large plot of land to reap the mental and physical health benefits.
Health Benefits of Gardening for Seniors
The health benefits of planting and tending to a garden are many. It’s a hobby that is linked to lower blood pressure, better core strength, and reduced stress. Of course, that’s in addition to having fresh flowers to bring indoors all summer long and a bounty of homegrown herbs and vegetables.
Seniors with limited space or a mobility challenge can plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables in containers and raised beds. It’s a great way to connect with nature when the weather in your area permits.
Container Gardening Tips for Seniors
Containers, window boxes, and raised flower beds all lend themselves to senior-friendly gardens. You can make it even easier by choosing resin or plastic blend pots that are lighter to move than those made from concrete or terra-cotta.
Here are a few tips about growing herbs, vegetables, or flowers in containers. These can help you keep your pots thriving all through the season:
- Favorite plants: Do you love the cheerfulness of a geranium or a petunia? Or is the simplicity of a Gerber daisy more your style? You’ll want to flip through garden magazines or visit sites like Proven Winners for ideas. You will also need to consider the light in your designated space. Is your patio or the area where you’ll place your containers in full sun? Or is it mostly in shade? Your garden’s success depends on matching the plant’s sun/shade requirements with your space.
- Container choice: Another important factor for your container garden is the pot you will use. Some containers are better than others. If you use a metal container and it is placed in full sun, the roots may overheat. A pot made out of wood treated with chemicals might result in those chemicals leeching into the soil your herbs or vegetables grow in. If your plants have deep roots, you’ll need a taller container. The opposite is true if you plan to grow flowers in a hanging basket which isn’t very deep.
- Good soil: The foundation of a thriving container garden is healthy soil. For containers, an organic material that holds water is best. Check your local garden center to see if they carry a region-specific mix. It’s a good way to ensure the soil you use is appropriate for where you live. If you can’t find one, most home improvement stores sell prepackaged potting soil offered by name brands like Miracle-Gro. Look for one specifically designed for use with container gardens.
- Proper drainage: Another garden essential is drainage. This is what protects the roots of a plant from rotting. If your container doesn’t have drainage holes, you can usually add them. Placing a small piece of screen over the hole will keep the dirt from washing away. If it’s not possible to drill holes, cover the bottom of the pot with a layer of stone or gravel.
A raised or elevated bed is another senior-friendly gardening solution, especially for those who struggle with balance or mobility. These kits can be purchased at a local lumber store or at online gardening sites, such as Gardener’s Supply.
In addition to the tips outlined above, here are a few more suggestions to help you plan your raised garden bed:
- Depth: A raised bed should be deep enough to accommodate 6–12 inches of soil. Keep that in mind when you are deciding which kit to purchase. Soil that is a combination of topsoil, coconut coir (for drainage), and compost is a good choice for raised garden beds. It might also help to add a top layer of mulch once you finish planting. This will protect moisture in the soil so you don’t have to water as often.
- Drainage: Like container gardens, good drainage is a necessity. Make sure to add drainage holes or a layer of crushed stone or pea gravel to the bottom of the raised bed.
- Plants: Research which plants perform best in raised beds. A general rule of thumb is to opt for root vegetables, such as carrots, radishes, and beets, and leafy greens.
One last tip to remember is that container gardens and raised beds will require more frequent watering than in-ground gardens. If it’s tough for you to drag a hose or watering can around, try to locate your garden near a water source.
Stay Safe Gardening
You’ll want to know and follow a few safety precautions. Stay hydrated, especially on hot, humid days. Also, wear sunscreen and a hat that shields your face. Finally, plan your gardening tasks for early morning or evening so you can avoid being outdoors during the hottest times of day.
Whether you decide to grow a traditional garden or to create one in a container, having the right tools matters. The article, 6 Garden Tools That Can Help Keep an Older Gardener Safe, offers some suggestions you might find helpful, too.