Gardening is a lifelong love for 79-year-old Anne, a former landscape architect. Every April, Anne starts work on her flower garden. “The first couple of weeks are really hard,” she admits. “But it’s fun.” For her, the results are worth the effort. “You have lovely flowers you can pick and enjoy in your house all year long.”
Gardeners and scientists agree — gardening sprouts happiness and helps you heal faster. Maybe it’s the basic connection with the earth or maybe the pleasure you get from nurturing a living thing. Perhaps it’s just breathing in all that fresh air. Simply looking at plants and trees can help you cope with pain — people can tolerate pain longer and with less medication when they have access to nature.
Then how is it your back is killing you after a day in the yard? And why do your hands hurt when holding that spade? Gardening is supposed to help you heal, not lay you up in bed for three days! You can enjoy your hobby without hurting. Take the ache out of planting and pruning with these pain management ideas and smart gardening tips.
Let your garden tools do the work for you — not the other way around. These clever ideas help make heavy tasks light.
1. No more kneeling and crouching to create holes for bulbs and seeds! Turn an old walking stick, metal-tipped cane, or broom handle into a tool called a dibble. Draw thick black lines around your dibble in 1-inch increments, starting at the bottom. As you walk through your garden, jab the end into the ground to create a perfect hole for planting. You can even mark the correct depth for your holes by wrapping a rubber band around your tool at the right height.
2. Planting seeds doesn’t have to be a pain in the neck — not if you make your own seed planter. All you need is a pole of PVC piping about the length of a cane. Stand up straight and place the far end of the pipe in the soil where you want your seed. Drop the seed in the pipe’s other end and watch it plop right in place.
3. Shop for ergonomic garden tools, with large, easy-to-hold handles, or make DIY improvements to your old ones. Wrap a strip of rubber-mesh shelf liner around tool handles and secure it in place with rubber bands. This makes the handles thicker and easier to grasp. The same trick also works with foam pipe insulation and electrical tape. Just slip the insulation over the end of a rake or trowel and use electrical tape to hold it in place.
4. Don’t pass up that old golf bag and cart you find at a yard sale! The bag makes a perfect caddy for your long-handled garden tools, such as rakes and shovels. Plus, your gloves and hand tools will fit neatly in the side pockets. The cart makes it easy to move the bag around your yard.
5. Instead of carrying around a heavy pump sprayer, put it on a push cart for golf bags and wheel it through your garden. The cart is made to roll on grass, and the sprayer should sit well on it. Depending on the cart, you might need duct tape or a bungee cord to help secure the sprayer.
6. Turn a plastic outdoor garbage can into a corral for hoes, rakes, and pitchforks. Drill large holes through the lid with a spade bit, making them big enough to slide tool handles through. If your garbage can doesn’t already have wheels, roll your new tool caddy around the yard by strapping it to a hand truck.
7. Carry small gardening tools in a 5-gallon bucket. As a bonus, you can flip it over and sit on it as you weed, plant, or just take a breather. Hook the bucket handle to your wheelbarrow with an S-hook, and you won’t even have to carry it.
8. Attach a plastic window box to your wheelbarrow for a more permanent tool holder — just a couple of screws will do. Drill through the bottom of the window box into the handles of the wheelbarrow, or use the drainage holes if they line up right. Pop in the screws, and off you go. Keep small tools, your water bottle, and even your cellphone within easy reach.
9. Turn children’s toys into garden helpers. Fill that old play wagon with mulch and fertilizer. Stack small items on a plastic sled. Pulling and dragging these are easier on your back than trying to carry them.
10. Kneepads aren’t just for risky sports. Wear them in the garden and you won’t have to bend to move a knee cushion every time you reposition.
Don’t just treat back and muscle pain after you hurt yourself. Prevent injuries in the first place with these smart moves.
Take a short walk and do a few stretches to warm up your muscles before you hit the yard. Switch tasks every 30 minutes or so to keep from overworking specific joints and muscles.
Keep your back straight when you rake, and move your arms and legs smoothly. Don’t bend and twist as you work. Your job may take longer, but your back will appreciate it.
Avoid stooping or bending over whenever possible. Instead, get closer to the ground by sitting on an upside-down crate or a kitchen step stool.
Let your legs and knees do the lifting, not your back. Bend your knees and squat, keeping your back straight, when you lift heavy bags of fertilizer or soil.
Take frequent breaks to stop and stretch, especially if you spend a lot of time kneeling. Stand up and stretch your back, wrists, and forearms. Shake your hands for 15 seconds to relax the muscles in your hands and arms.
Work smarter, not harder! Ditch dull blades and high-maintenance plants. Make gardening easier on your body while still making your yard the envy of the neighborhood.
- Keep cutting tools, like loppers and hand-held pruners, sharp so you don’t strain your hands, arms, and shoulders while using them.
- Switch to growing plants in small, raised beds. Make sure you can reach the center of the bed easily and without straining when you sit on the outer rim. If raised beds won’t work for you, consider container gardening.
- Give climbing veggies their own trellis. They’ll grow upward rather than sprawl along the ground, saving you from kneeling and reaching.
- Plant perennials, bulbs, or annuals that reseed themselves without your help. You’ll still get beautiful flowers, but you won’t have to replant every year.
Remember — you don’t have to finish everything in one day. Set small goals. If stooping to pull weeds aggravates your back, then limit your weeding to 20 minutes at a time. Every spring, Anne has plenty of cleanup, trimming, and planting to do. But she’s savvy enough to pace herself. As she says, “Don’t try to tackle the whole thing the first day.”