Is gardening a pain in the (insert body part here)? Try these helpful tips.
While April showers often bring May flowers, oftentimes they also bring back and joint pain. Gardening is one of the greatest joys of spring after a long winter, but the uncomfortable positions and repetitive motions it entails can make it prohibitive for people suffering from chronic pain. But with some quick tips and small shifts in your habits, you can keep your garden beautiful and celebrate spring with less pain!
Your gardening pain “rights”
By making three “right choices,” you can ease the pain of gardening.
1. Start with the right tools.
It might seem necessary for planting and gardening to be done in the ground. But raised planter beds can still be as beautiful and fruitful as an in-ground garden! By lifting your workspace even just 18 inches, you can eliminate most of the crouching and bending that leads to pain flare-ups and prohibits continual gardening. A raised bed only requires about 8 inches of soil to fully support plant root growth, and you should keep the width of the bed only about 3 feet (no wider than you can reach across without strain). If you are committed to an in-ground garden, you can still minimize the time needed at ground level by utilizing a potting bench for the seeding and transplanting process. And the trellises and wire cages that some plants (like tomatoes, zucchinis and ivies) require also have the added benefit of being safer for your back, knees, and hips.
In addition to your planting space, the hand tools you use can be modified to minimize gardening pain. “Squeeze handle” hoses and sprayers can be a major problem for some kinds of chronic pain. You can easily find options online for electric push-button sprayers, easy-trigger continual sprayers, or pump sprayers instead. Likewise, do a little trial and error to find the trowels and hoes that address your issues best. Handles of varying materials and thickness, push-versus-pull varieties, and different shaft heights can all create a custom fit for your needs.
Finally, consider support tools like wagons for pulling everything you need at once, rather than making multiple hand-held trips, scooters for moving yourself through the garden with ease, and kneelers and stools to let your legs rest while you still keep up the work. With an arsenal of tools at the ready, your body doesn’t have to take a beating!
2. Choose the right plants.
First, prioritize plants that will bring you joy and be worth the effort. By focusing on fewer plants, but ensuring you love everything you’ve chosen, you’ll be more satisfied by your garden in the long run. You can also opt for plants that you’ll actually need—vegetables that you know you’ll use in your cooking, for example. Make your work count!
Additionally, you can make strategic choices in plants that will require less hands-on time. Resilient crops can survive longer stretches without care, so if you do need to take a break, your garden won’t go to ruin. Try hearty greens like kale and swiss chard, tough rhubarb, or self-sufficient berries—blackberries and raspberries seem to take on a mind of their own, even for the most engaged of gardeners! You can also benefit from potted fruit trees—put them on wheeled stands to make catching the right sunlight easy.
Remember, it’s not just the plant itself that can make your life easier—it’s the ground that it’s grown in. And there are some simple steps for optimizing your soil while minimizing your strain. Composting, tilling, mulching—these are all things to consider when you want less gardening pain. Choosing a “no-till” style of garden takes some planning, but it can definitely reduce the amount of time you’ll spend working the soil. To start a no-till bed, you’ll need clear land, or a newly laid raise bed. Add a thick layer of mulch or already-rotted organic matter—this will help prep the soil for your planting! As your garden grows, continue to layer on mulch. You’ll find that in time, fewer weeds will ever make their way to the surface, which means less bending and plucking for you.
You can also look into compost tumblers or tabletop composters to improve your soil with less effort. They come in a variety of price points, so most gardeners can find the tool they want in the budget they need.
3. Set the right mindset.
While many people see gardening as a solitary activity, if doing all the work on your own seems overwhelming, it doesn’t have to be! At the beginning of the season, throw a garden party, where your friends and family can come help with the initial labor of setting up the garden. Then, as you tend to it throughout the season, you can use sessions as a chance to socialize one-on-one with a helpful assistant. It’s a great way to keep in touch while keeping active. And everyone would appreciate the benefit of taking home a few of those extra zucchini or cucumbers that always seem to pop up! You can also consider joining a community garden. You’ll have your own plot of space, but there are always enough people around to help manage an unwieldy vine or out-of-control weed patch.
You also don’t have to attack gardening in marathon sessions. Even if you’re looking forward to a long afternoon in the sunshine, plan accordingly. Set a timer for reasonable stretches—consider how long it would take to weed one or two rows—and be firm in taking breaks. It’s easy to lose yourself in the intricate details of gardening, so something that will physically pull you from your focus can be a helpful tool. Take the chance to stand up, stretch, and assess your pain level—if you feel fine, you might jump back into the same activity for another round. If you’re a bit creaky, move to a different task that will give your muscles and joints a break, or just sit back and enjoy a glass of water for a bit.
Yes, water—just as much as your garden needs it, you must stay mindful about hydration as well to minimize your pain. Plan ahead with a bottle you can sip from all day and try to finish it by the time you wrap up your session. And at the end of the day, water can benefit you in a different way—in the form of a soothing, warm bath that will relax your muscles and prepare you for another day of tending to your flowers!
By knowing your “rights,” you can successfully tend a garden while managing your chronic pain. Don’t miss out on one of springtime’s greatest joys—just plan ahead and you’ll benefit from a thriving crop!