5/10/2022 | By Annie Tobey

The inevitable changes brought about by aging don’t need to keep you from gardening and yard work if you follow these safe gardening tips for seniors.

Whether you consider working in your yard and garden as a hobby or a necessary evil, such outdoor tasks can be beneficial to mental and physical health. While aging can affect us in ways that make gardening more challenging – and even risky – these safe gardening tips for seniors can extend your years of nourishing the life of your greenery and of yourself.

12 safe gardening tips for seniors

Consider muscle and joint-related challenges

Bones, muscles, and joints are invariably impacted by aging. We lose bone mass, joints stiffen, movement can become more difficult, and our strength can decrease and reflexes may slow. Fortunately, “Exercise is one of the best ways to slow or prevent problems with the muscles, joints, and bones [and] can help you maintain strength, balance, and flexibility. Exercise helps the bones stay strong.”

These first three tips provide the helpful exercise afforded by gardening while keeping tender bones, muscles, and joints safe.

1. Stretch. Gently stretch your muscles from top to bottom before, during, and after your work in the yard or garden.

2. Focus on techniques that minimize bending and stooping.

  • Raised beds can be waist high, making them more easily accessible.
  • Vertical gardening not only minimizes stooping, the technique offers greater space for people with small yards – a benefit for older adults who have downsized – and can be an attractive addition to a yard.
  • With container gardening, you can put your pots where you can easily reach them, filling them with beautiful blooms or with healthy and tasty vegetables, herbs, and lettuces. As with vertical gardening, container gardening works for smaller spaces.

3. Bend, lift, and kneel properly and carefully. Bend at the knees – and don’t carry anything too heavy. “Avoid putting both knees on the ground,” instructs Caroline Chenoweth, occupational therapist working at long-term care homes and senior-focused family health teams. “Instead, have one knee bent in front of you and the other bent on the ground, ideally with a pad under that knee. This position encourages you to keep your back more upright without adding an extra pull on your lower back. And frequently change which knee is on the ground.”

Related: 7 tips for gardening with arthritis

Skin-safe gardening tips for seniors

Man Working In Raised Bed Garden Photo By Katie Nesling Dreamstime. Benefits of gardening for seniors include exercise, vitamin D production, stress reduction, relaxation from serotonin and dopamine, and more.

While wrinkles can be considered a badge of honor, some inevitable skin changes are more than simply aesthetic. The outer layer of the skin thins as we age. The blood vessels of the middle layer of skin become more fragile, thus more prone to bruising and similar conditions. The inner (subcutaneous) layer thins, too, resulting in less insulation and padding, increasing risk of skin injury. Less insulation, combined with sweat glands producing less sweat, reduces the body’s ability to maintain body temperature – thus greater risk of hypothermia in cold weather and heat stroke in hot weather. On top of all this, aging skin repairs itself more slowly than younger skin.

4. Use sun protection.

  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wear sunscreen.
  • Work soon after dawn or before dusk, when the sun is lower in the sky.

5. Consider the temperature. Spend time outside at the most comfortable time of day, such as early in the morning during warm weather and midday in the winter. Wear light-colored, lightweight clothes in the heat and warm layers in the cold.

6. Wear gardening gloves. Gloves are a great safety idea for gardeners of all ages, and especially for older adults.

Hydration problems for older adults

Our sense of thirst diminishes as we age, meaning we might not even know when our body needs more water. In addition, seniors have less water in their bodies than younger people. These two factors put older adults at higher risk for dehydration, a condition that can have serious health consequences.

To consider safe gardening tips for seniors and fluid needs:

7. Stay hydrated.

  • Have a drink of water before you go outside, keep a bottle of water with you outside, taking sips occasionally as you engage in gardening or yard work, and have a drink when you’re done.
  • Consider opting for a sports hydration drink, especially if you’re sweating and if it works with your dietary needs. Look for low-sugar electrolyte replacement drinks, including low-sugar coconut water or maple water.

General safe gardening tips for seniors

Fran gardening at Hermitage Richmond. The inevitable changes of aging don’t need to keep you from gardening and yard work if you follow these safe gardening tips for seniors.

8. Switch to safer tools. For example:

  • Long handles provide more leverage.
  • Ergonomic tools ease the challenges for people with arthritis or weak hands.
  • Use to a wagon rather than a wheelbarrows.
  • Avoid heavy, unwieldy, harder-to-control power tools.
  • Don’t use ladders – let someone else do work that takes you off the ground! This is especially important for older adults with balance issues and bone density loss.

Related: The 10 best gardening tools for seniors

9. Keep your phone on you at all times in case of emergency.

10. Wear a multi-pocketed gardening vest so that your hand tools, phone, water bottle, etc. are easy to access.

11. Choose easy-to-grow plants, such as native plants. Not only are native plants better for the environment and the future, they demand less maintenance, so if you can’t get out for a few days, they’ll be okay.

12. Make sure your yard is safe for a positive gardening experience.

  • Eliminate holes that could cause you to fall or twist an ankle, hidden rocks, stumps, or roots that could trip you up, and loose gravel that could slip you up.
  • Have places to sit to give yourself a break.

Until someone discovers a genuine fountain of youth, changes are inevitable as we age. Instead of letting them get you down or slow you down, acknowledge them and safeguard your health by following these safe gardening tips for seniors.

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey