Gardening is a great, healthy, and often delicious pastime, but arthritis, limited mobility, and other issues related to age and/or disability can present challenges.
In this article I’ve compiled the best advice I’ve found from family, friends, and avid gardeners on forums about how people overcome their challenges and the discoveries they’ve made to enjoy gardening.
Update History of This Article
The Health Benefits of Gardening as We Age
If gardening is something you enjoy, it’s worth the investment of time, energy, and a bit of money to continue to enjoy it in spite of any challenges. Keep these strong motivators in mind if you’re on the fence about taking it up and/or continuing in spite of any challenges that you may face:
- We can adjust our gardening style and goals to our abilities and energy levels. That’s what this page is all about; there are a huge range of gardening possibilities, inside and outside, with different types of plants and places to put them, and ways to deal with all kinds of limitations in movement.
- It’s good for the mind. Gardening is a meditative act, in touch with other living things. It allows you to disconnect from stress and worries and be in the simple moment of helping plants to thrive. Growing fruits and vegetables also helps you be more connected and thoughtful about your food choices.
- It’s good for the body in that it provides exercise that can be adjusted to an individual’s capacities. For seniors in particular, gardening has health benefits including preventing osteoporosis and reducing the risk of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, depression, and heart disease. Even just viewing nature brings down blood pressure and slows the heart rate. Taking part in gardening four or more hours per week has even been shown to reduce the chance of death in older adults with heart disease.
- It’s a cheap pastime and can even come out a net positive on your balance sheet. We suggest a few basic tools on this page that may be worth your dime, plus you’ll need seeds and some other basics. But you’ll hardly spend as much on this hobby as you would on most others. And growing organic vegetables and herbs yourself is generally much cheaper than buying them, so you are quite likely to come out way ahead in your final accounting.
- It’s tasty; the freshness of something in your garden or windowsill will always be superior. This is, for me, the number one reason to garden—in particular I can ensure access to herbs for cooking that may not always be available fresh in stores.
Tips for Different Abilities and Seniors
Given the benefits above, it’s not surprising that people with all kinds of limitations still take great joy and persist against any challenges in keeping their gardens going. People who max out at lifting a few pounds, have limited eyesight, rounding their ’90s, etc. still inspire us with their passion for their plants (and venom for weeds and malicious critters). Here are a few tips we’ve gathered from the greats:
- Adjust from day to day and year to year based on your changing abilities. Just because you can’t take on exactly the same plants or tend as large a garden as the year before doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel now. Find what you’re still capable of and celebrate those abilities and their results.
- Warm up as you would with other exercise. Start with smaller movements and gradually work up to larger, more complex, and heavier movements.
- Take breaks as often as needed. Use them to enjoy your plants and the fruits of what you’ve done so far. Set aside an area in your garden for sitting and appreciating.
- Share the gardening adventure with others. Partners and groups help each other out, give advice and motivation, and are more fun. Many senior centers, community centers, and neighborhood organizations sponsor such groups. Better yet, rope in some friends and start your own.
- Create an environment that plays to your abilities. This might mean gardening inside on a raised table next to a window, on a terrace or patio, or using a raised garden bed. Get help, as necessary, creating a setup that you can more easily reach and manipulate and that will allow you to do as much as possible on your own.
- Get adaptive gardening tools: As we detail further below, there are a variety of tools that can enable you to garden comfortably while protecting your knees, wrists, etc. and working at a height and in a way that harnesses your abilities.
Styles for Growing Plants Made Easier
Here are a few of the popular gardening styles that can make gardening more accessible in older age and for those with different abilities:
- No-dig gardening: This can involve, for example, setting out layers of cardboard (overlapping, so no light comes through) over a section of weeds or grass, putting a layer of compost on top of that, covering it with a tarp, waiting a few months, and then removing the tarp and planting.Charles Dowding has a book on the many options and how to succeed; with adaptations this can also be done in smaller areas and with immediate planting without wait times.
- Low-maintenance lawns and gardens: Low-Maintenance Vegetable Gardening, which discusses what you can plant to ensure success that goes straight to the dinner plate without planting more than you can handle, and, if you wish, using elevated planters (including how to build them).
- Raised planters: These can be installed in a height and location, inside or outside, that makes them accessible to work with; we detail options below.
- Vertical gardens:Vertical Vegetables.
The Best Tools for Gardening with Disabilities, Limited Mobility, and Arthritis
A little bit of experimenting is in order to find what is right for your abilities and needs. We’ve gathered together a range of ideas here to help inspire you and see that there are indeed tools out there that seniors and people with disabilities have made work for all sorts of gardening, in various climates, at different intensity levels, and indoors or outdoors.
We’ve selected the most frequently recommended and quality tools we know of, but clicking through to any particular one that seems interesting will also likely lead you to other options from the same or similar brands, which may be even more attuned to your specific needs. There is a world of options.
A Lightweight, Portable Stool/Kneeling Device with Tool Pockets
The hardest part about kneeling on the ground can be getting into and out of the position; this recommended Garden Kneeler and Seat offers handles on both sides and a sturdy, cushioned surface for your knees. Flip it over, and you have a seat to work from or rest.
Crucially, this particular version is lightweight at 7.7 pounds / 3.5 kilos. There are removable tool pockets on each side and rubber feet to prevent slippage when using inside on hard floors; they protect grass beds to some extent as well. It supports a weight of up to 300 pounds / 136 kilos and its total width is fine for larger frames at 22.8 inches / 58 centimeters.
Depending on how you use it, the included tool pouches may not be so useful. If you use it only as a stool or only as a kneeler, the pouches are very handy. But if you’re using it as both and flipping it over a lot, you’ll want to get a separate bag or bucket for carrying any tools.
Tools for Weeding without Bending OverFiskars 3-Claw Garden Weeder, which we have reviewed alongside other options for weeding without bending over. It is both sturdy and precise, allowing you to yank a weed and only a weed out by the roots without getting close to the ground. Other key options that we covered are the CobraHead Long Handle for weeds with matted roots (be sure to get the right length of handle for you), and a more standard but excellent Rogue Heavy Duty Hoe.
Raised Planters for Indoor and Outdoor Use
Instead of bending over to garden, you can bring the garden up to you with raised planters or garden beds.Foyuee Raised Planter. There’s a handle and a shelf underneath for tool storage. Older users report being able to assemble this without much fuss. With a 2.5 cubic foot / 70.8 liter capacity, there’s plenty of space for carrots, onions, tomatoes, and other vegetables, and of course herbs and flowers.Land Guard Raised Garden Bed. It is built for the rain and wind from a galvanized sheet, stainless steel shelf, and aluminum alloy legs, and so should stand up to the elements for longer than similar wooden options. The capacity is 48 gallons / 182 liters, so there is plenty of space for a range of vegetables. Setup involves inserting and turning screws into pre-drilled holes.
Raised Planters for Front-Facing Wheelchair Access
Any of the raised planters above can work for wheelchair access if you’re OK with coming alongside the planter and turning your body, but it would be more comfortable to be able to wheel up to the plants directly and sit at them as if at a desk. However, many wheelchairs need more clearance underneath than what planters provide.
To get the right fit, if you’re using a wheelchair you can check against your specific chair’s measurements; the ADA table requirements will be useful for most: at least 27 inches of clearance underneath and 30 inches wide between the vertical supports. We haven’t found good, generally available raised planters fitting those descriptions; there was an interesting attempt to do so by some artists in France but it was not produced for wide distribution and unfortunately cost more than $1000 per unit.planter boxes on top of them.
Indoor Vertical Wall PlanterIndoor Waterproof Planter, can be used inside without making (too much of) a mess as, crucially, it has a waterproof backing and base. Installation is as simple as hanging it from a few sturdy hooks or nails.
The planter is made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottles and works particularly well for herbs in areas that get at least some sunlight. Before planting, observe how much light the wall that you want to use gets throughout the day, and select your plants for the twelve pockets accordingly. It’s about a bit under a yard (75×85 cm) wide and tall, which puts a nice range of growing options in reach at whatever height is suitable.
There are plenty of other options to consider as well for vertical planters that are more decorative, larger, or for outdoor growing.
Hand Tools for Easier Gardening (Especially with Arthritis)
The tools recommended earlier for either sitting and kneeling or raised planters are often useful for those with arthritis. In addition, your friends may be tools with longer and/or easier-to-grip handles and that are lighter weight.Rachet Pruning Shears multiply your grip strength to provide more pressure to cut through branches and are ergonomic for both the right and left hands. There are a few options to select based on your hand size and strength and the types of branches you will be cutting.Fiskars SoftGrip Pruner—the same brand as the weeder we like so much.Fiskars Bypass Lopper is sharp, 28-inches, and 2.6 pounds, with comfortable non-slip handles and bumpers that absorb the shock at the end of a cut.Copper Compression Arthritis Gloves provide support and mobility while gardening are completely washable afterwards. Getting the right fit is key; these come in a range of sizes and support options.
Specialists for Seeds, Plants, and Other Supplies
Garden stores aren’t always the most accessible places; fortunately nearly anything you could want is also available online. We’ve found a great selection at Ferry Morse and Burpee, as well as of course Amazon.
And for Listening to Podcasts or Music While Gardening…
There’s something to be said for quiet, contemplative gardening. But there’s also a lot to be said for enjoying music, podcasts, or even learning Italian from an audio program (that’s my favorite, you may have other languages or subjects in mind) while you’re pulling weeds or planting.Ultimate Ears Boom 3; it’s completely IP67 dustproof and waterproof and about the size of a tall soda can. It can kick out a truly impressive and engaging amount of sweet-sounding, evenly balanced music, even in the outdoors, and is of course great for podcasts too. It’s the one I turn to most when gardening, and I also think it’s the best travel speaker, for much the same reasons.the original Tribit Stormbox Micro and would now recommend its successor: the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2. It’s IP67 dustproof and waterproof (so easy to get dirty and clean off) and sounds excellent and loud for a palm-sized speaker.Jabra Elite 7 Active earbuds, which sound great, have both noise cancelling and hear-through (best for safety when outside) modes, and work well for calls too.Bose Soundwear Companion. It’s excellent for both music and calling, but rather expensive. There are some cheaper alternatives to the Bose Soundwear Companion as well.
The Right Tools and Wisdom for Your Abilities?
We’ve shared the best that we’ve found above, but hope to hear from readers and update this article frequently based on your suggestions, as there are so many different ways to approach gardening at any age and ability level.
We read all comments and promise to update the article accordingly throughout the growing seasons.