Henrico County VA

In the garden

Gardening in comfort

Let’s be honest. Sometimes gardening can be a pain – in your knees, your shoulders, your neck and your back. But gardening doesn’t have to be such a painful experience if you plan ahead and do a few simple things to take care of yourself while you work.

First, think about when you plan to work outside. You’ll want to work during the time of day when you feel best. Obviously, mornings are usually cooler, but if your best time is in the heat of afternoon, you’ll need to be especially careful to drink plenty of water, take rest breaks, and not push yourself when you’re hot and tired.

Dress for the activity. Protect your skin with an effective sunblock, a hat and gloves. Wear shoes or boots that fit well to provide stability and support for your feet and ankles, and use knee pads or knee braces if you have trouble with your knees.

And plan your work. “My personal favorite suggestion is to do one activity for half an hour, then change and do something different,” says Henrico Master Gardener Janie Vincent. “People don’t think about it, but if you’ll rotate your activities you won’t end up with such sore muscles.”

Henrico Master Gardener Pat Green also suggests using ergonomic tools to help save muscles. A few of her favorites include long-handled pruning shears, a trowel with a 4-foot handle, and a rake and a hoe with second handles that allow her to comfortably use both her hands when raking or hoeing.

“I also have a plastic tractor-like seat that rocks so that I can reach into the garden without having to bend over,” she says.

Green says she looks at the ads in gardening publications and visits garden stores to find tools that have been modified to make gardening easier.

“I’m 82,” says Green, “And I enjoy working in my garden. Right now, my garden is beautiful.”

Green says she planned her garden with an eye to reducing workload over time. “Once you have the bones of your garden in place and you’ve put in a lot of perennials, you don’t have as much work each year,” she says.

“You have to get the garden in when you’re young enough to do it so that you can enjoy it when you get older,” she adds with a laugh.

Green also uses pots in her garden and on her deck.

“I love pots,” she says. “They provide an up-close display, you can easily control the quality of the soil, and you can locate them so that it’s comfortable to work with them.” In her garden, Green often puts her pots on pedestals.

The Virginia Cooperative Extension Service has other suggestions for making work in the garden easier. Use a wheelbarrow or cart to haul tools and supplies around the garden, and consider wearing a carpenter’s apron with pockets for carrying small tools. Weed after irrigating or rain because weeds will be easier to pull out of moist
soil. And keep pruners sharp to make cutting easier.

And, of course, ask for help or hire someone for those jobs that are just too difficult.

Gardening can provide great exercise and reduce stress. It’s an activity you should enjoy.
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