Some of us are dedicated to growing our own vegetables, others take pride in the prettiest flowers. Still others are offended by the very concept of grass. Regardless, most of us will have to do some yard work at some point, so we might as well do it as effortlessly as possible, right?
Flowers, Veggies, and Other Ornamentals
Time to fertilize flowers, vegetables, and other plants? Using lightweight granules instead of a water-based fertilizer can reduce some of the strain on your muscles.
Learn to look at your flowering plants in a new light. By letting flowers go to seed naturally and not spending your time and energy deadheading fading blooms, you both provide food and habitat for tiny critters and allow a new kind of beauty to develop in your garden. Or bring them inside for unusual dried arrangements – after all, many seed pods are strikingly attractive, and they last much longer indoors than do cut flowers.
Consider growing mint, inside in a small pot or outside, as you prefer. Dried or fresh, the leaves make an excellent tea to soothe a sore stomach: just pour boiling water over the leaves and let steep. Mint is ridiculously easy to grow – if you let it, it’ll take over your yard (relieving you of grass-cutting obligations).
Flowering annuals can indeed be beautiful, but they often require significant maintenance. Incorporating more perennials into your garden can free up some time and energy for other needs without sacrificing vibrant color.
Hanging vegetable and flower planters at a convenient height can reduce the strain of lifting and bending. Try a lightweight container, like Granny’s Garden Socks – they can be hung almost anywhere and can be filled with nonporous materials to weigh less. Try planting with salad greens or herbs and placing near your door to help out with a quick dinner.
Planning a fall or winter vegetable crop? Depending on the variety and your climate, seeds may need to be planted as early as June. Plant as closely to your doors as possible to limit the time you spend outside in inclement weather. Try using hanging baskets and containers so that plants aren’t waterlogged by heavy precipitation. And most importantly, make sure that the seeds you’ve selected are suitable for fall and winter gardening!
Installing raised beds in your garden can eliminate much of the stooping and bending that are essential to traditional, in-ground gardening. The higher the growing surface, the more easily you can work in the soil. Note that raised beds are perfect for growing root vegetables, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and daikon radishes.
Applying a lightweight mulch can drastically reduce your weeding and watering needs while helping your garden look neat and organized. We particularly like mulches made from the hulls of cocoa beans (although be wary if you have pets), hazelnut shells, and recycled tires, but there are all kinds of options.
Planting new trees and shrubs is a wonderful experience in so many ways. However, it can often be painful. Try starting out with younger (i.e., lighter) specimens, and consider growing dwarf varieties – a wide range of fruit trees are now available in this format, putting fresh fruit within reach of more people. And planting trees and shrubs in containers helps your body in two ways: you’re not digging a large hole in solid ground, and you don’t have to bend down as low to care for the growing plant. If you’re not sure which varieties are best suited for container growing, ask the staff at your favorite nursery for recommendations and tips.
When potting plants, consider mixing some sort of lightweight, nonporous material into the soil. Packing peanuts or empty soda bottles work just fine, or you can try Packing Pearls. Remember that a major reason that potted plants are so heavy is because of the water absorbed by the soil: when you incorporate non-organic materials, you’ll have to water (and maybe fertilize) more frequently.
Planting fall annuals like petunias and zinnias can add a delightful burst of color to your yard. Unfortunately, they don’t last long: one good frost and most annuals give up the ghost – which means you have to clean up the remains and find something to cover up the bare spaces. This fall, consider planting fall perennials: some bear flowers, while others have foliage that changes color with the seasons. Either way, once established these plants will be reasonably permanent, meaning that aside from deadheading spent flower heads (if you choose to), they’ll look great year-round with a minimum of care. Don’t forget to incorporate shrubs and small trees into your space, too!
Gardening Health and Safety
Avoid gardening and yard work when it’s too hot or humid for your body. Some tasks, like watering or picking vegetables and flowers, are better done in the early morning or evening anyway.
Staying properly hydrated is critical to working outdoors during summer heat. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your time outside. Some people may prefer to add a tiny amount of salt and/or sugar to their glass, while others might stick to a sports drink – it’s up to you!
Working in the yard? Try tucking a damp cloth – a bandanna is traditional, but cloth napkins and kitchen or hand towels also work well – into the back of your hat, covering your neck.
If you are sensitive to certain chemicals, inspect the labels on your favorite lawn and garden supplements (fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, and so on). Check your grass seed, too, if it contains anything besides seed: many brands offer seeding products that include fertilizers and other substances for stronger growth and development.
Plan your yardwork around both your health and the weather outside. Work in the shade when you can (heat is so fatiguing!), and if five minutes’ work is all you can manage, then five minutes’ work is plenty.
General Yard and Garden Tips
Like animals? Try adding a bird feeder or squirrel feeder outside your favorite window. Try out different combinations of seed and suet, and keep a notebook listing which animals are attracted to what foods.
Give yourself permission to have a messier yard. For instance, maybe you don’t really need to deadhead spent flowers: they could provide food or habitat for beneficial insects. Reconsider the amount of time and effort you spend on your lawn: maybe it doesn’t have to be cut or watered so frequently. And many shrubs look great even when shaggy.
Place your favorite plants near your front door or outside a convenient window: they’ll brighten your day each time you see them, and you can easily monitor their needs.
When selecting a new wheelbarrow or wheeled cart – and these are wonderful additions to any home, not just great gardeners’ aids – make sure to choose one with two wheels and two legs. That way, the cart won’t roll away from you when you need it. Remember that while lightweight plastic carts and barrows are inexpensive and easy to manipulate, they are more easily tipped over than heavier metal versions.
If you’re an avid gardener who can no longer manage the upkeep, it may be time to prioritize. You could delegate straightforward jobs, like lawn care, to a service: this will free up your time and energy for the tasks which give you the most satisfaction. Or you could scale back your plans. If you grow vegetables and flowers, perhaps stick with one or the other – or focus on just your favorites of both. If your garden is expansive, try focusing on the areas closest to your home: you’re likely to see and enjoy these plantings more regularly than those further away. Turning to container plants (and even some great trees are suitable for container growth) is another possibility.
Weeding can be tough on sore arms and shoulders. The Weed Hound makes this somewhat easier: standing (mostly) upright, you step down onto the tool, forcing the sharp tines into the soil around the selected weed, then pull back up and smack the plunger to release the weed into a bucket. This device works particularly well on long-rooted weeds, like dandelions and their kin. A caveat, though: while this is easier and faster than many other weeding techniques, using the Weed Hound can still make you pretty sore. If you become sore, then maybe you should take a break – the weeds will still be there tomorrow.
Hauling heavy garden hoses is fatiguing, but installing a proper irrigation system can be expensive. Narrow-gauge coiled garden hoses are much lighter than traditional garden hoses as well as less likely to kink – they tangle quickly, but they untangle just as quickly. These hoses are available at most hardware stores and garden centers.
Get prepared for autumn leaves with the Snake Rake, ergonomically designed so you can rake while standing upright – eliminating the painful bending we often associate with fall color. Lightweight and adjustable, the Snake Rake is suitable for left- or right-handed users.