Pros and Cons of Gardening for the Elderly

Many everyday tasks become harder as people age. Gardening, for instance, involves stretching, stooping, kneeling, bending, and flexing, but these actions become incrementally more challenging the older one becomes.

Gardening time should be quality time, but many seniors experience discomfort or reduced capacity in vision, flexibility, and endurance.

Vision is affected when the aging natural lenses become less flexible or by diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.

A simple change like opting for brightly colored garden tools and implements overcomes this problem, and if you do not want to invest in buying new garden tools, you can simply paint the handles with red, yellow or other vivid colors of paint.

Encourage mobility and prevent injury by stretching gently prior to gardening. Doing a few easy exercises each day keeps the body flexible while making stooping and bending easier. Working in the garden is a good way for the elderly to stay active, meet their need for some type of exercise, and keep both mind and body in better health. Here’s what you need to know and do to benefit from this popular senior pastime.

Container gardens are portable and can be placed at just the right height for any elderly gardener

Container Gardens and Indoor Gardens: Great Ideas for Gardening for Seniors
Credit: Image copyright 2012 by Donna Cosmato, all rights reserved

Best Tools for Gardening for the Elderly

Take Advantage of Assistive Technology

Specially designed garden tools for the elderly such as like long reach implements or gadgets with adaptive grips reduce the need for stretching and conserve precious energy.

Think small but sturdy: Sturdy, child size tools fit elderly hands better and accommodate those individuals that may have shrunk somewhat in height. They are lightweight, easy to lift and wield and do not tire seniors out as quickly.

Need to sit down? Garden stools and kneeling mats are other creative tools for special need situations. For instance, consider investing in a garden stool that also stores garden implements and converts into a kneeling mat to make garden management less demanding.

Ergonomic garden tools: Tool manufacturers offer implements with adaptive grips and handles for common tools like trowels, forks, and cultivators. These gadgets, some of which are oversized and perfect for decreased vision needs, have easy-to-grasp handles. Squeezing them requires less effort, and they are easier to use for sustained periods than conventional items.

Mobility aids: Mobility aids like walking sticks can be used for support while moving around the garden or to help people stand erect from a kneeling position.

How to Build a Raised Vegetable Garden Bed

Top Tips for the Elderly Gardener

Change Gardening Methods

Consider using accessible gardening methods such as:

  • Raised bed gardening
  • Indoor herb gardens
  • Vertical gardens
  • Container gardening
  • Tabletop gardening

Raised bed gardens put crops at the proper height for tending, eliminate stooping and bending, and are useful to individuals in wheelchairs. Raised vegetable garden beds can be an easy-to-access source of fresh food to tempt appetites that may not be as hearty as they once were.

Vertical gardens (think hanging baskets or vines running up fences or trellises) are self-contained and easier for seniors. As a bonus, they yield a large amount of food or flowers for a small space investment. Gardening chores are simple and harvesting a breeze.

Container gardens are probably the most popular adaptive method of gardening for the elderly. Place the containers on tabletops, windowsills, shelves or on decks for easy access. They are mobile, easy to position and the proper height for gardeners of any age.

Great plant choices: For the best results with your container gardens, choose easy to grow favorites like lettuce, radishes, and carrots or culinary herbs such as basil, dill and cilantro. Keep the containers on a sunny porch or windowsill where they can be reached easily and used for cooking.

Alternatively, you can place them on a deck or garden stool. Elevating container gardens on a surface like a gardening stool makes them accessible so seniors can get to them easily to water the plants and pick the crops.

Raised garden beds make gardening easier and more accessible for senior gardeners

Raised garden bed for vegetables
Credit: Image copyright 2012 by Donna Cosmato, all rights reserved

Tips for Planting and Watering Gardens

Great Garden Plants

All these are low-maintenance vegetables that need little weeding or cultivating, which makes them a perfect choice for the senior gardener. They germinate quickly (if planted from seeds) or transplant well if you decide to use seedlings.

  • Cabbage
  • Tomatoes
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Green peppers

Buying ready-to-plant vegetables and fruits and not fussing with tiny seeds and potting soil is another solution that gives seniors increased confidence.


Rethink or move an existing garden if necessary so the garden is as close to your water source as possible. Lugging heavy pails of water or wrestling with unwieldy garden hoses is no fun for anyone, but it is particularly exhausting and dangerous for seniors. If you cannot physically relocate the garden, considering putting a sprinkler head on the garden hose or even installing a sprinkler system.

Annuals versus Perennials

Annual plants grow for one season, die and must be replanted each succeeding year. Biennials live for two seasons, and then must be replanted. Perennials live for three or more seasons. Keep this in mind when choosing plants, vegetables and herbs to put in your garden.

If you decide to grow one or several of the longer living perennials, you’ll cut down tremendously on your yearly gardening chores. In addition, many biennials and perennials are self-sowing and will perpetuate themselves over the years.

On the other side of this coin, however, is the need to be careful to know the tendencies of a particular plant before you introduce it to your garden. An invasive plant like mint, for instance, could end up taking over your garden before you realize what happened. (Think dandelions for a word picture of the kind of havoc self-sowing, invasive plants can cause!)

Tabletop Gardening

Easy Weed Control for Senior Gardeners

Utilize Mulch to Fight the Weeds

Using mulch or landscaping fabric can drastically reduce or cut gardening chores like weeding. In addition to being a great weed-ending secret, mulch also helps the soil retain moisture better and for longer periods of time, which means you will not have to water the garden as often.

This can be a great time and energy saver, especially if you weren’t able to put your garden in close proximity to your water supply. Finally, fewer weeds mean fewer pests and insects so you won’t have to worry about using toxic chemicals to get rid of either the weeds or the pest. The less exposure you have to harsh chemicals the better as the function of the immune system may decline with aging.

Landscaping fabric or mulch cuts down on weeding chores for elderly gardeners

End Weed Problems With Landscaping Fabric
Credit: Image copyright 2012 by Donna Cosmato, all right reserved

Senior Sun Safety Tips and Tricks

Plan to do your gardening early in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid being outside when the sun and heat are the strongest, which is usually between 10 to 2. Wear items like hats, sun protective clothing, and apply sunscreen. Carry a bottle of water with you and take breaks every 10 to 15 minutes to rest and rehydrate. It is better to do a few small tasks consistently each day than to take the risk of working intensely and becoming overheated or exhausted.

Physical abilities may change but life continues, and there is no reason to give up a beloved hobby because of physical limitations.