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  • Dana Tutela

Gardening with Mobility Issues

Updated: 4 days ago

Digging in the dirt is good for the mind, body and spirit. My entire blog is based upon putting down roots to have a happier and healthier lifestyle. But what about people with disabilities? Or aging gardeners? Let's discuss practices and tools to assist with gardening when our bodies are physically challenged.


Use of the advice and information contained herein is at your sole choice and risk. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult your physician or healthcare provider before beginning any nutrition or exercise program. Read full disclosure here.


wheelchair man in garden

This post involved an extensive amount of research to find the most helpful tips and products for assisting aging gardeners. You will find numerous links to products and websites.

Please keep in mind that I may receive commissions at no expense to you when you click my links and make purchases. However, this does not impact my reviews and opinions. I only endorse products or services that I believe are worthy of such an endorsement.  Link to full privacy disclosure here.

My parents inspired this post and my effort to unearth the best methods for including gardeners with mobility issues.


When I began digging into this topic, I quickly realized that mobility issues can refer to a wide range of restrictions. As many of you know, I struggle with lower back pain. I've adjusted my heavy gardening chores to make them easier, but I can still do most tasks easily. On the other hand, my mother not only has the same back pain dilemma, but also arthritis in her hands and plantar fasciitis in her feet. She's not completely restricted, but her abilities are becoming more limited as she ages. Finally, my father has reached the point where he's confined to a scooter or wheelchair for mobility and has the toughest limitations to manage. My goal is to address this full spectrum effectively and to provide solutions that will help all of us to keep digging in the dirt!


two women on patio next to lemon tree

Garden Location, Accessibility and Safety


First priority for a gardener with mobility issues is to have safe access to the garden. Rocks, roots, soft sand, loose gravel and uneven pavers can pose a tripping hazard. Instead, keep the garden close to the house and provide smooth, wide and level paths to reach it. Nearly every senior that I surveyed in my gardening group told me how fundamentally important this is.


However, what if your property is rocky or sloped or your garden isn't close to your house? If your finances allow, there are a couple of solutions. One is to invest in a golf cart or side by side to transport the gardener and materials to the location. You could also use a riding lawn mower that pulls a small trailer or wagon if your physical mobility safely permits. They even make all terrain scooters if that suits your needs and budget.


man and woman in silver golf cart

More than one gardener recommended wide cement sidewalks to the garden for safe access. Several others suggested roll out pathways which I had to look up because I had never heard of them. I found one online called Mobi-Mat that looks promising. But since I haven't seen it first hand, I will withhold any evaluation or recommendation. Regardless, be safe and stick to smooth even pathways.


Speaking of safety, please please please carry a cell phone or wear a smartwatch to notify someone in the event of an emergency!


Raise the Beds


Raised garden beds are lifesavers when it comes to us aging gardeners! I've written an entire post called The Pros and Cons of Raised Beds which details several types that I have used in my own gardens over the years.


sage plants spilling over edge of metal raised bed

At this point in my life, I enjoy a variety of heights for different plants. But when my back flares up, I'm so glad I have 30" high raised beds. Shorter heights (12-24") still require one to lean over and after a while that can hurt. I absolutely love my Vego raised beds!


If you're in a wheelchair or scooter, utilize this 30" height, and keep the width to a manageable arm's reach. Consider if there will be access from all sides or not.


Several gardeners suggested handrails near the raised bed for stability especially if transferring from a scooter to a standing position. My mother added handrails to her steps leading to her lower garden area.


stone steps with black metal hand rail

The galvanized stock tank planters that I wrote about are sturdy enough to hold onto for support. Read more about them in my post DIY Galvanized Stock Tank Planter.


white metal stock tank planter raised bed with marigolds


Also, stand assist tools can help standing up after kneeling or or working in a lower raised bed. Knee pain is not fun when you try to stand up after squatting or kneeling!


Another option for gardeners restricted to a chair is the tabletop garden. Usually constructed of wood, a garden trough is shaped like a table under which a wheelchair or scooter can roll safely (27" knee clearance). I've also seen some that are horseshoe shaped with troughs on all three sides. The only downside with this option is the depth of the trough. To maintain the height for knee clearance and keep the surface of soil/plants at arm level means a shallower garden trough than typical 30" tall raised beds. If you can excuse my crude drawing, this is what it looks like:


sketch of tabletop garden wheelchair

A tabletop garden with V-shaped trough would allow for wheelchair access in front and deeper rooted plants to grow in the middle like this raised bed on Amazon.


I also found this website online called Green Circle Garden that sells plastic tabletop gardens specifically for wheelchair use. Again, I am not personally experienced with this company, but it looks like a suitable solution if your budget allows.



For gardeners who are unable to navigate outside beyond a patio or balcony, container gardens can satisfy that healthy need to dig in the dirt. Potted plants can be situated on caddies with wheels and arranged at appropriate heights to meet each gardener's individual needs. My dad likes to start seeds in small pots and care for them on his pool deck where he can see them all the time.


Did you know that part of gardening's health benefits comes from simply seeing plants? Studies show that plants in the home, workplace and medical facilities reduce stress levels and aid healing. Read about the studies on Healthline's article: A Hobby for All Seasons: 7 Science-Backed Benefits of Indoor Plants.


woman in  wheelchair with potted orchids

A wall planter is accessible from standing (or sitting if the height is lower) and can be situated on a deck, patio or balcony.


wall of plants

Read how I made my own vertical garden in DIY Hanging Herb Garden.


pin for diy hanging herb garden


Also the GreenStalk vertical tower on wheels can be maneuvered to meet the gardener's needs.


vertical garden planter on wheels

When all else fails, turn a kitchen table or desk into an impromptu gardening station with an inexpensive waterproof plant mat. I use mine for handling house plants indoors and also in my garden shed for seed starting. Soil and water is self contained in the mat for easy clean up!


red flowering plant on garden mat

Keep the Garden Manageable


Every experienced gardener knows that plants are like children or pets. They need food, water and care. Thankfully, some plants can withstand more neglect than others, but all plants will require some level of attention.


Choose Low Maintenance Plants

With this is in mind, plants in your garden should be low maintenance and hardy. Choose native plants when possible because they should thrive with less attention. Mother Nature handles most of it for you! Bonus: native plants support local pollinators and birds.


To reduce back breaking weeding chores, include ground covers in beds. They choke out weeds and reduce the need for constant mulching-another back breaking task.


garden with ground cover and gravel path

Nearby Water Source

A water supply is essential and must be accessible for the gardener with mobility issues. When my back hurts and it's scorching hot outside, the last thing I want to do is drag heavy hoses all over the yard to water my precious plants. Soaker hoses strategically placed in garden beds are a huge help.


raised garden beds with soaker hoses

I love my drip irrigation system that I installed in my kitchen garden. Not only are my raised beds prepared with drip lines, but also my individual containers. I ran lines up inside the pots through the drainage hole before filling with soil and plants. Everything is on a timer and controlled with the touch of a button. No fuss no muss. My plants are happy. My back is happy.


lettuce growing in planter with drip irrigation

Another water source solution is the retractable hose reel mounted on a wall or post. Pull it to where you need it, give it gentle tug and it reels back automatically. I personally love the Hoselink brand; I put two up in my enclosed garden. However, it is more expensive than some other brands. I also have this retractable hose reel that I purchased at a lower price point and so far it works great!


retractable hose reel

Another favorite for lightweight use is the expandable hose. This particular one expands to 75' yet weighs only 2.5 pounds! Your body will thank you for that!


Ergonomic Garden Tools

When I asked my senior gardener friends what tools they found most helpful, nearly everyone recommended ergonomic hand tools.  I found some that are shaped to utilize forearm strength and stability instead of the wrists which can be weaker. My mom advised against hand clippers that put too much pressure on the thumb joint because this is a classic sore spot for arthritic hands. She actually prefers regular bypass pruners or even household scissors for light snipping and deadheading. She also stressed that it is important to use sharp tools. Dull ones are more difficult to squeeze!


weeding in grass

Extended Garden Tools


garden tool with extension in dirt

Look for tools that are lightweight and have longer handles to avoid bending over repeatedly. A favorite among senior gardeners is Grandpa's Weeder. This tool allows you to pull weeds from a standing position. Stick the 'claw' into the weed and press the lever down with your foot; lean the tool into the lever which closes the 'claw' and pulls the weed out in one move. Genius!


weeder tool

The Grabber Tool is another helpful device that is not actually a gardening tool, but comes in extremely handy especially for chair bound gardeners. Dropped a glove or water bottle? Use this to pick it up. Works like a charm.


My mother absolutely swears by this lightweight shovel for putting in new plants and small chores that require digging.


slender red shovel in tool shed

Be Kind to Your Knees


purple garden gloves seedling and dirt

Look for kneeler pads to cushion your knees when working down on the ground. I bring mine into the garden for tasks like weeding or planting bulbs. I love the cushion and it helps keep my knees clean. When I'm ready to stand and move to the next section, this stand assist tool helps to use my upper body strength and take the pressure off my tired knees.


hand using tool to stand in yard

My next purchase will be a kneeler/seat with standing assist handles. This handy kneeler flips over to be a small padded bench. Many of my senior gardener friends highly recommended the rolling garden chair. I have not used one, but I can see the appeal for active gardeners who find it difficult to kneel or stand up repeatedly. In my opinion, this particular model could use a padded seat cushion! Be kind to your bum, too!


Battery Powered Tools


battery powered leaf blower

Trying to start a gas powered tool with a bad back or sore shoulder is downright awful! My mom was on the right track when she told me years ago to buy a battery powered leaf blower. I thought it would be weak, but it was fantastic! I use it almost every day in the fall for quick cleanup on porches and decks. I've even caught my husband using it in a pinch when he didn't want to mess with the gas leaf blower.


My mom also swears by her electric lawn mower so she can cut the small patch of grass in her dog yard and electric hedgers for easy trimming. My neighbor loves battery powered chain saws. Bottom line: when gas powered tools become too cumbersome, switch to battery powered.


Take Care of Your Body


I recently listened to one of my favorite podcasts called Ologies. The guest speaker, Dr. Lydia Jennings, said: "...there have been some interesting studies that looked at how gardeners, in particular, have lower levels of depression, in part because you’re digging into the soil and you’re inoculating yourself constantly with those soils, which have microbes that actually are really good for elevating your mood". Take a listen if you're interested! The nerd in me loved it!


We know that gardening is good for our physical and mental health. That's the whole point of this post! I want my parents to be able to get outside and reap the benefits of digging in the dirt. However, in order to enjoy these health rewards, we need to take appropriate steps to prepare and to protect our bodies before even setting foot in the dirt.


Take time to warm up your muscles with some gentle stretches.


women stretching

Wear protective clothing and durable supportive shoes. As my mother told me recently, sandals or flip flops are banned in the garden. She explained that not only do they create a fall risk, but also Murphy's Law will ensure that any sharp stick or object will find your foot!


brown boots on shelf

Our skin becomes more sensitive and thinner as we age. Wear wide brimmed hats, light scarves, SPF shirts and gardening gloves. Wear bug repellent bands to avoid bites. My mom keeps boots, an adjustable ball cap, and a box of nitrile gloves in the garage for quick yard tasks. I do the same! Apple doesn't fall far from the tree! This ginger also keeps sunscreen on her garden shelf.


woman in wide brimmed hat gardening

I absolutely love this hat with the ponytail hole! I wear it in the garden, on the boat and it packs down flat for travel to sunny destinations.


Speaking of the sun, remember to wear sunglasses. My mom has cataracts and recommends sunglasses that wrap around to the temples to prevent the 'white out' glare from the sides- another fall risk! Native sunglasses (my absolute favorites) are polarized and offer full coverage which is important to someone like me who has already endured two eye surgeries due to sun damage!


brown sunglasses on wood table

For more sun protection tips and products, read How a Ginger Gardens in the Sun.



Hydrate! We need water just as much as the plants do. Take plenty of breaks and stay hydrated. We know how easy it is to get lost in the garden zone; set a timer on your phone or watch to remind yourself to rest.


Vary your position while gardening. Repetitive motions can overuse muscles and ligaments and lead to pain.


Keep movements small and close to the body. Remember the tool extenders? Avoid reaching beyond a comfortable position even if it means not clipping that one branch that's too high. Stay safe and stay pain free.


Purchase smaller sized plants and bags of soil. Leave the big stuff to someone else.


Avoid walking backwards (ie: dragging hoses, raking, or pulling wagons) because this creates yet another fall risk. Eyes up, Buttercup!


When finished working in the garden, repeat those gentle stretches! Wash all clothing and shower immediately to avoid ticks or poison ivy. Besides, a nice warm soak is always welcome after gardening!


Enlist the Help of Others


I remember when I could throw a load of mulch all day and feel fine. Those days are long gone! Nowadays, I ask for help and in return I get to share my garden with others. My dear husband has spread more bags of rocks and carried hundreds of bags of compost to help me keep up with my garden. I am so thankful he can fill in the manual labor!


Family members, especially the young strong kids, can be a tremendous help to parents and grandparents.


family with man in wheelchair
My sister, brother and me helping our dad with yard work.

There’s no shame in hiring a landscape crew to help out weekly or seasonly. Often, coordinating with your neighbors can help negotiate better prices. I'm finding that aging is not inexpensive.


Another option is to check with local church groups and schools. Many parishioners and students are fulfilling community service hours and might be able to clock some hours with manual labor. When our daughter was going through the Sacrament of Confirmation, she and her fellow confirmand helped paint the inside of my gardening shed as part of their service hours. My back was extremely grateful! Not to mention, it was good for the girls to help out someone in need. Win! Win!


girls painting shed white

Mobility limitations don't have to mean the end of digging in the dirt. These tips and tools can help all of us to garden and to enjoy the benefits of putting down roots!


happy ladies in gardening

Additional Resources:


What are your favorite tips for working in the garden with mobility or aging concerns? Please leave a comment to help your fellow gardeners!


Enjoy the rewards of hard work in the garden, by taking time to relax!


redhead sitting at turquoise table in garden






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2 Yorum


tuteladana
10 Mar

Thank you!

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otutela
10 Mar

Great post!!

Beğen

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