For an activity that’s supposed to promote good health, gardening sometimes feels like it’s going to kill me.

From the snap-crackle-pop of my knees when I bend to weed, to the groan as I get back up, it’s evident I’m not getting any younger as a gardener.

I’m not ready to give up, but I can see a time in the near future when I’ll need to make changes to my gardening style and routine. There are plenty of strategies that make it possible for aging green thumbs to still enjoy the innumerable benefits of gardening without causing so many aches and pains.

Plant choice

Replace perennials with blooming shrubs to keep color and interest in the garden while reducing maintenance. Shrubs can fill a larger space without sacrificing beauty. In fact, many shrubs will provide just as much or more appeal across the seasons with foliage, bark and berries, in addition to colorful flowers.

Choose your shrubs wisely. To avoid constant pruning, select varieties that fit your space, paying attention to growth rates and potential size upon maturity.

For smaller spaces and preferences, plant breeders have responded with plenty of diminutive, more manageable versions of old favorites like mock orange, lilac, hydrangea, weigela and spirea, as well as evergreens.

As you age, you get smart to certain aspects of gardening. Here’s one rule of thumb: Life is too short to be tipping roses. Beautiful, fragrant landscape roses, whether modern carefree varieties or rugged rugosas, take cold-winter temps in stride. Plus you get pretty rosehips.

For an easier alternative to mulch that needs annual refreshing, consider underplanting those shrubs with attractive groundcovers that give a finished appearance to the landscape while suppressing weeds at the same time.

Better tools

Long-handled tools are your friend. Getting after weeds with a hoe when they’re still emerging — rather than pulling huge specimens on your hands and knees — will save a lot of soreness.

Proper sizing helps, too; many companies now offer ergonomically proportioned tools for women’s smaller hands. Padded tool handles are a boon for avoiding blisters and for folks with arthritic fingers.

Speaking of padding, soft kneelers are a must. I use two, and shuffle them as I go, to avoid unneeded ups and downs.

Lugging hoses in the heat of summer is a heavy task no matter your age. I was leery of those so-called collapsible “pocket” hoses that promise the end of this thankless chore — until I tried one. It’s easy to move the lightweight, limp hoses around the garden before turning on the spigot, and after watering, when they shrink back to practically nothing. Some brands burst if allowed to lull with full water pressure, so you need to be vigilant, but it’s still a good trade-off to wrangling cumbersome, muddy hoses, possibly damaging plants as you go.

Elevate the garden

Raised beds make it a bit easier to tend flowers and veggies. Better yet, many of the new, elevated patio planters make it simple to tend an edible garden where a conventional vegetable garden won’t fit. Most measure 30-by-40 or -70 inches, with a height of about 32 inches, depending upon the style. Some are even made with wheels to make them mobile, and many are wheelchair-friendly. You’d be surprised how much you can grow in a compact space without ever kneeling down. And it satisfies that urge to play in the dirt no matter how old you might be.

Common sense

By the time your bones are creaky, your brain has acquired a wealth of wisdom. Yet it still helps to be reminded that safety is important in the garden. Stay hydrated and keep an eye on the heat index: Work in the garden early, when it’s cool. Or do as I do, and follow the shade.

Wear gloves when digging and pruning, and keep those tetanus shots up to date. Make sure paths are clear of obstacles and tripping hazards. Moss and mud can make walkways slippery.

Finally the garden is a great place to unplug, however, it doesn’t hurt to carry your cellphone, just in case something happens.


Rhonda Fleming Hayes is a Minneapolis-based garden writer who blogs at She is the author of “Pollinator-Friendly Gardening: Gardening for Bees, Butterflies and Other Pollinators,” due Feb. 1, 2016; available for pre-order at