The only reason you should feel uncomfortable after a day in the garden is if you didn't put on your eatin' pants while enjoying the benefits of delicious dinners cooked with home-grown herbs and vegetables. Follow these tips to make gardening more efficient and enjoyable... and easier on your back, body, and sanity.
Stretch before, during, and after gardening
Before you do any garden-related activities, do yourself a huge favor and take a few minutes to limber up. Physical therapist Rebecca Varoga suggests these exercises in "5 Stretches to Prepare for Summer Yard Work" (trust us, they really help). If you forgot to warm up, these stretches will help ease your gardening-induced lower back pain.
Don't stay in one position for more than 10 or 20 minutes. Get up, get your circulation moving, and stretch. Walk around the block and gloat over how your garden puts your neighbors' to shame. Set up a comfy spot in the shade and rest when you need it. While you're taking five (or twenty) drink plenty of water, have a snack, and cool off in the shade.
Wear the right clothes for gardening
Pants and shirts that don't allow for a full range of motion not only chafe and give you wedgies, but they prevent you from maintaining a healthy posture while you're working in your garden. You'll also need to protect yourself from sunburn, and keep your hands safe from blisters and irritating plants.
Here are your spring wardrobe essentials:
- Wide-brimmed sun hat: We won't make any recommendations because gardeners are very particular about their headwear.
- UPF 50+ long-sleeve shirt: Choose a loose fit that keeps you cool and protects you from brush, bugs, and UV rays.
- Pants with reinforced knees and a gusseted crotch: A little bit of stretch goes a long way, too.
- UPF 50+neck and face gaiter: Popular with bass anglers and outdoor sports enthusiasts, these can be worn in multiple ways. Great for bald dudes and people who hate hats.
- Thin gardening gloves: For keeping your hands clean, dainty, and blister-free; essential for weeding plants that irritate the skin
- Heavy-duty work gloves: Sometimes you just need a bit more protection and padding.
- Reading glasses with magnetic bridges: Read seed packets and inspect plants for diseases and pests without your glasses falling off, disappearing, or getting in the way
- Kneepads or foam knee mats: You deserve a little cushiness.
Always wear sunscreen, even on skin covered by UV-protective clothing. Reapply it at break time and after washing your hands.
Plan (or renovate) your garden for comfort and efficiency
We recently wrote an article about rookie gardener mistakes and one of the biggest is breaking ground without considering convenience and access. Expand on our advice with back care in mind!
Rows and gates should be wide enough to allow garden carts and wheelbarrows, and path surfaces should be firm enough to support tires. Keep your garden clear of trip hazards!
Install utilities at convenient locations
A professional landscaper can set up a drip irrigation system (trust us, this is a very wise investment) but you might want to have a plumber and electrician run in-ground water lines and electrical outlets to convenient spots in your yard. While you're at it, have them install hookups for a hot tub and outdoor entertainment system. Then, invite us over.
- Set up suitable storage for your tools, spare containers, and hoses so you don't leave them lying about (ever step on a hand cultivator? Not fun.)
- Put your most-used tools and supplies on easy-access shelves.
- Build or buy an attractive, weatherproof storage bench to keep close to your work area. Don't overload tool buckets and bags; distribute and organize stuff so you only carry what you need. This is a great spot to store tool disinfectants, snacks, and sunscreen, and a place to sit, rest and survey your progress. More on storage carts later.
Raised beds, lightweight containers, and vertical gardens
Container gardening lets you work at a height that doesn't require squatting, kneeling, or frequent bending over. It's fairly easy to build and prep raised beds, and the effort and expense are worthwhile. Raised beds should be no shorter than 18" for root health, but for back safety, you're best off going higher. We've seen amazing gardens where everything's built to a height that lets gardeners sit on stools as they weed. Be sure to consider your ability to reach when determining raised bed widths, or keep a sturdy stepstool handy.
Look into using resin pots and planters and lightening up the soil with perlite, which also improves drainage and reduces soil compaction. You can use wheeled carts to scoot pots around, perch them on a wind-sheltered wall or bench, or jump on the vertical garden bandwagon with one of several easy-to-build (or buy) living wall designs.
Build an ergonomic potting bench
When it's time to plant seeds, divide perennials, and re-pot container plants, it's easier on your back when you have a work area with everything in its right place. Jennifer Poindexter wrote, "45 DIY Potting Bench Plans & Ideas That Will Make Planting Easier" for the Morning Chores homesteading and gardening blog. We love the designs that include easy-to-refill containers for soil and amendments, working-height sunken tubs for easy cleanup and less waste, and access to hand tools and glove storage.
Set up your bench in the shade near a source of water and good lighting. Make sure you can move nursery flats, pots, and supplies to and from the site with carts, wheeled dollies, and wheelbarrows. Bonus tip: Set up a space for a beer cooler or box wine (for pain reduction) and an outlet for a laptop if you want to follow along with tutorials. Is your workstation within range of your wireless router?
Buy the best gardening tools for the job...and learn to use them
When you have the right tools and understand their purpose and proper use, you'll save yourself a lot of time, energy, and irritation. Many tool manufacturers and YouTube gardening channels produce videos demonstrating ideal posture, range of motion, and hand position for specific yard work tools. Spend the next rainy day watching them and kick off spring with new habits.
Handy garden tools that make gardening easier
Peta UK Limited (no, not that PETA) manufactures a variety of ergonomic garden, craft, and kitchen tools with unique grips designed to prevent wrist, arm, shoulder, and back strain. These products were designed for arthritis sufferers but they're brilliant for gardeners with other chronic aches and pains, or who are recovering from injuries. Gemplers, whose motto is "making hard work easy," sells another hand tool set with comfy, strain- and blister-reducing grips.
The Fiskars Uproot Weed and Root Remover is an extendable tool that makes weeding easier on the back. It has nearly 5,500 glowing reviews on Amazon, so clearly it's got the feelgood vibe.
Most of us tend to overload bucket caddies, but Gardener's Supply built a rolling garden tool carrier that looks like a golf bag pushcart. If you don't want to shell out the (reasonable) $99 price, hit up a used sporting goods shop and customize your own. Or steal somebody's baby stroller; we can't see one without wondering how we could adapt it for garden stuff.
There are several rolling stools and benches available that will help you get to your feet and keep you off your knees and butt. Some of them have storage compartments, though once again, overloading them defeats the purpose if they're not easy to move.
Don't forget to maintain your garden tools. Sharp blades, clean and splinter-free handles, and lubricated moving parts make gardening safer and easier. Put tool maintenance on your fall to-do list and be sure to properly clean, sanitize, and store everything after use.
Get help with heavy lifting and big projects
For most of us, gardening is a way to enjoy some solitude but there are times when going it alone will cause you to be less-than-independent. Outsourcing some gardening chores and big projects will keep you out of the ER, though it's okay to fake an injury once in a while so your loved ones can take over indoor chores for a while.
Collaborate with other gardeners
You can start plants from seed for your neighbors and friends in exchange for their help with more strenuous projects, or arrange work exchange parties. Many hands make light work and allow for longer rest periods. (Be sure to serve up refreshments when it's your turn!)
We've heard of neighbors pitching in to purchase and maintain lawnmowers, chippers, snow throwers, weed-whackers, and heavy-duty, self-propelled rototillers. This gives you access to better-quality equipment that will make gardening easier on your body. You'll obviously want to use discretion in bringing people into the "circle of trust" and lay down some ground rules, but if it works out, you'll save a ton of money and storage space. Here are a few tips that have helped one of our customers' "co-ops" keep the peace:
- Agree on who stores what where, and how neighbors can access equipment.
- Each borrower tops off equipment fuel and oil before returning the tool.
- Every time someone checks out equipment, they can put a set amount of money in a coffee can or lockbox for maintenance and repair costs.
- Keep a "check-out, check-in" log with room for notes. For example, "blades are starting to dull," or "we're low on shear pins," "I donated six bucks to the can," or "I think the Parsons' cat is stuck in the auger but I got most of it out."
If you happen to have a homeowner's association where you live, pitch the idea at your next meeting. Your HOA officers might agree to purchase equipment and take over its management. (If you have to put up with an HOA, milk it for all it's worth!)
Hire a landscaper or neighborhood teenagers
It's not cheating if you contract with someone to come by every week or so to mow your lawn, trim hedges, and help with routine maintenance. And in spite of what grumpy old people say, there are teenagers and college students willing to work for pocket money, especially when the days grow longer and school lets out for summer.
Eat your vegetables!
Back-savvy gardening tips will help you grow a successful garden, and if you're growing edibles, you'll be more likely to cook healthy meals at home. We don't have to tell you how low-fat, nutrient-dense fresh fruit, veggies and herbs keep your mind and body healthy.
Plus, growing your own plants from seed helps you save money, which justifies your investment in ergonomic garden design and high-quality tools.
Give your garden plants the best start with Seed Needs
If you're feeling good, you'll spend more time enjoying and tending your garden. That means you'll grow healthy, resilient plants that don't need as many herbicides and pesticides.
Get the best shot at a low-maintenance, easy-on-the-back garden by starting with high-quality seeds from hardy, disease-resistant lines. We sell fresh, carefully-stored and hand-packaged seeds that result in optimal germination rates and healthy plants, and that means fewer "do-overs" at seeding time.
Do you have your own tried-and-true tips for back-friendly gardening? Let us know so we can spread the word!