~ E.B. White
“No matter what changes take place in the world, or in me,
nothing ever seems to disturb the face of spring.”
Don’t you just love spring? I get giddy with joy when I see our espaliered apple tree bursting with new buds and blossoms and I watch out my office window to see our Japanese maples leafing out more and more each day. I have always looked at springtime as the season of growth and new possibilities, and the time of year when we begin to declutter our minds, homes, and gardens.
Across the country, we’ve all been experiencing a long, wild winter making this the perfect time to begin planning your spring garden. Before you venture out, put on your adaptive gardening glasses so you can see your garden with new eyes. Doing so will help you avoid some of the common mistakes enthusiastic gardeners make in the spring when they are itching to get started.
When weather permits, grab your garden journal which could be as simple as a 3-ring binder or a pad and pencil. Walk through your garden. Divide your garden into rooms. Make notes. Sketch out some ideas. Take photos. Then determine your priorities, your budget, and whom you can call to help.
As you explore your garden and the possibilities it holds as spring emerges, ask yourself these useful questions:
- What changes did you make last year that worked and which ones didn’t?
- Has your body changed, or is that a silly question?
- If you have physical challenges, can you adjust how your garden and when you garden?
- Can you adapt your garden to maximize your comfort to make gardening chores easier on your body?
- What can you do today that will help your garden easier to maintain over the long-term for years to come?
Before you begin clearing away debris from the winter storms, weeding, and raking, remember that your comfort is queen, and you can make small or significant changes to make that happen in three ways.
1. Take care of your body
Attack the elephant one toenail at a time. Plan your gardening tasks ahead of time so that you can work efficiently. Divide your garden into rooms and work each section, bit by bit, until it’s complete. That will save you time and energy.
Stretch before you begin doing your chores to warm up your back and your body and to loosen up your muscles.
If you prefer, do some gentle yoga poses, practice tai chi, or dance to your favorite music. Just remember to move your body to warm up before you start to work in your garden.
In my book, The Lifelong Gardener, there are nine simple exercises that are perfect to help you prevent pain and injury by warming up before you begin.
- The 20-20-20 rule is a good reminder to do a specific chore for no more than 20 minutes at a time, then switch to another chore using different muscle groups. In between, take breaks to give your body a rest and continue to stretch to keep your body limber.
- Need help? Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family members, neighbors, or friends. If you need more help, place an ad on Nextdoor to hire local high school kids or a handyman to help you with heavy lifting or other tasks that may be difficult for you.
- Garden consciously to keep your body safe. Stock up on an SPF40 sunscreen and shop for sun protection apparel and a wide-brimmed hat with a UPF50 rating.
- Remember to listen to your body. Pace yourself and take it easy so when that voice in your head says that you’re getting tired, but you will do one more thing, say BASTA! (Enough!)
2. Adapt your garden for comfort
Install elevated raised beds so you don’t have to bend over to plant and tend your garden.
The perfect height for most people is waist high, so if they are still not tall enough, you can add bricks or pavers underneath to be assured they are at a comfortable height for you to work.
(Don’t do what I did with my raised bed on the left. I installed it on the soil and it sank!)
- Safety first, always. Eliminate clutter from walkways and potential tripping hazards. Buy yourself a sturdy step stool and use it in place of your ladder, which can be an accident waiting to happen.
- Using a gardening stool or reversible kneeler bench can make it easier to work in your garden without putting strain on your back or knees. Or keep a chair close by your containers.
- As you explore new possibilities, determine where you can take advantage of vertical garden opportunities, like arbors, trellises, and wall planters, so you can comfortably stand up when you garden.
- While we’re discussing comfort, how close are your water spigots to your garden? Can you have one added that will enable you to water without schlepping and struggling with long, heavy hoses? Either way, this is a good time to replace those old hoses with new lightweight ones.
- Speaking of water, is this the year to incorporate drip irrigation and soaker hoses? Both will save you countless hours from hand-watering, as will self-watering planters. Incorporating all three will give you more freedom to go away on holiday without having to worry that your garden is properly hydrated.
3. Clean out your toolshed and check your tools
- A good first step is to clean out your toolshed or garage. Eliminate anything you didn’t use last year, including tools that you are keeping for nostalgic reasons, or tools that were once your favorite, but they’ve become uncomfortable to use. Can they be adapted or can you let them go?
- Save your energy by using a good quality tool sharpener to keep all of your tools sharp. A sharpened pruner, lopper, and hedge trimmer will make less work of any plant you want to prune. When you take proper care of your tools, they are safer to use, you save time, money, and energy, and the plants will be happier.
- Take a good look at your gloves. Throw away any that have holes in the fingertips and buy yourself several pairs of well-made gloves: one for day-to-day weeding and light chores, a gauntlet to protect your arms from thorns, and a third pair of heavy-duty work gloves. You’ll be glad you did.
- Look for tools that do double duty and are multi-functional like this Hori Hori Knife. It’s super strong and the leather sheath is the best on the market. It can be used for transplanting, weeding, or splitting perennials. Another great indispensable tool is the Soil Scoop by Garden Works. You can use it to scoop, dig, and even open bags of mulch. Whenever possible, buy tools that fold and can be hung up for the least amount of storage space like this Tabor Tools Expandable and Collapsible Rake.
- Take the time to clean your tools and begin by removing any rust with steel wool or a wire brush. Sanitize them with rubbing alcohol. Many gardeners report they keep a bucket of sand in their toolshed to store their shovels to prevent rust once they are clean.
Decide what tools you will need to adapt or replace this year. Is your pruner comfortable to use for extended periods of time and in excellent shape?
Choose gardening tools with ergonomic handles that are designed to reduce strain on your back and hands. A curved handle, like the one on Radius Tools, can make it easier to grip and keeps your wrist in a neutral, safe position.
Spring is an awesome time in the garden. You can vastly improve your success by taking the time to do some planning and incorporating some of the tips above. You can make 2023 the year you create your garden sanctuary that is not only productive and beautiful, but one that is sustainable for the long term, utilizes less water, and takes less time for you to maintain, all while being safer and more comfortable to work in and enjoy every day.
Be well, my friends, and take extra good care of yourself this spring.