Most of us have heard about the benefits of gardening. It is great exercise. It puts us in touch with nature. It can be relaxing and therapeutic, and it can also give us a sense of accomplishment, reduce depression and help prevent osteoporosis. But, continuing to garden as one ages can become a bit of a challenge. It gets harder to do some of the heavy lifting, bending and kneeling. Instead of giving up a favorite pastime, start gardening a little differently.</span>In Arkansas, some gardeners are blessed with great soil, while others contend with rocks or drainage issues. Raised-bed gardens help tremendously with soil issues, and the taller the bed, the easier it is to garden. Think about the type of gardening you want to do. Do you want flowers, vegetables, fruit trees or herbs? There are many options for raised beds, from large containers to livestock troughs to garden kits. If you are handy, you can also build your own to any size you like. Some gardeners make them with a ledge at the top, so they can sit while they garden. They can be built from the ground up with deep soil, or can be made with legs. The height can be lowered or raised for the height of the gardener. They can be wheelchair-accessible or kid-friendly.
The size of your raised bed is determined by what you want to grow and how much space you have. Depth of soil is important for permanent trees and shrubs, but shallower gardens can handle annual flowers and vegetables. The size of the garden will also determine maintenance. A raised bed is really a large container, and small containers need constant monitoring when it is hot and dry outside.
My husband built me a 4-by-8-foot raised bed that is 8 inches deep and waist-high. The bottom of the bed is strong hardware cloth for drainage and reinforced with crossbeams to hold the weight. Don’t underestimate the weight of wet soil! You need something to prevent the soil from pouring through, but you also want good drainage. Before adding soil, you can put down a layer of landscape fabric or a layer of cardboard. Drainage is important for whatever type of garden you are growing. If you have an old horse trough that you are converting into a garden, drill some holes in the bottom for drainage. If it is sitting on the soil surface, drill a few holes on the sides along the bottom as well. The same is true for large containers that you are using in the garden. Sometimes, roots can plug up small holes, and if containers don’t drain, you will have drowned plants.
Once you have raised beds, fill them with soil. It is not recommended to use soil from your yard — it will be heavy and contain weed seeds. Compost, garden soil, potting soil and super soil are all good choices. If using fresh super soil, you typically want to mix it with garden soil or compost so it doesn’t burn young seedlings.
Soil and compost come in many forms as well, from bulk loads to bagged. Buying in bulk is always the most economical, but be realistic about moving it. It can be a daunting task. If weight is an issue, opt for smaller bagged products. They may be more expensive, but they are more manageable.
Then start planting. March is a great month for cool-season vegetables. By April, we can plant warm-season vegetables and start planting heat-loving annuals and perennials.
In addition to raised beds, there are many garden stools, benches and kneeling pads to make traditional gardening easier to manage. Ergonomic tools, designed to minimize physical effort and be more comfortable and easier to use, are available.
Just because you are getting older, doesn’t mean you need to stop gardening.