Elder Gardening Made Easier:
 Some Simple Tricks of the Trade

Frank Williams
Adams County Master Gardener

Many of us have heard of or experienced the joys of Elderhostel travel in which groups of older folks travel and learn together about fascinating places and events. This article discusses a few ideas regarding how to continue, with a bit less effort, the fun of gardening as a "senior."

While what follows pertains particularly to vegetable gardening, the principles can be extended to many other types of gardening as well. A book from our personal library entitled Tips for the Lazy Gardener by Linda Tilgner provided me with some information for this epistle.

Time and Space

Plan your garden according to your best estimate respecting the amount of time you can, with pleasure, physically devote to planting and maintaining it.  If your present situation suggests that the garden you have tended in the past is more than you can manage, plan a smaller one to accommodate your interests and capabilities. Forget those extra beans and tomatoes you enjoyed giving away to neighbors or that you have traditionally frozen or canned for winter.

Cover crops (those of low maintenance which enrich the soil), can be an attractive alternative to the usual plants you have raised in the leftover space.  Put in the ground those things which you most enjoy and will use. Freezing your overabundance is less important than enjoying your fresh produce.

Tend to your soil

Add loose soil to your garden. Buy it, if you must, but also consider composting  your own. To learn more about this process, attend a Master Gardener's Composting Seminar. In essence, it entails saving green matter such as vegetable scraps, garbage and the like, then adding brown matter such as dried leaves and straw and a sprinkling of manure or soil. The result is a light and loamy mix which makes tilling much less difficult.

Till in soil amendments as needed with the existing soil mixture. A bit of sand can help in loosening our Adams County clay soil and also assists root growth crops like spinach. Raised beds permit easy additives to be placed in the garden and mixed in with existing soil.

Mulch after your plants or crops emerge to reduce weed growth. Straw or hay work well; so does black and white newspaper covered by a layer of soil. Black plastic, used by many commercial companies, is also an excellent means of reducing weed growth.


The old adage, "A stitch in time. . ." works well here. If you have managed to create loose soil and get to those ubiquitous weeds early, it is much easier than waiting until they are well established and rooted. Keep after them a bit at a time, if needed, even after mulching. Some gardeners simply ignore weeds which don't seriously interfere with plants or crop production.

Adaptive tools

Some of the tools we have traditionally associated with home gardening are not kindly suited to the elder gardener. Garden tools, especially pruning tools, have become more ergonomically correct in the past decade. What is ergonomics? The word is derived from the Greek words ergon (work) and nomos (the study of). Thus the definition: the study of interaction between humans and the tools, the environments and tasks of work and everyday living. Ratchet action pruners, back relief adjustable rakes, lightweight activity carts, and garden kneeler seats can be ordered via the internet, garden catalogs, and purchased at many stores.

A small tiller may help considerably in turning over soil for spring planting. One still needs to be careful about too much all at once but it certainly beats the spade and pitchfork methods of the past.


Gardening is often associated with physical, emotional, and social well being, particularly with those who have enjoyed growing vegetables and flowers for a lifetime. You may have to reduce the intensity and vastness of the effort. Just continue to taste those homegrown tomatoes or smell those luscious roses how ever many or few they may be!

Read other articles on gardening techniques

Read other gardening articles by Frank Williams