What Is Proper Senior Gardening Attire?

Dressed for Gardening LR

This is not a fashion piece. You don’t have to go out and spend big bucks on special clothing. It’s about dressing comfortably and safely, Most of us garden alone and the plants don’t care what we look like.

The photo is me in my office ready to go out and garden. There’s nothing fashionable about my outfit. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it an outfit. Like me, you probably have comfortable clothes right in your closet.

As we get older, practical gardening clothes become more important. The consequences of all the problems that can beset us are greater the older we are. Using my image as a mannequin, I’ll enumerate from head to toe.

The wide brim hat covers my ears and neck, as well as shading the sun from my face. Ears, especially the tops, take a particular beating from the sun. Skin cancer there often requires surgery rather than just a spritz of liquid nitrogen. And I’m sure every gardener has suffered a painful sunburn on the back of the neck. I chose a crushable hat so I can roll it up and put in a suitcase when traveling. Greek fisherman’s caps are my headgear of choice but they afford little protection from the sun.

The sunglasses should be a must. UV rays can be very damaging to the eyes, especially if you have macular degeneration, or if you are old enough to be susceptible to age related macular degeneration.

I’m wearing a short sleeve shirt with plenty of sunscreen on my arms because I won’t be doing anything that requires a long sleeve shirt. If you’re pruning shrubs, a long sleeve shirt will protect your arms from scratches. If you’re working in long grass or weeds where ticks are lurking, long sleeves are a better choice. It’s also a good choice when mosquitoes are flying around.

Note the medical alert around my neck and there’s a water bottle ready to go with me. Both are essential accessories. And my phone is in my pocket.

Although you can’t see them, I’m wearing ieans. They’re always a good pant choice. They are comfortable and impervious to many thorns, bugs and other hazards. I seldom wear shorts when working in the garden. (And now we have to worry about the Murder Wasps that have just arrived from Asia.) Whether you choose to hold your jeans up with suspenders or a belt is entirely up to you.

As far as footwear is concerned, let the work you are about to do guide you. Don’t wear sandals if you are string trimming. It hurts if you get too close. That’s experience speaking. If you’re working in or near a pond, a pair of Wellingtons might be appropriate.

The take away here is that the well dressed senior gardener wears what’s comfortable and, most importantly, what’s safe.




































Avoid People Pests In The Garden

Deer Tick

There are plenty of pests attacking plants in the garden but some prefer attacking people. Ticks and mosquitoes come to mind immediately. Both should be avoided because they carry pathogens that are harmful to you.

We just survived a worldwide pandemic in which we were urged to stay at home. Surely you wouldn’t want to leave those confines only to be bitten by one of the aforementioned people pests and contract a devastating disease that’s been around for decades.

Deer ticks (See Photo) carry lyme disease. Don’t be fooled by their name. They are carried by field mice, dogs and cats as well as deer. Mosquitoes carry a variety of diseases, including malaria, yellow fever, West Nile virus and others.

A tick bite looks like a red bullseye, and usually occurs on the lower body, especially the legs. Lyme disease symptoms begin with fatigue, achy muscles and joints, headaches and swollen lymph nodes. As the disease progresses, symptoms include hearing, vision and memory problems, arthritis and numbness or tingling in your extremities.

Ticks tend to hang out in brushy and wooded areas. Many are found along borders with lawns and landscaping. When venturing into those areas, it’s recommended that you wear a long sleeve shirt, long pants, socks that are long enough to tuck your pant legs into, shoes or boots. Repellents containing DEET are also effective at keeping them away from you. Ticks can’t fly but they are great hitchhikers, and they often eat while riding.

Whether removing ticks from your pets or your own skin, don’t squeeze them or try to pull them off by hand. Instead grip them with a pair of tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly upward. Ticks pierce the skin and suck blood, and their mouth parts are barbed so they aren’t easy to pull off. Do it very slowly and carefully.

. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing, or stagnant, water. Remove that and you will be less likely to have a mosquito problem. Stagnant water that attracts mosquitoes ranges from ponds to low spots in your yard that hold water after a rain. Even birdbaths may attract breeding mosquitoes. Emptying your birdbath frequently, cleaning it and filling it with fresh water will go a long way toward reducing the mosquito population on your property.

When you see mosquitoes flying around, dress as you would to discourage ticks and use a mosquito repellent

Ticks or mosquitoes can ruin your summer, and even your life. But only if you let them. You may have to sacrifice a little comfort by wearing more clothes than you’d like but that’s a small price to pay for your life and health. And as always, the symptoms are often worse for seniors so it’s better to err on the side of precaution.

Deer tick photo coutesy of Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org .


Be Safe; Adopt Proper Movement Techniques

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and when we get older, it behooves us to learn the safest way. For example, there’s a safe way for a person with a bad leg (knee) to go up and down stairs. Going up, you lead with your good leg; going down, you lead with your bad leg. I was leading with whichever leg was convenient until my post-stroke rehab.

When picking up objects do you always stoop and lift with your legs? Or do you find yourself bending over and lifting with your back? I’m sure you know to lift with your legs but it sometimes escapes you until your back reminds you. And what do you do after you’ve lifted a heavy object like a bag of mulch? It’s recommended that you put it in a cart or wheelbarrow to transport it to where you are going to use it.

Speaking of wheelbarrows, consider trading your single wheel wheelbarrow in on a two wheel unit. It doesn’t tip as easily. Or consider a coaster wagon instead. You don’t have to lift cargo as high to load or unload a wagon as a wheelbarrow. A little red wagon will work for light loads but it may be safer to get a heavy duty wagon. My personal choice is the really heavy duty wagons like garden stores have to hold customer purchases. Bigger garden centers and big box stores sell them, as do online garden supply outlets.

As you get older, the amount of weight you can lift decreases. Know your limit and don’t exceed it. Balance and avoiding falling should be uppermost in your mind. If you feel yourself tipping too far in any direction, let go of the object you’re lifting and stand straight up, slowly. The object you’re lifting can be replaced. Your back can’t. If there’s something nearby to steady yourself, grab it. Avoid twisting when lifting. This can mess up your back permanently. Also try not to reach and look up for things. This can cause back strain and cause you to fall backward.

Finally, don’t climb ladders, especially to prune trees. And don’t prune above your head. It’s too easy to be struck by a falling branch or other debris. Such an injury could be serious or worse. Leave dangerous tree work to the trained, equipped, experienced arborists.

You’ve lived this long. Don’t cut your life short by taking chances. A fall you could have taken in stride a few years ago could be devastating today.


Introduce Grandkids To Gardening

Kids Gdn (CMBG)

The school year was cut short this year by the coronavirus, leading to millions of bored kids. I think you’ll agree there’s nothing worse than trying to manage school students when they are bored. Even though the virus threat is diminishing, it doesn’t mean the grandkids’ boredom is. This is a perfect opportunity for grandparent/ grandchild bonding.

It’s important that you make the gardening  introduction fun, rather than another boring experience. Back in March, the National Gardening Bureau ran a story entitled: Kids Gardening Made Easy in its E newsletter. In it, they listed their top 10 kids’ gardening activities, as compiled by KidsGardening.org:

  • Kitchen Scrap Gardening:Help the planet and clean up your kitchen, this one is a great way to think about where your food comes from.
  • Seed Viewer:There are many different ways to explore plants with simple dried beans from the grocery store soup aisle.
  • Plant People: Create your own “chia pet” family.
  • Grow Your Own Salad: We bet you won’t stop doing this activity as kids who grow edibles are more likely to eat them.  Adults too!
  • Pressed Flowers:Save beautiful spring blooms for future crafts. Pressed flowers provide a base for numerous projects and gifts.
  • Leaf and Flower Prints:Engage those high energy kids with this fun craft that uses a mallet.
  • Make More Plants from Houseplants:Houseplants make great gifts and what a great “giving’” activity to ensure more rooms have the benefit of houseplants.
  • Hydroponics:Ever wonder how hydroponics really work?  All that’s needed is a cup with a cover, water, and seeds.
  • Garden Scavenger Hunt:Turn garden exploration into a game!  You can even have prizes for those competitive family members.
  • Soil Art:No paint on hand, no problem. With a little glue and water, soil can          inspire creative artwork.

If you create an interest when the kids are young, it can grow and mature as they grow and mature. And who better than Grandpa or Grandma to teach them? The bonds that are established now, while they are bored, can result in gardening buddies for life and go a long way towards assuring a continuation of your family’s gardening interest for generations. As you need more and more help in your garden you can call on your gardening buddies and there’s a good chance that they’ll be there for you.

Finally, I just can’t resist: Give your grandchildren a head of lettuce and they can make a salad. Teach them to garden and they can make salads for life. By the way the photo is the kids’ garden at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay.



Simplify More – Eliminate The Lawn

No Lawn Yards

Please don’t accuse me of blasphemy for suggesting that you remove your precious lawn. It’s for your good and the good of the environment. You wouldn’t be alone. People of all ages, including some much younger than you, are doing it. In fact, it’s downright trendy.

A lawn is, arguably, the biggest resource drain in your landscape. You have to spend time mowing every week during the growing season. And if you have a walk behind mower, it’s also taking a toll on your body. Sure, you can hire it out but that’s redirecting financial resources.

Lawns are very demanding ecosystems. They’re frequent dining rooms for insects. Weeds pop up in any unoccupied place. And they need fertilization several times a season to provide the soil with the nutrients needed to grow back the leaves we cut off every week. Besides the cost of materials, applying them takes even more time away from enjoying the fruits of your labor. Or you have to hire a licensed/certified professional to apply them.

You have plenty of choices for replacing the lawn. You might consider installing new beds or expanding existing beds. Ground cover is also an attractive alternative, and you seldom have to mow it. In the back yard, expand your patio or install a new one. Fill out the rest with a meadow of native plants. That will be about as carefree as a landscape can be. The only maintenance is mowing each fall. If grandkids visit frequently why not include a nice playground?

Check the photos accompanying this post, the web and gardening magazines for ideas. This might also be a good time to hire a professional landscape designer who will surely have great ideas. If Garden Walk Buffalo is held this year, you can get some good ideas from attending. Keep checking their website. If it’s on it will be the last full weekend in July.

Grass is unnecessary today, especially for seniors whose kids are grown. I admit that I’m still contemplating what to do with mine. But I’ve seen some great alternatives. And think of what you can do with the time and money you’ll save.




To Fertilize Or Not To Fertilize


Simplicity is one of the major goals of the adaptive senior gardener.  That’s done by passing on non-essential tasks. One such task may be fertilization. We use far too much fertilizer in this country because fertilizer manufacturers and other “influencers” have convinced us that our plants are hungry and need feeding. The truth is that plants make their own food in the process of photosynthesis.

The late plant physiologist, Dr. Alex Shjgo, in his book, A New Tree Biology, wrote  that fertilizer replenishes essential nutrients missing from the soil. So, if you have good soil, teaming with organic matter, you probably don’t need to fertilize.

Plants need 17 essential elements from the soil. The three – nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (N P K) – listed on the front of fertilizer packages plus varying amounts of the others. The others are called micronutrient, not because of their importance but because of the small quantities plants need.

A soil test will reveal any nutrients missing from your soil. Not the soil tests you can buy at your local garden center. They only tell you the pH – whether the soil is acid or alkaline, sometimes known as as sour and sweet respectively. You want a soil analysis that give you the amount of each nutrient present and what action is recommended. Some Cooperative Extension offices offer this service. And landscapers can collect the samples and send them off to a private lab for analysis.

Most residential soil is nutrient deficient because the developer removed the topsoil and replaced it with inferior soil. And once a nutrient is deficient, the only way to replenish it by fertilizing on a regular basis. You may be able to further improve the  soil with compost, organic mulch or other soil amendments.

You may not be able eliminate regular fertilizing for your containerized plants. But you may be able to cut back. I seldom, if ever fertilize mine and they are growing just fine.

If you’re able to cut back on fertilizer applications, it would be good for the environment, good for your budget and good for your adaptive gardening strategy. Just be sure it’s also good for your plants, too.





Trendy Seniors Are Now Gardening Standing Up

Vertical Gdn LR

Senior gardeners are trendy without even realizing it. We’ve been planting in containers for eons,When our children discovered that convenience, container gardening became the latest gardening trend. Then raised beds became all the rage. Today, it’s vertical gardens. All are important adaptive gardening techniques.

Vertical gardens aren’t new. Several decades ago, a company manufactured modular, plastic vertical gardens that they marketed to grow food in areas like deserts that are difficult to farm. In 2010, Longwood Gardens built a green wall, inside their conservatory. The vertical garden photo shown here was taken at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in 2012.

You might consider a vertical garden if sitting or kneeling is a problem. You can garden standing up. If you are downsizing, vertical gardens are a good way to conserve space. After all, gardeners are just doing what urban developers have been doing for years. When there’s no more ground to build on, they start building upward

Vertical gardens and green walls are becoming popular now because more people, young and old, are opting for smaller properties, which means they need planting beds with smaller footprints. But vertical gardens aren’t limited to space-challenged folks. Some are accents in larger landscapes. Others are used instead of hedges or other plants to define spaces within a landscape. Still others are being installed just to be trendy. Some are even planting them indoors as wall hangings. Other configurations make nice room dividers. Indoor vertical gardens are also available in kit form.

There are a number of ways that plants can be held in place in vertical gardens. If interested, make mounting systems part of your research when designing a vertical garden. Keep in mind that they are containerized plants so they’ll need the same special attention as traditional containerized plants. Most notably, they’ll likely have to be watered more often than in-ground plants. However, there are a number of self watering systems available. But then you’re getting away from the simplicity that’s the hallmark of senior gardening.

Overwintering is another consideration you’ll have to deal with. When buying plants, discuss overwintering with a horticulturist at your garden center. They may recommend perennials that are hardy to a zone or two colder than where you live. Or, you can plant annuals and throw them on the compost pile in the winter. Then replant in the spring.

If you are interested in joining the vertical garden evolution, you have a number of ways to do it. You can go to a home store to buy the frame and mounting material and to your local garden center to buy the plants and build your vertical garden from scratch. Garden centers also sell kits so you can go the “some assembly required” route. If you just want to enjoy the beauty of a vertical garden in your landscape, a professional landscape designer can design one to compliment your current landscape or integrate it into a new or renovated landscape.

When Life Throws Us Curve Balls

IMG_6306 LR

Curve balls are thrown our way all through life. As we grow older, however, those curve balls come more often, and they hit harder. One of them is the reason my last two posts were not on time.

As I was getting ready for work February 11, I suffered a stroke, landing me in the hospital rather than the office. Two days later, I was transferred to a rehab center.

The therapists asked what my number one goal was. My reply? To honor my commitment to speak on adaptive gardening on Senior Day, March 12, at Gardenscape 2020, the Rochester, NY flower and garden show.

I’d like to thank the physical, occupational and speech therapists who worked diligently to help me meet that goal. As the photo shows, I made it, albeit in a wheel chair. I couldn’t have done it without my significant other and my family, many of whom had to travel great distances to be with me.

Barring any more curve balls, we’ll be back on schedule with the April 1 post. Thank you for your continued interest and loyalty to The Geriatric Gardener.


The Geriatric Gardener Live On Stage

On Thursday March 12 at 11am Duane Pancoast – The Geriatric Gardener will be presenting an adaptive gardening for seniors seminar at the Gardenscape flower and garden show in Rochester NY. If you’re in the area on March 12 at 11am be sure to come to the Dome Center in Henrietta and hear some of Duane’s latest revelations on how to continuing gardening when the affects of age begin to challenge you.

We hope to see you there.

Problems Bequeathing Wood Furniture

If you have fine wood furniture that you’re planning to leave to one of your children or grandchildren, you should plan to be sure they want it before writing it into your will. A USDA Forest Service official recently wrote a magazine story, entitled “Brown Furniture is the New Green,” in the story, he describes a trend away from wood furniture, especially classic and heirloom furniture, by young people.

Much of this unwanted heirloom furniture is being burned or ending up in landfills. Besides losing pieces of history, we are also adding to our environmental problems. The author notes that Wood is a carbon bank. Carbon is the primary ingredient in wood and, while living, trees use the carbon dioxide that we exhale in the process of photosynthesis. As trees grow, they store more and more carbon and they hold it until they are burned or decay. The stored carbon is then released back into the atmosphere, where we don’t need it.

I suspect that much of this aversion to wood is because some people have bought into the misguided myth that cutting down trees – any trees – is a bad thing. The truth is that trees are crops just like grain, fruit and vegetables . They aren’t going to stop eating bread because the whole wheat stalk was cut for the kernels at the top because wheat is a renewable resource. Farmers plant more seed, which yields another crop. Trees are also a renewable resource. When forest or woodlot owners cut one, they plant one or more new ones.

If we save the furniture and other wood products that we own, that wood continues to store carbon. The new trees that are planted then begin storing carbon, too, carbon they will carry with them until they are burned or decay.

If your designated heirs balk at the impending inheritance, ask why. If they object to the classic design or heft of the piece, you can make other arrangements like selling it to a collector. If they object to trees being cut down, point out that the alternative materials for furniture – metal and plastic – are not renewable resources. Once metal is mined from the ground, it doesn’t grow back. Once petroleum or other materials are converted to plastic, they can no longer revert back to their natural state. There goes the environmental argument.

If your young heirs are turned off by the size, weight and style of classic and antique wood furniture, many lighter weight, simpler, modern, wood furniture is on the market. Those who eschew the classic designs of wood furniture for environmental reasons can still embrace clean air by acquiring modern wood furniture. And, there is also a market for the antique and classic furniture among collectors. So they can literally have their cake and eat it too.