Time To Give Your Indoor Garden TLC

Does your senior garden extend indoors? If so, this would be a good time to give your houseplants some tender loving care. If you don’t have houseplants, this winter would be an opportune time to turn to indoor gardening. After all, this segment of the plant market continues to grow. It’s only natural, then, that you should join the trend and garden for 12 months a year. 

Many gardeners move their houseplants outdoors for the spring, summer and fall, and then bring them back indoors for the winter. Surely, you care for them when they’re outside. You water them when nature turns off the rain. You deadhead them to encourage new flower growth. They may need a bit of fertilizer and, possibly, some insect and disease control when they’re outside for their summer vacation. And those tasks have to be worked in among your seasonal outdoor gardening.

In winter, you may be seeking ways to keep your green thumb from fading. Some care your houseplants would appreciate, in addition to watering, deadheading, fertilizing and controlling pests, include…

• Cleaning the leaves. Dust tends to settle on plant leaves. Outdoors, wind and rain remove most of the dust. Inside, however, air movement is not fast enough to remove dust. The easiest way to keep your houseplants dust-free is to spritz the leaves and then wipe them gently with a soft cloth.

• Repot when necessary. Check the roots periodically to be sure they’re not pot bound. Gently remove the plant from the pot and examine the roots. If they’re growing around the plant instead of downward, you have two choices. If you want them to keep growing, repot them into a larger container. Choose a new pot that’s only a size or two bigger than the current container. Check it in a year to see if it needs to be repotted into a bigger container. Plants prefer repotting in increments to being planted in a much larger pot. And, they won’t look like a person dressed in clothes that are too big. If you want a pot bound plant to continue living in the same container, root prune it. Just shorten the really long roots that are circling the plant so that they grow downward.

• Prune and remove dead leaves. Houseplants that grow too full for light to penetrate the interior or show stress even though their foliage is full may have to be thinned by pruning. Using scissors, cut out stems that won’t affect the plant’s shape. The pruning shears that you use to prune your shrubs may be too big to get into houseplants’ tight spaces. Some indoor gardeners simply use kitchen scissors. I have a pair of bonsai pruning shears that really work well. They have big handles that even my arthritic sausage fingers will fit into but the blades are real small for tight work. You can also use your shears to remove unsightly dead leaves.

• Propagate your houseplants. If you’re looking for an interesting, garden-related activity this winter, try your hand at propagating more houseplants. It’s really easy. Take a trip to your favorite garden center for a supply of small terra cotta pots, a bag of soilless potting mix and a container of rooting hormone. Take a cutting or cuttings from the plant(s) you want to propagate. Cut a piece of stem with two or three sets of leaves.  Dip the stem in potting hormone and plant in a pot of potting mix. Keep the new plants moist and keep them in the light and soon you’ll see new leaves appear as they take root and begin growing. If you don’t need or want any more plants for your indoor garden, give the new plants to a charity plant sale, confident in the knowledge that you propagated it.

One important aspect of adaptive gardening is to garden smarter, not harder. Your indoor gardening can be done standing at a counter or sitting at a table. Starting now will also make your transition to indoor gardening smoother if it becomes too difficult to work outside for any length of time.

A whole section on indoor gardening begins on page 112 of my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors. Order your copy at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener

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Garden Trends For 2023 – How They Affect The Senior Gardener

Senior Gardeners don’t typically think of themselves as trendy but we really are. That’s why I like to share information from one or more of the garden trends reports that are published each year. The material here is from the annual Garden Trends Report, published by the Garden Media Group.

We and the millennials have one common goal: we both strive to have beautiful gardens with minimal work – to tend our gardens rather than toil in them. Our reasons, though, are on opposite ends of the spectrum. We want to reduce the time we spend working in the garden for various health reasons; the millennials because they have other things they’d rather do with their limited amount of free time.

One trend that affects us directly is accessible gardening (AKA adaptive gardening). This report to the garden center and landscape industries refers to us as “Super Agers” whose brains function as if they were 30 years younger. It says we’re making our landscapes accessible as mobility limitations and other health problems begin to challenge us. I hope the industries take note and develop and market more products for our unique needs.

The report goes on to indicate that aging boomers are purchasing midcentury modern products like retro metal lawn chairs, pagoda umbrellas and plants with a tropical flair. I’m not. Are you? However, it does recommend ways to make gardening and gardens more accessible to us. It mentions raising planting height (raised or elevated beds) for those who can no longer kneel, and making landscapes accessible to those with wheelchairs and walkers. One amenity that I look for before going to any public garden is electric scooter rentals.

A section indicates that ancient Greece is inspiring garden design with everything from columns to statuary, stone walls and archways to boxwood hedges and roses. It went on to say that Gen Z is embracing this. It sounds like too much work for us senior gardeners. A Greek design element that I would use very sparingly, especially where I live in the Northeast, is the stone garden.

The proliferation of battery powered tools should be especially interesting to senior gardeners. Depending on where you live, a robot mower might be a good investment. The report also mentions a companion to the robot mower – a robot weeder. That sounds interesting.

Containers continue to be a significant gardening trend, not just with us senior gardeners but with 35-45 year olds, too. Roses, bred to live in containers, are trending, as are miniature vegetables – even lettuce. And, green walls are coming of age to provide privacy. This is increasingly important as housing prices soar and cities are accommodating accessory dwelling units (ADUs). ADUs are self-contained living units that can be attached or detached from single family homes. The report refers to this as the Backyard Revolution.

The report also has a section on climate change. Needless to say, it indicates that the earth is getting warmer than the zones on the current hardiness map. Other trends are whimsical and eclectic gardens, filled with bold colors, texture and art. Finally, their color of the year is terra cotta.

For more ideas for your senior garden, order my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors, at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener

Make This A Trendy Holiday Season

In many parts of the country, we senior gardeners are pretty much homebound in winter. There’s no sense putting ourselves in harm’s way unnecessarily. If you share that view, you can make it an indoor gardening holiday by expanding your houseplant collection.

Start by researching houseplants on the internet, visiting garden centers hosting holiday open houses or simply making a list of the houseplants that you would like to round out your indoor garden. Then when family members ask what you’d like for the holiday, suggest a specific plant for each inquiry. You might even suggest where they can find that particular plant.

Expanding your indoor garden will make this a trendy holiday season for you. I’m sure you’re aware that houseplants are the fastest growing segment of the nursery market. It has even created shortages. This phenomenon isn’t driven by us seniors, either. Young professionals have had a lot to do with it before the pandemic struck, so we can’t even lay the blame on our staying at home.

If you’d rather not take care of house plants this winter, may I recommend Tillandsia (air plants). I’m a great lover of Tillandsia. I have about as many Tillandsia as I have potted houseplants. Since my stroke in 2020, I’ve been using a walker, which makes it difficult to take care of the potted plants but I can still care for the Tillandsia.

I’m of the soaking, rather than spritzing, persuasion for Tillandsia. Every other weekend, I  collect them from around the house, soak them for an hour and a half or two hours, let them dry for a half hour and return them to their display spaces. Regular watering is essential because Tillandsia absorb nutrients through water and air rather than soil.

I’ve seen the statement, “Tillandsia is the house plant of the moment in the nursery industry” attributed to several sources but it’s so true and so applicable to senior gardeners. Oh, the plant in the basket above? It’s Tillandsia xerographica.

When making your holiday list, don’t forget to also ask for a copy of my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors. It concludes with 3 chapters on houseplants, beginning on page 112. At just $14.95 + S&H, it’s an ideal gift idea for a family member of modest means. The book can be ordered at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener

Lighting Your Senior Garden

Most of us senior gardeners aren’t nocturnal creatures. While we may have been able to navigate relatively safely in the dark in our younger years, nights seem to have gotten darker lately. That’s why good lighting is an essential element of adaptive gardening.

The photo shows a sidewalk nicely lighted by low voltage lights. I recommend that you opt for these lights rather than the inexpensive solar lights that are so popular. Although these low voltage lights cost a bit more than the solar lights, they’re well worth it. They’re sturdier and should last longer, and they don’t require that the sun be out every day to operate every night. I’ve found that, while the sun charges solar lamp batteries, the UV rays also fade and weaken the plastic housings.

These low voltage lights are stake lights just like the solar units. However, they’re connected by a buried wire that leads to a controller plugged into an outdoor rated plug. Many of the controllers have timers so you can set the lights to go on and off when you want. They don’t have to be dusk to dawn.

Undoubtedly, you have the various areas of your deck or patio well lighted for the activities taking place there. However, I recommend going even further and lighting the edge of your patio. Even if the patio borders on grass or a planting bed that’s on exactly the same level as the patio, you should consider edge lighting. You can use the same style low voltage lights as used for the walkways and driveway.  

As you grow older, stepping off the patio onto a different surface can cause you to lose your balance. Try it carefully when it’s light out. Walk along the edge of the patio pavement and then move so one foot leaves the paved surface and steps into the adjacent surface. Feel the different sensation when one foot steps on a less firm surface? Imagine doing that at night in the dark. See why I suggest edge lighting?

If you work in the garden late into the evening you should install strategically placed floodlights. Gardening by flashlight isn’t good for fading senior vision. While installing floodlights, positioning some motion-activated floods for security also makes sense. They can illuminate areas covered by the popular security cameras for easier identification of uninvited guests. Placing some of your garden floods on motion-activated switches when you’re not working there may discourage uninvited late night visitors who think your garden’s their fine dining restaurant.

Water features, whether it’s a basic fountain or a pond, look nice when illuminated at night. A pond should also be well lit to reduce the chance of anyone taking an unscheduled swim.

A chapter on the importance of garden lighting begins on page 33 of my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors. Order your copy at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener.

Give Thanks For Your Senior Garden

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be just a single day. It can be every day. Sure, this year, November 24 is a day of getting together with family and friends for feasting and football but it would also be appropriate to give equal time to reflection and giving thanks for all the gifts you’ve been given this year.

This year, Thanksgiving Day will be special for me because it’s also my 84th birthday. My mother never let me forget that she missed her turkey dinner in 1938. 

As a senior gardener, you have lots to be thankful for, too.

• Your garden. 

• The beautiful flowers and delicious produce it yields. 

• Your ability to adapt as your health evolves with time. 

• Your imagination that makes it possible for you to continue gardening in some form, regardless of your physical and housing situations. 

No matter what your circumstances, be thankful for your senior garden, even if it’s only a potted plant or a few air plants.

Now my garden beckons – the pictured air plant plus the other 30 + in my collection await their nutritious soaking. 

Happy Thanksgiving and a joyous beginning to the holiday season.

For lots of information on adaptive gardening, order my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors, at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener. You’ll be thankful for that, too.

When You Have A Choice, Vote For The Easy Way

As I write this post around the election, I just can’t help choosing this title. For every gardening task, there’s an easy way and a hard way, as well as a few minor inefficient ways in between. I admit to usually choosing the hard way, until someone enlightens me by showing an easier way. 

A good example of discovering the easy way to do a major task occurred many years ago, when my youngest son was a horticulture student in college. He had a summer internship with the division that was responsible for maintaining the grounds around the many facilities for our then largest employer. That included mowing plenty of grass.

We lived on a half-acre lot with three large expanses of lawn, which I mowed every weekend with a tractor-type mower. At the time, I considered my route the most efficient. Starting at the outside edge, I would just keep going around the area until I reached the center. As the oval got smaller, the turns got tighter, requiring me to back up and maneuver the mower into position for the next row.

One afternoon, my son got home early and was mowing our lawn. He was doing it like a Zamboni cleaning the ice on a rink. The Zamboni can’t back up and maneuver or its weight will wreck the work it just did, so the operator takes a route that always has them going forward. It goes once around the outside. On the second pass, it goes down the center. By doing the same thing and moving over one machine width with each pass, it always moves forward. Adapting this mowing method cut a good half-hour off my mowing time. This gave me more time to tend my flowers and shrubs, including one that I had topiaried. The topiary story is one for another time.

The five-gallon bucket in the photo is an easy, inexpensive way to be kind to your knees and back. It’s one of the first things I talk about in my garden club presentations. Many gardeners have one laying around their shed or garage, and they’re very inexpensive to buy at home centers. In its normal position, it can be a tool caddy, a debris carrier and an assist to get up from a kneeling position. Flipped over, it becomes a comfortable stool. It’s ideal for the senior gardener because it’s a nice height, holds plenty of stuff but not enough to make it too heavy, and it’s easier to carry and maneuver than some of the commercial aids available.

As you drive around town, or visit public gardens or parks, or have landscapers work at your home, take a few minutes and watch how the professional landscapers, gardeners and groundskeepers do various tasks. Adapt them to your garden and gardening routine and see how much more pleasant gardening can be. Getting the job done correctly using the easiest, healthiest methods is what adaptive gardening is all about.

During the more than half-century that I’ve written public relations material and photographed professionals at work for tree, landscape and lawn care companies, I’ve been exposed to untold numbers of ways to garden smarter rather than harder. I firmly believe that those experiences have contributed to my love of gardening. Left to my own resources, gardening would have been pure drudgery. Adapting tips professionals didn’t even know they were sharing with me made it fun.For more on adaptive gardening, order my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors, at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener

Leave Leaves In Place

As we grow older, trees seem to drop more leaves. This phenomenon isn’t just because the task seems more daunting to us. As your trees age, they continue to grow in size, requiring them to make more food. To do that, they need more leaves. So, you probably actually have more leaves than you had before.

Since working smarter and more efficiently is an important way for senior gardeners to adapt to their changing capability, I’ll share a few ideas for turning leaves into compost while leaving them in place.

Leaves on the lawn present the greatest challenge. This fall, instead of raking or blowing them into giant piles at the curb for the town to pick up, leave them lay right where they fell. When you mow your lawn, use the mulching feature if the mower has one. This will result in the leaves getting chopped up right along with the grass, adding mulch to your lawn. If you have a mowing service, instruct them to do the same.

For those lawnmowers without a mulching feature, just mow normally. Then take a grass rake or blower and scatter any clumps or rows of clippings and chopped leaves. Besides saving you a significant amount of work, you’ll be returning organic material to the soil. That may also reduce the number of fertilizer applications you’ll have to make next spring.

In her book, Gardening for a Lifetime, the late Sydney Eddison wrote that she simply raked or blew leaves from the area around her shrubs back under the shrubs. Like those in the lawn, these will decompose and return organic matter to the soil. They may take a little longer to decompose than those on the lawn since they aren’t chopped up. After you’ve raked or blown the leaves under the shrubs, I suggest that that you pull them out a couple of inches from the stems, otherwise you’ll be providing rodents with very attractive cover as they dine on your delicious shrub stems.

Leaves in annual beds can be left right where they are but those in perennial beds should be chopped up for faster decomposition. The easiest method of chopping leaves that I’ve ever seen was on a television gardening program. The host put the leaves in a plastic trash can and chopped them by plunging a string trimmer into the can to chop the leaves. It worked just like an immersion blender does in the kitchen, only on a larger scale. I adopted that method and it worked as well for me as it did on television. 

If the leaves in annual beds haven’t decomposed by the time you’re ready to plant new flowers next spring, use the trash can and string trimmer method to chop them really fine. You can then spread the chopped leaves in the annual beds just as you did those in you perennial bed(s) last fall.

Be sure to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when using the trash can/string trimmer method to chop leaves. Your PPE should include eye protection – safety glasses or goggles – and hearing protection – ear plugs or earmuffs – especially if the trimmer is gas powered. It’s also a good idea to wear a hat and long sleeve shirt or jacket since pieces of chopped leaves can fly out of the trash can if you fill it too full. 

For more adaptive gardening information, order my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors, at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener.

Winterizing Your Senior Garden

It wasn’t too long ago when winterizing your garden was a real chore. You may have referred to it as fall clean-up, but you were just as tired when you finished. You’ve probably noticed that it is taking you longer and that you feel wiped out rather than just tired. This is where I remind you that the goal is to tend your garden, not toil in it, and that doing so is easier when senior gardeners embrace imperfection.

If you live in the north, you’ll do all that work only to have it covered with snow when winter arrives. I’m not suggesting you just let the snow hide a messy yard. Rather, I’m suggesting ideas for lightening your autumn workload in ways that visitors won’t be the wiser.

One task involves merely putting off the inevitable in a way that enhances your landscape this winter. Instead of cutting the dead stems, leaves and last flush of flowers on tall perennials like Rudbeckia (black eyed Susan) or Echinacea (coneflower) and even tall hostas, leave them to poke through the snow. Like your ornamental grasses, these plants will add brown, gray or tan color to an otherwise bleak scene. You’ll have to cut them back in the spring, just as you do your ornamental grasses, so the plants will grow again.

I won’t suggest that you leave debris like trash that has blown into your yard. That will still be there next spring for you to clean up then. What I will suggest is that you stay upright to pick it up. Use a reacher. These are available in different styles and can be purchased at big box stores, major retailers, drug stores, medical supply stores and online. Take a lightweight trash bin or a trash bag and the reacher and walk your property picking up the trash with the reacher and putting it in the bag. You won’t even have to bend over. Reachers are inexpensive. I’m a cheap guy and we have five of them placed strategically around the house.

You don’t have to worry about picking up twigs or other organic debris. Just rake or blow it into your planting beds and let nature take its course. Hopefully, it’ll decompose in the wet, winter environment and become compost for next spring. 

If you’re adding mulch to your planting beds, please consider your body. Don’t bend over and lift with your back. That’s the major cause of back problems. Lift with your legs. Don’t carry heavy bags of mulch from your car to the planting beds. Put them in whatever wheeled conveyance you have – a garden cart, a coaster wagon or even a wheelbarrow. It’s better to pull the load rather than push it. So, if you must use a wheelbarrow, it’s safer to use a two wheeled model. It’s more stable and easier to pull. My first choice is a coaster wagon.

Last but not least, there’s the patio furniture. If you’ve had it for some time, you undoubtedly have storage that you use year after year. It’s surprising how that furniture gets heavier and heavier each year, though. This might be the year to call in reinforcements. Who are your most frequent guests? Family? Neighbors? Friends? Invite them to a “Farewell To Fall” party, feed them and then press them into service to help move the furniture to winter storage.

When planning and carrying out your winter preparation, keep this in mind: Yard by yard, it’s too hard. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch.

For more ideas on winterizing your senior garden, order my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors, at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener.

New Book Has 101 Great Ideas For Small Space Gardens

If you’re a senior gardener who’s agonizing over whether to downsize or stay put, a new book has been published just for you. The title, The Urban Garden, is really somewhat misleading. You don’t have to live in the city to adapt the ideas to your garden. They’re just as applicable in the burbs or even the boondocks. 

In my garden club presentations, I stress that small space gardens can bring out creativity you never knew you had. That’s because you spent so much time toiling in your big garden just to keep up with the maintenance that you had little time to just sit and enjoy it. Tending a small garden leaves you with plenty of time to think creatively.

Authors Kathy Jentz and Teri Speight mention that more time for creativity is one of the benefits of a small space garden but it’s also an underlying theme of the whole book. The subtitle is “101 Ways to Grow Food and Beauty in the City.” Both authors are urban gardeners in the Washington, DC area, so they are experts on the subject.

Kathy’s and Teri’s small space gardening experience is evident as soon as you open the book. There’s no philosophical treatise on the benefits of urban gardening, just a short introduction a little over a page in length. The first chapter is titled Clever Containers, and contains 11 ways to plant in these workhorses of the small garden. Speaking of horses, the first idea involves planting in horse troughs and subsequent pages cover every conceivable planter material, including canvas and other fabrics. Of course, the authors discuss more traditional container materials, albeit in most unique ways. 

Other chapters are Creative Flower Growing, Food Growing, Garden Entertaining, Intensive Gardening for Small Spaces, Gardening Styles for Small Spaces, Privacy Boosters, Recycled & Repurposed Inspiration, Small-Space solutions, Supporting Urban Wildlife and Vertical Gardening.

The photos are superb. Many of them were taken by Kathy Jentz, and others are courtesy of other well known garden photographers. There are even some from the gardens on the very popular Buffalo Garden Walk.  You can purchase The Urban Garden, published by Cool Springs Press, wherever books are sold. 

I love the format and wish more authors would adopt this style. A page or spread is devoted to each of the 101 ideas. Since our local newspaper is so thin these days, I like to switch over to reading a book after I’ve finished the comics (what else is there?), as I enjoy a cup of coffee each morning. The Urban Garden’s format allows me to finish a complete small space garden idea before yielding to the computer’s call to get into the office.

Speaking of liking short chapters, I put my money where my mouth is. Only the last chapter of my book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice for Senior, is more than two pages, only because I couldn’t resist the urge to use lots of pictures of my Tillandsia (air plants) collection. You can order a copy at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener.

Adapting To Limited Visibility

It’s a fact of life: many senior gardeners will experience limited visibility as they age. The two most common problems are cataracts and age related macular degeneration (AMD). Cataracts are easily removed surgically. Treatments can slow AMD’s progression but not reverse it. The sun’s rays can exacerbate both conditions. That’s why it’s important to wear sunglasses regardless of your age.

Most vision problems are progressive, so you have plenty of time to adapt. Some of the ways to adapt include learning to navigate around your garden using your other senses. Begin by installing familiar stimuli now while you’re still able to see. At one path intersection, for example, install a sound stimulus, such as windchimes or a windbell. 

The photo shows a Solari Windbell from Cosanti in Arizona. Each of these attractive works of art has its own distinct sound when activated by the wind just like a windchime. Place it in a position that orients you. If the path turns right, place it on the right side of the intersection. At another intersection, you can do the same with a plant that emits a particular fragrance. It’s best to select plants whose fragrance lasts for the whole gardening season.

Navigation around the garden can also be eased by using a different surface material for each path and for intersections. The path edging should also be distinctive to warn you if you’re veering off the path. Veering off the path can result in disorientation or even a fall. You’ll also appreciate paths that are as straight as possible.

Stairs and slopes should have a handrail on each side that begins well before the change in grade and continues well beyond the grade change. It’s also wise to distinguish the edge of each stair tread. Failure to do this can even confuse people with perfect vision. The surface material blends together in such a way that people don’t realize that there are changes in grade or where those changes are. The edges can be marked with a different paving material, such as pavers at 90 degrees to those on the step treads. You can also apply a textured tape to the edges, although that might need periodic replacement. Or it might look nice to paint each step a different color.

Raised beds and containers make planting easier for all gardeners, especially those with low vision. You can work sitting down or standing up. The garden area is well defined so you have the plants that you want to work on right at you fingertips. You’ll also be able to work with short handled tools, which gives you better control than long handles. You can feel the plant with one hand while using the tool with the other.

I’m a great advocate of informal gardens but a more formal arrangement can make plant location easier for those with low vision. Plant ornamentals in groups and vegetables in rows. Identify rows or groups with labels printed with large or raised letters or Braille. 

There are various ways to be sure your plants or seeds are properly spaced. They include using a rope with a knot at the proper intervals or a board with notches on the edge or holes in the center. A neat trick for centering a plant in a container is to fill the container with potting mix and place a smaller pot in the center. Press the pot down to create the center planting hole, place the plant in the hole and backfill.

These are just a few ways senior gardeners can continue to garden successfully with limited vision. There are more ideas in my critically acclaimed book, The Geriatric Gardener: Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors. 

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order your copy.