Let Nature Take Its Course

When planning for the 2021 growing season, your goal should be to make gardening simpler and easier. One way to do that is to let nature take its course. It was OK to formalize your garden when you had all the pain-free energy in the world. But now that you have to budget that energy, let Mother Nature help. And Mother Nature will only help if you do it her way.

I’ll bet Mother Nature isn’t as fussy as you are about how straight the rows are. Or whether plants are growing there that you didn’t plant. Call them weeds or call them volunteers, you didn’t plant them. Unless they’re noxious weeds or aggressively invasive, let them grow for a season. If you absolutely can’t live with your new plants, you can muster some help next season to pull them out. Keep in mind that these new plants cost you nothing in time or money.

Your garden doesn’t have to resemble the Palace of Versailles to look nice and draw compliments. In fact, formal gardens are out of vogue these days. The more natural look is in style. If you take a walk in the woods and the trees are all in straight lines, that forest was planted by humans. In a natural forest, seeds germinate where they drop. Although some gardeners would refer to that as messy, I like to refer to it as random planting.

My back yard has a hill with a plateau, a line of trees separating me from a cornfield, which doubles as a favorite goose hunting site for my neighbors and others who follow the flock (or more precisely, the gaggle). When the house was built, I had the builder grade the hill to be landscaped but left the plateau and line of trees natural.

The photo below was taken shortly after the hill was landscaped. Each year, for the first 10 years or so, I diligently weeded and trimmed the shrubs. It was planted mostly in juniper and Korean lilacs with a false cypress for accent on one side. A couple of potentilla take the eye across the rock drainage swale to a row of potentilla forming a screen near the lot line. We did the same thing with ornamental grass on the other side. 

After the first decade, my knee made climbing and working on the hill difficult. Besides, the row of junipers midway up the hill had formed a wall so nothing except the Korean lilacs were visible above the junipers. That led to my weeding only below the line of junipers. Today, my gardener weeds only the little area between the plants and the swale, and he removes some vines growing there. Quite frankly, I prefer the natural look in the top photo.

This is just one example of naturalization. Originally, a line of spirea followed the curvature of the sidewalk but they overgrew the sidewalk every summer and had to be cut back. They’ve since been replaced by a row of compact boxwoods. Don’t be afraid to replace plants that don’t behave and require more work than you want to give them.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

New Years Activity: Start Making Your Adaptive Gardening Plan For 2021

The holidays are behind us but several more months of winter still lie ahead. There’s no gardening work to be done. No snow or ice removal that you should be doing. So, what’s a senior gardener to do to keep their green thumb from getting itchy? My suggestion: Start planning for this spring.

While you’re browsing seed catalogs, gardening magazines and the internet, also look inward to determine how you’ll need to adapt this season. You’ll be a step ahead if you decide what changes you’ll need to make, get the material and do any assembly or fabrication that you can do inside.

Start with a self Question & Answer session. This will give you the direction you need to take.

• Question: It’s starting to hurt when I kneel to garden. What can I do?

Answer: It’s time to get padding for the knees or a gardening seat. Raised beds are becoming popular with senior gardeners because they can work sitting down. You might even look into vertical gardens if you are able to garden standing up.  

• Question: I’m planning a major garden renovation; how can I prepare for the future?

Answer: Begin by redesigning your paths and walkways, making them wider and smoother with gentle slopes instead of steps. You’ll then be prepared if you need a walker or wheelchair, either permanently or when recovering from joint replacement surgery. Raised beds should also be considered.

• Question: Tasks like dividing perennials are getting too difficult for me. What should I do?

Answer: Get family, a friend or a landscape professional to help for the short term. For the long term, consider replacing the perennials with shrubs. They require less care. Choose flowering shrubs or place containers of annuals in the same beds.

• Question: My tools are getting too difficult to use. What alternatives are available.

Answer: Ergonomic trowels and other small tools are available. Trade your larger, wood handled, heavy shovels, rakes and hoes in for lightweight models. Their fiberglass handles make them easy to use and their brightly colored handles make them hard to forget when you’re ready to leave the garden. 

• Question: How can I hold gardening tools with arthritic fingers?

Answer: Get the tools with foam sleeves for a better grip or make your own sleeves with pipe insulation that you can buy at home centers.

• Question: How can I continue gardening when I tire so easily?

Answer: Make sure you have a shady spot, near where you’ll be working, to sit, rest and hydrate. Begin with the most strenuous activity. As soon as you start to get tired, go to your rest area for awhile. When you’re done resting, go to a less strenuous activity. Continue this work, rest routine until your body tells you to call it a day. Plan your tasks so they’re less and less strenuous as the day goes on.

Starting to plan now will give you plenty of time to get your ducks in a row before the season rather than having to spend time adapting in the spring when your garden is crying for attention.

If you want more details on the answer to any of these questions, they’re all in my book, The Geriatric Gardener Adaptive Gardening Advice For Seniors. Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order a copy.

A Little T-Shirt Philosophy To Share

As we settle in to winter, I hope you use the time wisely – to relax and enjoy the fruits (and veggies) of your labor. I feel like using some of it to sit and think philosophically, which is unusual for me.

It all started when a t-shirt ad popped up on Facebook. I don’t usually respond to ads on Facebook because they don’t always come through with the merchandise. But the saying on the shirt spoke to me. It summed up the attitude all senior gardeners should have. It says, “Never underestimate an old man who loves to garden and was born in November.”

When the shirt didn’t arrive in time for a family event, I went to the t-shirt drawer to find my previously favorite philosophical shirt.  It would also make a statement. It says, “All I need to know about life,  I learned from a tree” and then lists the following  on the front and back:

• It’s important to have roots.

• Expand your destiny, spread out.

• Don’t wither away over old flames. 

• If you really believe in something, don’t be afraid to go out on a limb.

• When life gets stormy, be flexible, so you don’t break.

• Sometimes you have to shed your old bark In order to grow.

• If you want order in your life, keep a log.

• Sometimes you just gotta be a nut.

• Grow where you’re planted.

• It’s perfectly okay to be a late bloomer.

• Avoid people who would like to cut you down.

• Get all spruced up and go to the beech.

• Rather than abuse a tree, just leaf.

• Be sure to cover your bare ash in turmoil.

• As you approach the autumn of your life, show your true colors.

• It’s more important to be honest than poplar.

But alas the ravages of time had taken their toll. Not on the shirt but on me. It was only a large. I guess I’d lost track of time. But I wanted to share this take off on Robert Fulghum’s 1986 book,  All I Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten, with you before I put it in the Good Will bag.My wish is for you to have a safe and happy holiday season in this most unusual year, and that you’ll be ready to return to the garden at the first hint of spring. Meanwhile,  I’ll be back to writing about how we senior gardeners can have fun and still be safe simply by adapting to our changing physical capabilities.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

The Perfect Holiday Gift For The Senior Gardener

The holidays will soon be here and you’re probably already being asked by your kids and grandkids what you’d like for Christmas. If your answer is, “I don’t know,” you’ll confirm their mistaken notion that we seniors already have everything. I’ll bet there’s one thing you don’t have: The Geriatric Gardener book.

In past years, I’ve recommended books that can help in your adaptive gardening effort. I’m making the same recommendation this year. But this year’s recommendation is brand new. It’s  my book. Each post I write for this blog is intended to make gardening easier, less expensive and more enjoyable, addressing one issue at a time. But there’s one thing that has concerned me since the start – the blog’s archives aren’t very user friendly and I can’t do anything to change that.To find a previous post you have to scroll down until you find it, and that may involve clicking through many pages. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to edit the posts into a book with an easy-to-navigate table of contents. You only have to look in the table for the subject you want to reference and flip to that chapter. 

The size is easy to handle – 5.5” x 8.5” – and it’s just 114 pages. The color photos are there and the type passed my failing eyesight test (I can read it.). So, when family asks what you’d like for Christmas this year, you don’t have to leave them guessing. Just tell them, “I’d like The Geriatric Gardener book. It costs just $14.95 plus shipping and handling. You can order it at https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener.” Don’t tell them there’s a whole chapter that gives you tips for getting them involved in your senior garden. Spring it on them next spring.

Right Plant Right Place Means Less Work & Expense

Right plant right place is more than a gardener’s mantra or an advertising slogan. It’s meant to  save you work and expense. When a plant is placed so that it’s happy, it’ll grow to be healthy and productive. It’ll be less susceptible to insect or disease attack. The soil will be supplying the nutrients it needs. And this will save you time and money.

You need to do due diligence when purchasing a plant to be sure conditions are to its liking. The first thing you have to check is its USDA hardiness zone. If you don’t know the zone you live in, ask a horticulturist at your garden center. Then check the zones that the plant(s) you’re considering will grow in. It should be on the plant’s nursery tag.  

Before going to the garden center, check if the site you’re considering gets full sun, partial sunt or shade. Is it on high ground where water will run off or low ground where water puddles? Does it get the full blast of the prevailing wind or is the location sheltered? Is the soil acid or basic? If you know what plant you’re considering, look up on the internet to see what conditions the plant prefers. If you’re going to shop for plants, check the nursery tags. If you don’t get satisfactory information, look the plant varieties up on your smart phone or go home and check the internet on your computer before you buy.

,Plants can be very fickle. There’s a whole group of plants that are acid loving and will only grow in acid soil. Called ericaceous, this group includes rhododendrons, camelias, mountain laurel and others. If you plant them in basic soil, you’ll have to acidify the soil around them and keep it acidified year after year. I had three PJM rhododendrons and two mountain laurels for which I injected the soil around them with a fertilizer for ericaceous plants every spring. This was actually fun until my mobility problems started. Now I just have two PJMs that are doing OK in the native soil.

Plants like hostas that prefer shade won’t grow well in full sun. There are also plants that don’t like wet feet, so they won’t grow on a site that’s always wet and there are other plants that need plenty of water. 

When you think you have all your bases covered with the plants, your health conditions may change. A few years ago, I had a garden (photo with red flowers) installed in my front yard. I told the designer the plants have to thrive in full afternoon sun, like our basic soil and be hardy to at least zone 5 because they’d be in the path of the prevailing wind. Water wasn’t a concern. I had a soaker hose put under the stone mulch.

To get water to the soaker hose, a hose from the spigot has to cross the sidewalk. That meant being able to connect and disconnect the hoses so nobody would trip on them. That worked fine until I couldn’t stoop to service the hoses. Soon the garden looked like the middle photo.

This last fall, I had new plants put in where the others died (right photo) but added “Drought tolerant” to the list of plant requirements. Sometimes I fail to take my own advice. The means learning the hard, and expensive, way. I share these stories so you won’t make the same mistakes.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Easy Protection For Your Evergreens

Evergreen trees and shrubs don’t go completely dormant in the winter like deciduous plants (those that lose their leaves). Their leaves or needles continue to make food through photosynthesis, just at a slower rate. Water, absorbed by their roots, is essential to this reaction. Water is also given off, or transpired, through their needles or leaves.

In winter, when the ground is frozen, evergreens recycle that transpired water to be used again in the photosynthetic reaction. High winds, however, often blow the transpired water off the needles or leaves before it can be reabsorbed, causing that branch to die. This condition is called winter burn and you can identify it by the browning of branches or portions of branches.

The traditional method of protection was to wrap the tree or shrub in burlap. That’s more work than many senior gardeners want, or are able, to do. Well, you don’t have to, except for extremely tender young trees and shrubs. Instead, apply a material called anti-desiccant. 

Anti-desiccant is a wax like material that, when sprayed on evergreen needles and leaves, holds transpired water in place until it can be reabsorbed. The best known brand name is Wilt Pruf and you can buy it in garden stores in spray bottles that will cover two or three average size shrubs. That’s about all you’ll want to do. Trust me; your hand will be tired when you’re done applying anti-desiccant from spray bottles. 

I’ve been using anti-desiccant for more than 25 years. Each fall I would apply it to two Taxus (Yews) on either end of the headstone at my parents’ graves. I was much younger then and still had to switch hands frequently. Today, I’d need help to do it.

If you have a number of trees and shrubs, especially tall trees, it’s more economical to hire a tree or landscape professional. They’ll use either a powerful truck mounted sprayer or a backpack sprayer. And it should cost you less than buying all those small bottles and expending the energy to apply them. Besides you couldn’t reach the tree tops without using a ladder. Not a good idea for senior gardeners. I’ve had the evergreens in my yard professionally protected since I first heard of anti-desiccant. It’s part of my Plant Health Care contract.

Anti-desiccant is a white liquid but it dries clear. Because it is wax based, you should wait until the temperature’s consistently below 40ºF but before it’s freezing. If you have a mild winter, you may need to touch up some of the plants that get full sun, especially if the temperature gets above 50ºF for any length of time.

I consider anti-desiccant inexpensive insurance for the many evergreen trees and shrubs on my property and recommend it, especially for senior gardeners who want to work smarter rather than harder.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

How To Safely Remove Leaves From Your Lawn


Leaf removal is one fall task that challenges the creativity of adaptive gardening. But it shouldn’t just be left to Mother Nature to take care of.  So, I offer some low impact suggestions for senior gardeners.

Most lawn mowers today have mulching decks and blades. They are made for mulching grass so little pieces fall to the ground and fertilize the lawn as you mow.  They can do the same for leaves if there aren’t too many of them. If you, or your grass cutting contractor, mow every week during fall leaf drop, you should be able to stay ahead of the dropping leaves and it won’t require any more work than it would if there were no leaves. And it will probably save you at least one fertilization next season.

How do you know if your machine is a mulching mower? Check the instruction book that came with it. See if the grass chute can be closed. Look under the deck  and if it has baffles that you’ve never seen before and a blade that has some extra bends and cutting edges, it’s probably a mulcher. You can also run it over some leaves and see if it pulverizes them. Or, you can take a photo of the underside of the deck and show it to an outdoor power equipment dealer for verification.

If you hire out your lawn mowing, check with the contractor to be sure his mowers will mulch. If not, maybe you can negotiate a deal in which he blows the leaves to the curb for municipal pickup or into your compost pile for a reasonable price.

If you end up having to move large a quantity of leaves, my first suggestion is to get help. If none’s available, take your time and work only for short periods of time. If you have a heavy, gas powered blower, consider trading it in for a lightweight electric model, preferably battery powered.

Leaves left on the lawn all winter can mat and trap water underneath. Soggy grass is the perfect environment for fungal turf diseases. When the snow melts in the spring and you remove the matted leaves, you may be greeted by brown spots, circles of dead grass called fairy rings or gray leaves. Renovation takes extra work that you should be trying to avoid. If you rake the dead grass from small spots they may fill in by themselves. After raking out the dead grass from big areas, you have to rough the soil with a steel rake, fertilize, seed and water. 

Mulching leaves as you mow instead of having to rake or blow them or leaving them on the ground for the winter and then having to renovate the lawn are examples of working smarter (mulching as you mow) rather than harder (raking, blowing or renovation).

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Simple Ways To Protect Your Containerized Plant

When winter approaches, containerized plants need some care to prepare them, especially if you live in cold, windy snowy regions like New York’s Finger Lakes. The amount and type of care they require varies with the types of plants you are growing and their location on your property.

The easiest plants are indoor plants that you put outdoors for the summer. All you have to do is bring them back inside. Pots that contained annuals only have to be emptied, washed, disinfected and stored for the winter. 

Plants that are hardy in your climate should be able to survive the winter. As a precaution, though, I would move them to a location that is sheltered from the wind but gets a good amount of sun. To further protect them, wrap the containers in an insulating material like bubble wrap or Styrofoam insulation and place a layer of mulch around  the container. Only the container stands between the plants’ roots and the freezing cold, and most container material isn’t a very good insulator. 

Tender plants need special care.. Plants that can’t stand the extra cold that the winds bring should spend the winter under glass or transparent plastic sheeting. The most popular structure is a cold frame. Cold frames are available at garden centers, home centers and online in many different sizes and shapes using a variety of materials. Wood and glass cold frames may be purchased in kit form or fully built. You can also purchase temporary, folding cold frames like the one pictured. 

Super tender plants have to go inside for the winter. This doesn’t mean the garage, either. Most garages aren’t insulated or heated so they’re too cold for the plants. Few garages have enough windows to let in sufficient sunlight, and if the plants are sharing space with vehicles, they will be subjected to carbon monoxide and other pollutants. If you have a three season room, also called a Florida room, that would likely work as a winter home for these plants. You might have to place a space heater out there to bring the temperature up to their liking, though. 

One more thing you need to consider is the container material. Many do not fare well in bitter cold weather. Terra cotta is one material that will break in freezing temperatures. Some ceramic and concrete materials will also. These containers are usually manufactured in places where cold weather isn’t a problem. My recommendation is faux terra cotta made of heavy gauge plastic. Besides being weather safe, they are lighter to move around than the real stuff, especially .if you stand them on a wheeled pot caddy.

Containerized plants need some ongoing care during the winter. For example, self watering containers are great in summer but don’t work well in winter when water freezes. Outdoor plants would appreciate a drink of water whenever the temperature rises above freezing. Those stored inside should be watered on a regular schedule when they get dry, just as you do with houseplants. On a sunny day when the temperature is above freezing, it would be nice to open the cold frame and let them get some fresh air.  

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.


Plant Bulbs Standing Up

Nothing lifts our spirits from thewinter doldrums quite like the colorful appearance of crocuses pushing their way up through the snow. Soon we will know spring has arrived when bright yellow daffodils make their appearance. Finally, this cacophony of color rises to a crescendo with the colorful showing of mass tulips. 

For some seniors, this image may be just a fond memory of days gone by. More recent is the pain of kneeling to replace bulbs that have lived their life. If that’s the case, I have an alternative to the traditional trowel or bulb planter – a long handle trowel or bulb planter.

There really is such a thing as a long handle bulb planter. In fact, there are a number of different designs available online. Just Google “Long handle bulb planters.” If you are used to using the method where you dig the trowel in and pull it toward you to make the hole, long handle trowels would be an option to check out. If you have used a bulb planter that removes a plug of soil, those are made with long handles. I even watched a Youtube video for a long bulb auger that comes in various sizes and is powered by a cordless drill. 

I suggest that you visit our local garden center that has a good selection of tools, or a big box home store and try them out to see which fits your needs best. Check out the weight, the length of the handle and the general feel of it, and price. Then decide whether to buy locally or online. If you are still restricting the public places you visit, you can call to see if they have long handle bulb planters in stock. Only visit the stores if they do.

My one concern about planting bulbs from a standing position is getting the bulb in the hole right side up. The pointed end has to be up; the other end is the root. You could use your reacher to plant the bulb (see August 15 post). Having to use two long handle tools might slow down the process, so pick a day in which you have all the time in the world to plant. 

Like all adaptive gardening, there are always trade-offs. In this case, you are trading time for pain-free knees and back. Speaking of time, there isn’t much more time for you to make a decision if you want beautiful crocuses, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths next spring. The bulbs have to be planted this fall for them to flower next spring.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardener to order The Geriatric Gardener book.

Some Other Gardening Blogs You May Want To Visit

Reading every garden blog would be more than a fulltime job. You’d never have time to work in your own garden. But there are some good ones out there in addition to The Geriatric Gardener.

I don’t usually promote other sites because I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the information. However for the past few years, I’ve been part of a “Power Circle” for a small group of garden bloggers – all members of the Garden Communicators International (formally Garden Writers Association). We have monthly phone calls on various topics ranging from marketing tips to content ideas. I feel confident sharing the other members’ blogs and highlight a bit about them.

Amy Whitneyblogs at Small Garden News and she is the Southeast USA. Her blog concentrates on organic food gardening and she has two books that you will want to check out – one on Fall Garden Planning and the other is a Garden Planner and Notebook.

Gail Pabst co-writes her No Farm Needed blog with her daughter. Check out their online store which features their pressed flower crafts from flowers that they both grow.

Gerald Simcoe‘s web site is GeraldSimcoe.com. He studied horticulture at Longwood Gardens, but now spends his time painting. Check out his floral still lifes – from flowers grown in his own garden.

Keri Byrum’s blog is Miss Smarty Plants. She was in Florida for awhile, but is back in Iowa on a farm. She specializes in growing hops for local breweries and has great information on raising backyard chickens.

Kathy Jentz’ blog is the Washington Gardener. She writes for and oversees both the blog and the printed version of the magazine. Kathy knows and covers all things gardening in the Washington DC area. She has been our leader of the Power Circle for the past three years so we are indebted to her organization and prompting for our regular chats.

Marianne Willburn writes at Small Town Gardener. You may know her book Big Dreams, Small Garden. She lives in Lovettsville, VA.

Randy Schultz‘s web site is https://HomeGardenandHomestead.com. Randy is a Master Gardener who has been working in the Home and Garden industry for 30 years. His website is a great source for stories on all kinds of topics related to gardening, natural living and do-it-yourself projects.

None of these sites, except this, is about Adaptive Gardening, but they all contain good information that you may be able to use.

Visit https://thepancoastconcern.com/the_geriatric_gardenerto order The Geriatric Gardener book. If you can’t connect by clicking on the link, copy and paste it in your browser.