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Try some fatigue-free gardening

Gardening doesn't have to be a pain in the neck, back, knees or hips for the millions of Americans who suffer from arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis or other painful disabilities.

Here are some common-sense suggestions for reducing stress and fatigue while continuing to enjoy the low impact exercise that comes from gardening:

  • Start by knowing your limitations. Rest frequently and pace yourself while occupied with extensive and repetitive garden chores. Gardening is all about puttering. Take your time and enjoy it.
  • Keep gardens or flowerbeds small or sized in scale with your capabilities. Don't overdo or become overwhelmed by a too-optimistic workload.
  • Plant gardens near a water source or lay out a system of hoses conveniently near the work sites. Store tools in a nearby shed, cabinet or perhaps a large mailbox. Build trails wide enough for wheelchairs, wagons and walkers to pass. Add handrails for balance and place benches at various points for rest and reflection.
  • Wrap tool handles or stuff gloves with foam padding to make grasping more comfortable. Adding a cord to the grips makes them easier to retrieve if dropped and conveniently at hand when looped around your wrist or neck.
  • Choose low-maintenance plants that don't need much in the way of deadheading, watering, spraying or pruning. Vegetables trained to climb a trellis will eliminate the need for bending when harvesting. Lighten the spring planting routine by selecting perennials, which will bring many happy and unassisted returns.
  • Use equipment that makes everyday gardening chores easier on traumatized soft tissues and joints. That includes kneeling stools, long-handled "reacher-grabbers," kneepads, potting benches, seed dispensers and wagons. Wear a smock or tie on a carpenter's apron. Both are equipped with numerous pockets for seed packets, notepads and tools. Carry a magnifying glass with you to help read the fine print on stakes and seed labels.
  • Confine your gardening to raised beds or containers, which will minimize stooping. Make the beds small enough so plants in the middle can be reached without an awkward stretch. Place large containers on wheels so they can be shifted to wherever they're the most convenient.
  • Weed and cultivate after a rain when the soil is easier to work.
  • Use large sprinklers that cover wide areas and require less moving around. Drip irrigation or drizzler hoses are easy-care water systems for thirsty plants.
  • Carry a cell phone or whistle while working alone in distant corners of the yard. Better yet, garden with a buddy. You can share some ideas and keep one another company.
  • Minimize risk. If a certain job places you in an uncomfortable position, like reaching, then figure out another approach or find a tool designed to serve.
  • Super-size your tool collection. If you know you'll need two hands to make a cut with a pruner, then upgrade and reach for a lopper instead. That still may require using both hands, but the squeezing effort will be minimal.

"Accessible Gardening: Tips and Techniques for Seniors & the Disabled" by Joann Woy. Stackpole Books. List price: $16.95.

You can contact Dean Fosdick at deanfosdick(at)netscape.net.