Tips for Healthy Gardening


The Secret GardenAfter a seemingly endless winter, spring is officially here. Observing our community, many are taking advantage of the influx of warm weather to work outdoors. However, if you overdo it or throw your back out, you may end up coming up short, come harvest time.

April is occupational therapy month. Occupational therapists (OT) help people develop or regain skills in all areas of life — whether those are basic self-care skills such as brushing your teeth or combing your hair–or the leisure activities that people find meaningful, such as gardening. Check out these tips to help decrease your chance of injury while cultivating your green thumb.

  1. Plan ahead. Before you even dip your gardening shoe in your “bit of earth”, consider the type of garden you envision. Think through the logistics of garden maintenance, such as how much weeding, watering and general care the garden requires. Is the hose nearby for easy water access? Consider planting hardy varieties that require less care. Planting perennials instead of annuals gives greater longevity to your garden. Cultivating a rock garden or planting groundcover ensures you have less weeding in your future.

    photo credit: Tim Houghton

    photo credit: Tim Houghton

  2. Lighten your Load. Redistribute large bags of mulch, soil, or manure so that you are not carrying such a heavy load. When lifting bags, use your leg muscles instead of your back. Alternatively, if your garden space permits, consider having loose mulch or topsoil delivered straight to where your garden will flourish. If feasible, hiring temporary help for big jobs may also be beneficial.
  3. Give yourself a break and change of pace. Take breaks before you tire, or at least every 15 minutes. Change tasks frequently so that you can easily vary positions and use different muscle groups.
  4. Have a seat. Sit down when feasible and avoid stooping, bending and twisting.
  5. Use a workbench. Consider using a waist high workbench for preparation tasks such as re-potting seedlings or growing kitchen herbs at an easy-to-reach height.

I hope you find these strategies helpful as you nurture your garden, your green thumb, and yourself.

For additional information on healthy gardening from the American Occupational Therapy Association, click here.

Check out strategies for planning a garden your whole family will enjoy.


Fiona Bessey-Bushnell

Fiona Bessey-Bushnell is an occupational therapist and writer. A former archaeologist, she now enjoys digging up great stories right here in Richmond. She has an unusual affinity for Venn diagrams and post-it notes. Fiona lives with her husband and two young sons.

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