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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In the Garden: Tips to make gardening easier as we get older

There are many flowering shrubs, such as this Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea, that require minimal care. (Susan Mulvihill/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

I hate to say this, but I’m not getting any younger. And chances are I’ve got plenty of company. As we gardeners age, our favorite pastime can start to feel overwhelming. While my love for gardening hasn’t waned over the years, I’m looking for ways to make certain aspects of it easier and less time-consuming.

I find the most taxing activity is getting up and down over and over again. Many years ago, I discovered a wonderful tool called a kneeler/bench. When used as a kneeler, you use the handles to lower yourself down onto it and push yourself back up. This really gives the leg and hip muscles a break. Flip the kneeler over, and you’ve got a small bench to sit on during tedious tasks such as deadheading or picking blueberries.

When purchasing hand tools, I look for those that allow me to keep my wrist straight and prefer pruners and loppers with a ratcheting action. That way, I don’t need as much hand or arm strength.

A watering timer is another valuable tool. It’s no fun dragging a hose around to different areas of the garden. In addition to potentially wiping out plants when the hose cuts across the corner of a bed, it’s very tedious. There are inexpensive, battery-operated timers available at home centers that can make watering a breeze. They should be programmed to water early in the morning when there will be the least amount of evaporation.

No gardener wants to spend time weeding. I mulch the surface of most of my vegetable and flower beds so that it’s harder for weeds to come up. Any time I spot some, I yank them out as quickly as possible. My goal this season has been to take a close look at everything I’m growing, from ornamentals to veggies. There are some plants that, to be frank, ask a bit much of us.

Many years ago, I had a knack for purchasing perennials that tended to be invasive. I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time beating them back to their allotted spaces instead of enjoying my well-behaved plants. Some of the troublemakers include anemone, lady’s mantle, gooseneck loosestrife, clustered bellflower, hardy geraniums, dead nettle (Lamium) and carpet bugle.

I intend to replace many of these plants with shrubs. Even though we all love perennials because they come back every year, they require more care than shrubs. Examples of wonderful blooming shrubs are hydrangea, Japanese Kerria, Aphrodite sweetshrub (Calycanthus), spirea, buttonbush, bluebeard, viburnum, mock orange, oceanspray, serviceberry, snowberry and American cranberry bush. The last five are native shrubs.

In the vegetable garden, some of the easiest crops to grow are carrots, zucchini, bush beans, lettuce and potatoes. That’s because they don’t require staking or special treatment. While I love the diversity of crops we grow every year, I’m currently evaluating whether some of them yield enough to warrant the tender loving care we give them.

One example is cauliflower. It doesn’t particularly care for our hot summers and requires either a layer of floating row cover or bridal veil netting to keep away cabbage butterflies and aphids. That’s one crop I’m crossing off the list for next year.

Even though we have a large landscape, that doesn’t mean I can’t downsize it a bit by choosing low-maintenance plants. The result will be an increase in the joy I feel whenever I’m out in the garden.

Susan Mulvihill is co-author, with Pat Munts, of “Northwest Gardener’s Handbook.” Contact her at Watch this week’s “Everyone Can Grow a Garden” video on