Gardening Tools for Limited Mobility: Avoid “Pain Debt”

Gardening Tools for Limited Mobility: Avoid “Pain Debt”

Dina Pittman

Dina Pittman gardens with her staff (two aging boxers, Boris and Natasha) on 1.5 acres in gardening zone 8. Follow her adventures navigating life with arthritis while creating the garden of her dreams on IG, Facebook and her blog The Disabled Gardener where she writes about the arthritis gardening hacks that make it possible.

Arthritis has seriously changed my abilities in the garden. For a gardening-is-life kind of person, quitting has never been an option, which means learning to adapt. Limited ability means only having a certain capacity for exertion, time, and steps.

When you exceed that capacity, but push through trying to finish your gardening tasks, you accumulate what I call “pain debt”. Pain debt results in sore, aching muscles, flared up joints, or worse, injury, leading to frustration rather than enjoyment.

Think of your day in the garden in terms of a budget. A gardening activity budget. I know, budgeting is boring, but stick with me. I promise it’ll get fun!

gardening with arthritis

Create Your Budget

On a typical Saturday dedicated to gardening, maybe you’ll spend all your budget on a special project, maintenance, or a hybrid. The good thing about having limited mobility is – although prone to exceeding them – we tend to know our limits. To create your budget, take an honest look at your capacity.

  • Time: For me realistically, this means 5-6 hours of actual gardening before I’ll be hitting my pain debt ceiling.
  • Steps: Let’s estimate the number of steps you can walk before you’re getting into dangerous territory is around 10,000. 
  • Exertion: This one is harder to gauge because it’s task dependent. If you follow a fitness program, you know how many squats or lunges you can manage and how much weight you can comfortably carry. I’m comfortable lifting 15 lbs for a limited number of repetitions and can do 30 lunges (getting up and down from the ground unassisted). The bigger the exertion, the faster you’ll exhaust your budget.

These estimates give you a realistic budget, but what do you do when, like a financial budget that finds you with way more month than money, you find you have more work than capability? A strained budget needs great tools!

Charcoal 50ft Retractable Hose Reel against white background

50ft Retractable Hose Reel Charcoal

Now $199.00 Was
Was $199.00
Stainless Steel Hori Hori Garden Knife

Stainless Steel Hori Hori Garden Knife

Now $35.00 Was
Was $35.00

Stretching the Budget to Maximize Results

Now for the fun part: Finding the cheats! Ergonomically designed tools are labor-cutting marvels that let you spend more time enjoying your yard. The three major categories mentioned above are exertion, time, and steps. Let’s examine how tools in each category make the difference between giving up or maintaining a beautiful garden.

Exertion – things like digging, planting and watering – use up your allotment the fastest. Even quicker if you’re carrying weight while doing them. It makes sense to focus on tools that reduce the load on your body.

The most effective tools are ones that put the stress on the tool not on your joints.

Watering is an everyday chore that consumes a big slice of the budget. Trips to the garden center result in a car loaded to the brim with plants you couldn’t resist. Once you accomplish the huge task of prepping garden beds and getting those plants in the ground, then the real work begins - maintenance. Plants have an annoying habit of dying when you don’t water them!

Watering is a deceptive budget hog. It seems like an easy task, but on 1.5 acres in a dry, hot climate, watering is my biggest chore. Manually unwinding 80-100 feet of hose, watering and then winding it back up uses a ton of steps, time, and exertion. If you’re nearing your pain debt ceiling, you might decide you’re too tired to re-wind them. Hoses laying across the ground are more than just untidy – they create a tripping hazard.

Reusable Plant Ties | 1/2in x 16ft roll

Reusable Plant Ties | 1/2in x 16ft roll

Now $9.00 Was
Was $9.00
Folding Garden Kneeler & Seat with Tool Pouches standing upright on a white background

Garden Kneeler and Seat

Now $65.00 Was
Was $65.00

A quality, automatic hose reel makes watering a breeze. I was astonished at the amount of time and effort it saved me. It’s so easy to use that I’m never tempted to leave a hose laying out. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much nicer my yard looked without a tangle of hoses! My strategically placed Hoselink hose reels mean I never have to waste time and energy on hoses again.

Small watering jobs used to have me carrying a watering can. Water weighs 8 lbs per gallon, so if you’re carrying a typical 2 gallon watering can, you’re adding 16 lbs of stress. But since my Hoselink is so easy to use, I don’t reach for a watering can anymore.

Arthritis in my hands and wrists makes dexterity a huge expenditure. Connecting and reconnecting a hose or sprinkler isn’t a great outlay of energy, but when you live in a world where opening a jar is painful, it’s a much bigger task. The Hoselink 2-way faucet adapter and quick-connect links are a simple solution. The adapter means I can have two hoses on one bib without having to connect and disconnect. I use one for my drip line and the other for my Hoselink reel, easily switching between the two.

reusable plant tie

Small tools can make a big difference with small joints like Hoselink reusable plant ties. Cut to length velcro ties tame an unruly plant easily and create less waste.

Weeding is never my favorite task but a necessary one. Struggling with hand and wrist arthritis has made it even less fun. Pulling large weeds by hand puts a lot of stress on small bones and joints. But the Hoselink Stand-Up Weed Puller gives my compromised hand and wrist anatomy a much-needed break. This lightweight tool allows me to stand putting less stress on my back. Step on the tool to press the spikes into the weed and the ergonomic design uses leverage to pull out the weed and root. Bye, bye dandelions and crabgrass! But the fun part is ejecting the weed from the tool with the auto-eject system. Watch out weeds, Grambo is coming after you!

Pruning and cutting are made easier by using the appropriate tool. I have garden snips, secateurs, bypass pruners, shears, and loppers. Cutting with the wrong tool means working harder. Garden snips are great for deadheading, harvesting, and very light pruning. Secateurs are by far the cutting tool I use most. If your secateurs or pruners are old, they’re probably dull! If you can, take them annually to be cleaned and sharpened. If you can’t, replace them! You know how hard it is to cut up vegetables in the kitchen with a dull knife. The same applies to plants – the duller your tool is, the harder your body has to work. 

Heavy Duty Green Secateurs 8"

Heavy Duty Green Secateurs 8"

Now $34.00 Was
Was $34.00
8-Pattern Flow Control Sprayer - Short Handle

8-Pattern Flow Control Sprayer - Short Handle

Now $25.00 Was
Was $25.00

Tools That Help Save Time and Steps

I start my day by loading a garden cart with everything I’ll need. My 200 steps round trip from vegetable garden to garage can cost 1000 steps if I make 5 trips back for forgotten tools. That’s 10% of my steps budget!  Notice I didn’t say wheelbarrow. I prefer a cart with large, bicycle type wheels in the back and legs in the front with a “tailgate” that lets you unload with a tip of the cart. Carts are more stable and easier to maneuver than wheelbarrows.

My garden scooter lets me sit while planting out annuals and weeding, but it’s bulky and hard to get into tight spaces. The Hoselink Garden Kneeler to the rescue! It eliminates repetitive squatting and lays on the ground for kneeling then flips so its sturdy side legs assist in getting up. You can also use it as a bench seat. Pockets along the side keep tools and seed packets handy. I love that it folds up too so I can pack it tidily in my garden cart.

Two all-purpose tools in my cart are a potting mat, and a Hori Hori knife. The potting mat doesn’t take up any space in my cart and is useful wherever I need a waterproof surface. I slide 4” pots along as I’m planting, and catch debris headed for the compost pile. It’s saves clean-up time with messy chores like potting-up.

potting up plants

A Hori Hori knife is a lifesaver when you didn’t bring that one tool you need. It can do the job of a pruner (in a pinch), trowel, hoe, weed digger, and small shovel. The serrated blade will cut through anything, and the heavy-duty steel blade won’t break. This all-purpose tool will save time and steps back to the shed.

Speaking of steps, let’s talk about those shoes you’re gardening in all day. I bet if I look at your back door, I’ll find an array of cast-off sneakers and flip flops that pass for your gardening shoes, right?  Ask yourself, would I go hiking all day in these? If the answer is no, then you probably need to get some dedicated gardening shoes. One of my pet peeves about gardening shoes is the focus tends to be on cute rather than support. Yeah, I really want to garden in those rubber mucks with adorable chickens all over them, but are they really supporting my feet, arches, ankles and back? That’s a lot to ask of fun chicken shoes.  And some of the great quality ones are very heavy. Trudging around in a heavy shoe all day stresses your back and the exertion budget. Stick with water repellent sneakers and sandals that are lightweight and made for athletic performance.

These are some of my favorite tools to help keep me out of pain debt. If you’re gardening with limitations, take some time to evaluate your activity budget. Where will an ergonomically designed, quality tool stretch the budget and help overcome physical obstacles? Ask yourself: Does this tool take the load off me? Does it save steps? Does it save time? If the answer is yes, then it’s worth the investment. And bonus points if it does all three! Better tools are the key to gardening with limited abilities.

dogs in car

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