People living without disabilities may not consider the difficulties involved in wheelchair gardening. That’s because the gardening world is mostly designed for them, so they don’t have to consider what it’s like navigating gardening tools and tasks while trying to work comfortably as someone who is wheelchair-bound.
That’s why we’ve dedicated this piece to gardening for wheelchair users. There are plenty of things to consider, but that doesn’t mean a wheelchair user can’t be an avid gardener. Quite the contrary! The gardening experience, even with mobility issues, can still be easily accessible with practical information and enough room.
Mobility challenges do not prevent someone from having their own garden and keeping plants healthy. Limited mobility doesn’t mean you can’t work comfortably or make garden jobs easier than they would be without any considerations for mobility limitations. Here are some tips on how you can make your garden more accessible to a wheelchair-bound gardener, whether that’s you or someone you care about.
Wheelchair Accessible Gardens
A garden designed for a person who uses a wheelchair to get around should have a garden layout devoted to preventing limited mobility. Raised garden beds at the right height and orientation are a must. This could be raised planters, hanging baskets, tabletop gardens, or simple wood raised beds.
The garden layout should also include firm ground that is smooth and lacks large particulate that’s difficult to roll over. The planting area should be easy to access from a seated position and garden tasks shouldn’t be more hard work than they would be for anyone else. Good accessible garden design includes accessibility for all forms of disability as well as all age ranges, making it an excellent choice.
How to Make Garden Tasks Wheelchair Accessible
Gardeners in a chair should have ease in the space in which they garden and work. Within that space, gardeners must accomplish several tasks. So let’s discuss taking care of basic garden tasks with accessibility in mind. This is relevant not only to gardeners who rely on a wheelchair for mobility but also to those that would like to host a diverse range of people in their own garden. Here are some tips for each task that should assist you.
Weeding and Pruning
Working in raised beds and garden beds, in general, requires the removal of weeds and pruning of trees. Wheelchair-bound gardeners can’t get onto the ground near their gardens to remove weeds from beds.
Pruning is very difficult even on small fruit trees. Ensure that there is stable ground and that you don’t have to reach out to remove branches. A pole pruner may be of use here. Prune in the proper time. Gloves are great for both pruning and weeding as repetitive motions can cause blisters. Tools most widely sold in big box stores can cause strain in the arms for people who have to move a chair around to change positions.
If a bed isn’t positioned correctly, twisting to work within it is necessary. To prevent injury, warm up your body with exercises, and wear clothing that prevents small injuries, like scratches and cuts. Then make a weeding and pruning plan. Will you weed raised beds today, and then another type of garden bed tomorrow? Or will you weed in the morning and prune small fruit trees in the afternoon? One way to plan is to separate tasks by planting areas, assuring all bases are covered.
One of the best adaptable tools for weeding is a gripping weed puller, which has a blade that goes into the soil, and claws that grip the weed. As gardeners pull back the pole, the entire weed is removed.
In terms of pruning, cut-and-hold pruning shears are excellent, especially in plants that require deadheading. For bushes and trees, ratchet action and power lever loppers can help take some of the strain off of you as you focus on making plants healthier. Keep your tools sterilized and well-oiled on a regular basis so they don’t have added resistance when you’re working with them. Unless you’re working with a planter or plants in containers, you may have more success pruning with extended tools that can reach into a bed without strain.
Digging and Harvesting
Digging and harvesting in raised beds or containers can put a strain on shoulders, backs, and arms. Much like pruning, reaching too far from a wheelchair can put a good amount of stress on all three areas.
To prevent harm to the body, warm up the arms, back, and shoulders. Wear clothing you don’t mind getting dirty, and wear gloves to prevent blistering and exceptionally dirty hands.
Calendar your harvest based on plant maturity rates, and couple that with your tilling schedule or bed turnover schedule. As you harvest plants, will you till the garden for future plantings at the same time? Or will you prep your raised bed after the harvest? Maybe you’re working with a raised planter and you need to figure out what will be there after you grow vegetables in it, or potentially you’re harvesting herbs and want to find companions to grow around them. Planning in advance helps with this.
If you’re working specifically with a raised bed, shorter-handled tools can work just as well as long-handled tools do in an in-ground bed. A 14 inch handled stirrup hoe is an excellent tool for raised bed weeding and harvesting of root and bulb vegetables. A T-handled trowel with an adjustable pole will assist you with digging in either a raised bed or in-ground garden bed. It can also be used in containers with potting soil. A cultivator is a great tool for surface tilling, and getting the soil aerated for the next planting.
One of the most important gardening tasks is watering. Vegetables, flowers, and soil need moisture to assist your help your garden grow. Watering can be a daunting task, especially in the heat of summer. That’s why most gardeners should water their plants in the morning, close to sunrise, or in the evening as the sun sets.
Watering in a wheelchair with a hose can cause significant strain on arms, hands, back, and legs. Wet paths can cause slippage, and hoses are tripping hazards. Not only should the garden layout consider the desired irrigation design, but the type of watering you carry out is also important.
If you have a large garden, your plants may benefit most from a trail of soaker hoses that drip water at the root level. In this case, all you have to do is turn on the water source, making the easy reach to your mainline important. Spigot height and usability are key in that case. Rolling on wet paths can be dangerous, so use material of a transitional nature, like brick, to allow more gradual terrain changes and more absorption.
A reel is a good tool for those who want to carry a hose with them as they water containers and a raised bed garden. These are lightweight coiled hoses that are easy to pull around and retract back to their resting place.
Trolley hoses help you move the hose along with you as you garden. A hand-sized watering can is useful for watering plants in containers, especially when used in conjunction with a soaker hose or drip irrigation system. As the vegetables in other beds receive soil irrigation, you can add some to your pots by hand.
If you’re working with a regular hose, a long spray nozzle or irrigation wand can help you direct water to the soil where it is needed. In larger irrigation systems (those that come in kits or those you create yourself) automatic timers make irrigation easy. All that’s required there is your daily check at each bed, planter, and plant.
Sweeping, raking, and mowing lawns can cause strain on the arms and back if the improper length of broom, rake, or lawnmower is used. Select a tool for each that has the right weight and length for your purposes. Know that raking can cause shock to the arms as you bring the rake up and drop it down to the soil. Do some stretches ahead of each task to ensure no injuries occur.
Choose a lawnmower that is power-driven, and has consistent speed. Because all of these tasks can be strenuous, divide them among varying days and seasons. Your lawn won’t need more than 1 inch removed a couple of times a week in the spring or summer season, and may not even need mowing in winter and fall. If you want to assist wildlife, and improve the soil in your lawn, leave the leaves to support plant growth.
Small-wheeled electric mowers are wheelchair accessible, and allow users to move behind without bending or reaching upward. Ride-on mowers are excellent as well if you can transfer easily from your chair to a different seat. A bag attachment keeps debris off the lawn and reduces clogged wheels. A robotic mower that senses the perimeter of the lawn is great too, especially because it only requires monitoring and troubleshooting from you, rather than moving it from location to location.
Adjustable rakes and brooms make adapting yard work to your specific height a lot easier. Both can be very light in weight if that assists you with the task. Grips and arm support helps you to work one-handed, or limit the strain taken when working two-handed. Grab and lift rakes and garden grippers make it so you don’t have to bend to pick up leaves and grass clippings as you work in the yard.
Sowing and Transplanting
One of the best things about gardening is growing plants from seeds. Your planting station can be indoors, or outdoors, and can involve whatever containers or pots are best suited to your needs. You can create a semi-outdoor planting area on a table, growing herbs, flowers, and vegetables easily, but gripping or transporting the trays could be difficult. So can mixing compost, peat moss, and other materials to fill trays for starting seeds.
Each gardener benefits from a table or growing space that allows them to sow seeds. As they grow alongside the garden they can be prepped for transplanting on an appropriately placed table or workstation. Tips like including a brick pathway to and from the workstation will enable every gardener to enjoy the fruits of seed-starting labor. Here they can create their potting soil or seed starting mix appropriate to their garden and their gardening style. For those who want to start seeds, setting up this station in the garden planning stage is essential.
Self-watering propagators and seeds for flowers and herbs with good germination rates assist a gardener with ease of access to success in the seed starting phase. So do seed cell trays, peat pots, and starter pods, for example. Seed sowers make it so you don’t have to dig into each pot to plant seeds. Since you must dig in the garden to transplant seedlings, choose an adjustable trowel that allows you to do so from any height.
One of the best gardening tips that applies to everyone is to harness the power of a toolbelt. Toolbelts make gardening so much easier because you consistently have everything you need on you. An armrest-mounted tool bag is a great solution as well.
Gardening requires occasional lugging around of soils and equipment. Lifting heavy items like soil bags or wood for raised beds or hugelkultur mounds can cause strain on the back, arms, and hands. With every task in this piece, make sure to take consistent breaks for restoration. Don’t carry too much at once. Tips like doing plenty of light stretching before moving things around, or planning out the movements ahead of time are great.
For small loads, you may be able to transport them in your lap. For larger loads or loose material like mulch, a four-wheeled garden cart is an excellent alternative, especially if it can be attached and towed like a trailer behind you.
Consider keeping tools in a tool belt or a cart for constant contact, and ease of access. Flexible rubber buckets make moving soil around easier because they fit easily in your lap or on a cart. Pot wheels make moving containers around super easy. Other tips like keeping paths clear and ensuring your tools are laid out ahead of time will save you some hassle. Folding hand dollies are great for moving items too, especially if you can use a bungee cord to secure it to your armrests so it can’t fall or roll out of reach. This enables you to push the material in front of you.