You Grow, Girl! How to Plant a Garden—RA Edition

When I was in kindergarten, my class planted a crocus garden that bloomed for years until an addition to the school paved over the field. So if a crew of 5-year-olds can plant flowers, anyone can. But gardening can be physically labor-intensive, so for a person with RA, it’s a little more challenging.

10 Tips for gardening with RA

Despite the challenges, several decades into my RA diagnosis, I still have flower beds that my neighbors envy, and I can do that because I have learned a few strategies about how to manage the work without triggering too much pain and fatigue. Here’s what works for me:

  1. Get help for the big stuff.
  2. I hire landscapers to do spring cleanup and mulching. (You could also ask friends or family!) They don’t break my budget and, most importantly, they do the (literal) heavy lifting, leaving me with energy for planting.

  3. And speaking of mulch...
  4. Use a lot of it. Mulch (or better yet, have someone else mulch) every inch of every bed in the maximum depth for the space. Doing so accomplishes two goals that will make it much easier to maintain your garden: 1.) It helps plants retain their moisture for longer periods—that’s good for the environment and easier on you because you don’t need to water as often. 2.) It keeps down the weeds, which minimizes your need to stoop and pull weeds every week.

  5. Consider using a weed preventer.
  6. I choose to garden organically, so I know that means I will be dealing with my fair share of weeds. But applying a product like Preen Weed Preventer may reduce your weed crop to practically nothing. It’s a good option for those who struggle with weeding and who don’t mind some chemical help.

  7. Plant ground covering plants close together.
  8. Another way to hold back the weed invasion is to fill in the space with herbs and/or flowers that spread prolifically and fill the space. Plant everything just a little closer together than recommended and you will find that once the plants are established, there are many fewer places for weeds to poke through.

  9. Plant long-blooming flowers.
  10. Plants like morning bells, portulaca, and lantana bloom all season, which means you won’t need to dig them up and replant as the summer warms and cools.

  11. Integrate potted plants.
  12. Hanging baskets and pre-potted mixes are available at every nursery, and they are a great way to add texture, color, and dimension to your garden. For someone with RA, they are an especially good inclusion because they require no effort at all to put in. Just remember: they dry out more quickly than the flower beds, so water more frequently.

  13. Install an automatic watering system.
  14. It doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. I have a couple decorative sprinklers connected to my hose and a timer. I also bought a drip irrigation kit for about $30 that waters my potted plants as well. Automatic watering saves the effort of dragging out the hose, standing in the heat long enough to give everything a good drink, and rolling the hose back up. Pour a glass of sweet tea and sit on your porch enjoying the view instead.

  15. If you do NOT have an automatic watering system...
  16. Invest in a woven flat hose like Zero G. (They will remind you of a scaled down firehose.) They are a little more expensive than vinyl hose, but they last much longer. For those of us with RA, they make the chore of unrolling and rerolling the house remarkably easy, as they are 50% lighter, don’t kink, and flatten completely when the water is off. No more wrestling with the hose!

  17. Take your time.
  18. Years ago, I could designate a single day for planting. Now I devote two weeks in early May to this task, spending just 1-2 hours per day on the project to avoid tiring myself out. It’s slow, but it gets done. Just remember to keep your seedlings watered while they await planting; those little plastic cups they come in don’t hold much water at all!

  19. Choose perennials.
  20. Nothing can beat the bright colors of summer annuals, but there are many varieties of perennials that will give you color and depth year after year—minimizing the work you need to put into planting your garden. (Think lilies, roses, bleeding heart, oleander, and dozens of other lovely blooms!) Aim to have a garden that is 50-75% perennials, so you only have small portions of your garden to plant each year.

Mandevilla Plant

Most importantly, never forget the most essential strategy of all: Always plant your favorites. If it makes you smile, it helps your pain, so don’t leave it out. For me, that’s pink mandevilla, currently blooming all across my fence, and in two pots at my front entrance. Grow whatever nurtures you in return. I’m rooting for you.

What are your tips for gardening with RA? We would love to hear them!

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