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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!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • qejm0g
    1 month ago

    I love to garden too! Warm to hot spring, summer and fall days are when I feel the best (minus when the weather changes) so naturally being in my small veg garden is the place for me! I have a scooter to help me get to each bed, beds that have a sitting board on the edge, a bench to stand at, a watering system on a timer which I can manage from my iphone but my best helper is my husband who does the heavy work for me in the spring and fall. My kids have suggested higher beds to stand at vs sitting which I will get when the ones we have now fall apart. Truly if it were not for caring for the garden I would find it hard to leave the house-playing in the dirt and sun makes me feel good mentally. I encourage all of you to try it!

  • JAK1016
    1 month ago

    Thanks for your article as I am also working through the gardening with RA. Black cloth has become my new best friend and your suggestion mulch! I have also added pavers/river rock to cut back on grass cutting in hard to reach areas.I go out & do a small section at a time. That way it is not overwhelming and it still gets done! I will not give it up but I have found ways to manage my yard without it overtaking me.

  • Paula Jayne White author
    1 month ago

    I am so glad you are able to keep your garden growing. These are great tips! I am thinking about adding river rock to the area around my potting shed now…. Hmmmmm. When can I get started? 🙂

  • CynthiaV
    1 month ago

    Thank you for this terrific article. So many tips I need to add to my gardening routine. I love gardening but my RA, OA and Fibro have kept me from it more and more lately. Blessedly, I have a patient garden loving husband who does as you say, “all the heavy lifting.”

    My strategies include planting different bulbs, tubers and rhizomes in various areas in my cottage garden. My favorites include lillies, daffodils, peonies and grasses. In this way my one-time effort is rewarded year after year.

    Due to medication I take I must limit my exposure to direct sunlight so I plan my gardening for the early morning or late afternoon. I wear a hat, comfortable but thick gloves, capris and top, gardening shoes that can be washed off and left outside and if kneeling cushioned guards on my artifical knees. I also use a low to the ground gardening scooter that I can comfortably sit on and roll to the next spot for planting and weeding which also stores my gardening tools.

    I also take frequent breaks and carry an insulated beverage container for water. Most importantly, I listen to my body. If I begin to feel fatigued or sore I quit for the day. The gardening will still be there the next day or the day after that.

    Gardening is supposed to be fun, not an odious task so I always strive to enjoy myself knowing that my hard work will be rewarded by a beautiful garden that not only looks pretty and smells divine but is also beneficial to the bees, butterflies and birds.

  • BeccaFloyd
    1 month ago

    Could you please share more information about your gardening scooter? It sounds like something I could use, myself!

  • CynthiaV
    1 month ago

    I apologize Becca I just saw your comment. My scooter is ancient and generic. Simply search online for, “garden scooters with wheels” and you’ll see all the different types. Mine is sturdy, made of plastic with wheels and has a place in the front and under the seat for tools. It also has a handle so you can pull it along when you’re not riding it. Easier than bending down and pushing. Have fun!

  • Paula Jayne White author
    1 month ago

    These tips are terrific, Cynthia! (And I am a real sucker for bright pink peonies.) Keep on keeping on! The reward is so terrific.

    BTW, you are smart not to garden in the heat of the day– better for you and for the plants. I personally try to do most of the work after dusk. My neighbors think I am nuts, but I don’t get burned! I call myself “the midnight gardener.” 🙂

  • CynthiaV
    1 month ago

    I love them too and was fortunate to inherit established peonies when we purchased our hom. It being my great-grandmother’s favorite flower I kept the tradition going. Love that title Paula, “the midnight gardener”! Lol Be well and keep gardening!

  • Daniel Malito moderator
    2 months ago

    @paulajaynewhite I used to grow tomatoes when I could. but the bending down just got too difficult. Wish I had this post then! Great stuff. Keep on keepin’ on, DPM

  • Paula Jayne White author
    2 months ago

    Thanks, Daniel! Stay strong and sink your teeth into the finest tomatoes your farmers market has to offer.

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