Make Your Spring Blossom with These (Senior-Friendly!) Garden-Themed Activities
Spring is here, and once again the outdoors are beckoning. This is the time of year so many of us look forward to throughout the winter. You can finally get back to tending your garden, walking at a nearby nature preserve or botanical garden, and enjoy flower shows and galleries filled with horticultural artwork.
Below you’ll find more information on why gardening is a great exercise choice for older adults as well as some fun flower and plant-themed activities you can do to get your heart pumping and lift your mood this spring.
Garden for Better Health
Whether you have room for a couple of flower boxes or hanging pots, a small patio garden, or a large, raised vegetable bed, creating your own garden space can offer physical challenge and emotional satisfaction.
A study in the Netherlands found that gardening lowers the stress hormone cortisol, creating more stress relief than other leisure activities such as reading or watching a movie. Another study at Kansas State University showed gardening can offer enough moderate physical activity to keep older adults in shape, helping to prevent heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, adult-onset diabetes and osteoporosis.
As for the emotional component, researchers have found that seniors who garden have a more positive mental outlook, and those who feel a connection to nature are happier overall than their more sedentary friends. This could also be due, in part, to a harmless bacteria found in garden soil called Mycobacterium vaccae that has been found to boost the production of serotonin, a mood-regulating brain chemical. This little bacteria has also been shown to play an important role in developing a strong immune system. Gardening has also been shown to help prevent dementia in seniors, since it helps keep your mind active by requiring you to think, learn and use your creativity.
Refresh Your Beds
Weeding, planting annuals, pruning perennials, and even spreading mulch for a tidy finish – these are all components of a refreshed garden. So where do you start?
If you are a patient and devout gardener, you can start new plants indoors from seeds over the winter. Your local nursery or garden club can help you decide what to begin with and what supplies you’ll need, and can help you plan the right time for planting outdoors in your area. This online planting guide from Urban Farmer is a great starting point for seniors ready to try their hand at vegetable gardening from seed.
Once the last frost has passed, you can safely begin to plant annuals and perennials in the ground and outdoor pots. Look for plants that will survive in the area where you intend to plant them – shade, part-sun, full sun. Have fun choosing different colored flowers to fit a certain theme or to evoke a mood.
For planting in pots, make sure the pot is large enough to allow for your flowers or plant to grow and the roots to not become “bound” in the bottom or grow out of the bottom hole. If there is not a hole in the bottom of the pot, drill one to three small holes to allow for proper drainage. Adding a thin layer of rocks to the bottom is also helpful. Partially fill the pot, add your plants, add remaining soil to just below the rim, and water well.
Existing gardens require a little prep and cleanup. Pull out dead plants, trim dead decorative grasses and spent stems, and prune perennials as specified (some require fall pruning while others can wait until spring). Even out old mulch or soil with a rake and create holes where you plan to plant. Depending on the plant species, you may want to amend the soil to provide better nutrients for growth and/or color. For instance, add aluminum to the soil to change Hydrangeas from pink to blue, or use an acid-based plant food such as Holly-tone to boost the health of acid-loving plants like evergreens, Azaleas, Dogwoods, Magnolias, Phlox and Lily-of-the-Valley, among others.
Take a Field Trip
Visiting a botanical garden or conservatory in your town or a nearby city is a great way to experience the beauty of a wide array of flowers and plants. Most conservatories have a seasonal exhibit in addition to their regular displays. Look in your local newspaper’s event calendar and call some friends for a day trip. Many zoos also have botanical displays along their paths with descriptions of each flower or plant. This might be a nice way for seniors to spend time with grandchildren.
Up for a little more exercise? Plan a walk at a nature center or area preserve. Visit during different times from the beginning of spring to the end of summer to enjoy the different bloom times of plants native to your area. Be sure to stay safe by following well-marked paths or a map.
Another way to enjoy springtime gardens and blooms is by photographing flowers, plants and trees in your community. Whether at an area park or a neighbor’s backyard, look for unique specimens and have fun taking pictures from various angles and distances. Frame and hang or give to someone special as a gift.
Lastly, if you are looking for a way to upcycle old flower pots that have been sitting around your garage or that you’ve found at a yard sale, try these amazing flowerpot makeovers. A little paint, rope, stamped words, sand and shells, or even printed napkin decoupage can turn an inexpensive or unsightly old pot into a new vessel to showcase your favorite plant.
Share your tried-and-true gardening tip with us. Enjoy spring and get your garden on!
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