Garden smarter, not harder

By Dennis Patton

Let’s face it, we are all getting older. Gone are the days of my unlimited youthful energy. Now, I look for ways to work smarter, not harder.

This concept of working smarter, not harder can apply to many aspects of our daily lives. I find myself using this concept in my garden. I stare out the window and think, “Dennis, what were you thinking when you planted all these plants?” Should I consider downsizing? Or take a more positive spin and rightsize my garden?

Either downsize or rightsize, it boils down to a state of mind. No, I am not ready to give as I am still young. Someday I will retire, and then I will have the time I need to maintain my passion.

I hear you chuckling. Right? He will have all the time after he retires! He’s dreaming! I realize retirement doesn’t mean free time. It is just a different allocation of time and priorities.

In the meantime, I need to think about being smarter and not overextending my body. Gone are the days when I could garden nonstop for hours on end. Here are a few tips that help me become smarter and able to enjoy my hobby.

Protect Yourself
Before heading out to the garden, first take care of yourself. Cover exposed skin with sunscreen. Growing up on the farm, we did not know what we know today. It is never too late to prevent additional sun damage.
Wear a long-sleeved shirt and hat to cover your face and neck, reducing sun exposure. Gloves are a must to protect against scrapes and keep the dirt from getting caught under your nails. Footwear should be comfortable and provide protection just in case there is an accident.

Hydrate and Stretch
Make sure to drink plenty of water prior to working in the garden. Being fully hydrated helps maximize your physical performance. I carry a water bottle into the garden to have at hand. Getting dehydrated happens quickly on a warm sunny day. Dehydration can lead to injury and cause stress on the body.

Gardening requires bending, stooping and putting your body in all sorts of poses. Before jumping right into the heavy work, warm up your muscles. I find a short walk to stretch my legs and simple body stretches to loosen the muscles prepare me for the tasks at hand. Again, staying properly hydrated is one of the best defenses. Gardening is a great hobby to help keep the body fit. Mowing and raking are considered moderate exercises. Bending, stretching, digging and chopping are all motions associated with gardening and count as vigorous exercise.

Reward Yourself
While working in the garden, don’t forget to take breaks and relax. Pull up a chair on the patio, grab the water bottle and rest a bit if feeling overworked. This gives you a chance to take stock of your accomplishments and prioritize what needs to be done next. I have learned it is about a mindset as I age. Most importantly, know when to call it a day. Instead of focusing on what didn’t get accomplished, think about what projects were achieved. They say one of the advantages of being older is wiser.

So, let’s be smarter when we step out into the garden and enjoy it just a little longer.

Dennis Patton is horticulture agent at the Johnson County K-State Research and Extension Office.