Healthy Gardening

Perennial Spade

Tools and Techniques for Gardening Longevity

In the Finger Lakes area, we have a limited amount of time to get our gardens ready for summer enjoyment. The long winter months find us spending a lot of time inside, then as soon as spring breaks in April, we start the mad dash to Memorial Day.  Hurrying to get all of our garden chores done, trying to plant our annual plants after the elusive last-frost date, and attempting to get a leg-up on the weeds – all because summer seems too short to enjoy our outdoor spaces. Time constraints and physical stresses combine in the spring, creating the perfect recipe for pain and injury.

Gardening is certainly good for our health. In fact, it is considered one of the healthiest activities because gardeners use every muscle in their bodies as they walk, lift, reach, bend, kneel, squat, lunge and climb. Since most of us garden on the weekends or after work, the label “weekend warrior” comes to mind, and it’s catchy. But we may lose the battle if we overdo it – causing aches, pains, or possibly serious damage to our bodies. Such injuries are more likely if you already face conditions like arthritis, bursitis, or one of the many issues our bodies suffer from as we age. In my case, my brain thinks I’m still in my 30s, while my body gives me sharp reminders of my true age and ability.

There are many good rules of thumb to follow when creating a garden, such as soil preparation, plant selection and after care. These rules are very helpful to gardeners young and old, but for someone just starting out, it can be a game changer to start out on the right foot. Now that I’ve been gardening professionally long enough to wear out two hip joints, the importance of gardening ergonomics has come to light. Knowing what to do is important enough, but knowing how to do it without hurting yourself is even more vital to your gardening longevity.

These tools and techniques will help veteran gardeners continue to enjoy their activities, while showing new gardeners how to work comfortably from the start. As these ideas bring more efficiency and physical comfort to your garden work, they will create more time for the actual enjoyment of your outdoor space. Preventing injuries and wear and tear to joints will help make gardening an enjoyable life-long activity. After all, it’s not just about the passion for flowers and fresh air, gardening is about enhancing the health of body, mind AND spirit!

Stand up to the challenge: Backs

Diamond Hoe – The secret to this tool is the length of its handle and the sharpness of its diamond-shaped head. It allows you to stand up straight while weeding by cutting off the weeds at soil level, then gently picking them up.

Folding Rake – This rake can be wide or narrow, so it gets into small spaces and is gentle enough to rake around plants and shrubs – no bending over necessary. It eliminates the need for a hand tool and getting up and down.

Border Spades – Having a spade with a smaller digging head and shorter handle (39 inches) gives you a distinct advantage when working in an existing garden. It makes digging, dividing and planting much easier. The short handle with end grip allows you to put your body into it, for more force without strain.

Buckets Trugs – These buckets are not expensive and they help to carry debris and supplies at a healthy level, up closer to your waist – which takes a lot of pressure off your back.

Two-wheeled Barrow – This wheel cart will save you from yourself! It is easy to wheel without balancing issues, even with 200 pounds in it – unlike a wheel barrow, which is hard on the shoulders and back.

Stay down to earth: Knees and Elbows

Strap-on Knee Pads – Unlike kneeling pads, these stay with you. They have saved my knees from a lot of pain.

Perennial Spade – This short-handled, sharp tool will dig, plant, weed and divide – all while you’re down on your knees. It prevents the need to get up and down while doing all of these tasks. The handle shape gives you more force, without strain.

Get a grip: Hands, Fingers and Wrists

Gloves – Nitrile gloves do not wear out and are thin enough to feel what you’re doing while weeding and planting. The rubbery textured Mudglove helps to grip things like bags of mulch and tools, so it reduces the strain on your hands and back when carrying heavy items or using tools. I use both types.

Rotating Handle Pruners – The Felco #7 Pruner has a rotating handle.  It was designed for professionals, but I find it helps reduce the arthritis pain in my fingers. Once you get used to it, you will love it. I recommend Felcos because they work easily, sharply, and last forever. Using a dull or awkward pruner increases the strain on your hand and wrist joints.

Haws Watering Can – This may seem like a minor thing, but when you think about how much you use your watering can throughout the summer, it almost becomes a repetitive motion issue. This watering can is ergonomically designed to relieve the strain on your wrist and elbow, and is worth every penny.

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story by K.C. Fahy-Harvick 

A perennial and aquatics expert specializing in garden design, install and maintenance.

For more information, call 585-729-1419 or visit


photos by Mark Stash

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