The right tools and techniques can make gardening after 50 golden, says University of Missouri Extension horticulture specialist Todd Lorenz.

Gardening after 50 should not be “trowel and error,” he says.

Lorenz and Missouri AgrAbility Program state director Karen Funkenbusch suggest ways gardeners can use ergonomics to prevent muscle and joint pain. Ergonomics is the science of adapting tools to create less stress on the body.

Many retailers now offer ergonomic garden tools in response to the growing number of baby boomer gardeners, Lorenz says.

Close to you

Keep your garden area close to you to reduce stooping and bending. Raised beds, with the center no more than 3 feet from the edge, reduces reaching.

Vertical gardens, trellises and planters that support suspended plants such as upside-down tomato plants make gardening easier, says Lorenz. Hanging baskets also provide a convenient option.

Choose tools that extend your reach so you can avoid ladders, he says.

Recycle, repurpose

Save resources by modifying existing tools. Shorten or lengthen handles for your height. This reduces back and wrist strain.

Add a handle about 2-3 feet down from the end of the tool. A two-handed grip makes work lighter.

Thrifty gardeners can repurpose items such as wood to make raised beds or 5-gallon buckets for seats in garden areas.

Recycle a handle from a discarded weed trimmer or other tool make a second handle for a rake or hoe to improve grip and balance.

Drop seeds into the furrow without kneeling by using PVC pipe with a small funnel taped to the end.

Get a grip

Wrap baseball tape around wooden handles of tools to improve grip. Plastic bicycle handle grips also work well.

Long-handled or curved-handled tools provide better grips and more leverage.

When possible, transfer the motion and load to the forearm rather than the wrist.

Go easy on yourself

Use a child’s wagon or golf cart to pull supplies to the garden.

Paint garden tools a bright color, Lorenz says. They will be easier to spot in the garage or shed.

Face your work. Do not twist toward it. Keep elbows close to your body and tucked in.

Keep tools clean and sharp. Dull tools are not safe and cause fatigue.

Stop to smell the roses

Consider adding rest areas in shady parts of gardens. “Garden benches provide a good place for the gardener to rest and reflect,” Lorenz says. Grow plants near these areas that heighten the sense of smell, sight or touch. Avoid prickly shrubs such as barberry bushes along paths and near seating areas.

Get there safely and easily

Clear obstructions from garden paths. Create paths wide enough for a mobility device. Add a textured surface to improve tread on concrete. Light paths with solar lights.

Garden early in the day or late in the evening. “Avoid being out during the hottest times of the day between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and stay hydrated,” says Lorenz. Wear a hat, lightweight long-sleeved clothing, sunscreen and gloves.

Think small

Use several small garden areas close to the house rather than one large area. Opt for lightweight garden hoses.

For more information on Missouri AgrAbility’s Gardens for Everybody program, go to