Is your garden ready for your retirement?


Every one of us is getting older day by day. For many of us, retirement planning is done with a great deal of thought and detail to ensure we can maintain a comfortable lifestyle. But how many of us include our garden and landscape into our retirement planning? While many believe they will have more time to devote to the landscaping and gardening, in retirement how many can still do all of the activities they did in their 20s and 30s?

Like your financial retirement planning, garden retirement planning should not be a reactionary move because of a change in one’s life. A carefully laid out plan can contribute to many years of gardening enjoyment. As we age, our physical abilities diminish. We wear glasses to see those carrot seeds or to differentiate our seedlings from the weeds. The wheelbarrow carries lighter loads and we take more breaks when gardening. We should develop our gardening retirement plans early on and plan for an orderly reduction of gardening activities that matches our changing abilities.

Living in Hawaii is said to be a gardener’s paradise, but leave your lawn and landscaping to nature and it quickly develops into a jungle, forest or grassy savanna, depending on the amount of rainfall plants receive. Examples abound in any older neighborhood. The property of many homes has regressed to nature as the aging owners can do less and less to maintain the landscaping. Other than hiring a landscape or yard maintenance company, here are a few suggestions to consider in your garden retirement planning that may reduce the time and strain needed to maintain your garden.

Gravel, cinders and rocks, with a few plants, can be used to create a low-maintenance landscape. Herbicides every now and then for weed control makes it easy, with no mowing and very few coqui frogs to deal with. This minimalist landscaping allows a monthly or seasonal schedule instead of the weekly chores. Probably the next easiest would be wall-to-wall lawn surrounding the home. A riding mower could make lawn maintenance even easier.

If you choose to keep a diversified landscape, prune and maintain fruit trees at a height that allows for easy harvesting of fruit while standing on the ground. How many lychee, mango and other fruit trees are so tall that harvesting has to be done with a ladder or even a cherry picker? Unless you enjoy feeding the birds and rodents, or are satisfied to pick fruit off the ground, a well pruned and maintained tree will go a long way in providing years of eating enjoyment. Ladders, especially larger ones, are heavy and the danger of falling and getting hurt significantly increases the higher you are from the ground. Invest in a good harvesting basket or picking aid.

If bending or kneeling will be difficult, raised beds or container gardening may help you continue to actively garden. By raising the working surface of the garden a foot or more, the need for bending is greatly reduced. Boards, concrete blocks and rocks can be used to create a wall for a raised bed. The height of the bed should reflect the best height for you. Some gardeners prefer to use raised planter boxes of various sizes. With a raised planter, it is possible to use a chair or stool and even a wheelchair when gardening. Don’t forget to place a few benches or chairs around the garden where you can sit, rest and enjoy your garden.

Tool selection is very important as you get older and should reflect what you can physically handle. Large chainsaws might be an invitation to an accident. Smaller, lighter tools help reduce fatigue and avoid possible injury. Wheelbarrows and carts should be smaller, but still effective, for ease of use and to avoid stressing muscles and joints.

For more information on this and other gardening topics, visit ctahr.hawaii.edu/Site/Info.aspx or any local Cooperative Extension Service office.

Russell Nagata is the Hawaii County administrator of the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources. He can be reached at russelln@hawaii.edu.