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Gardening in Raised Beds and Containers for Older Gardeners

Gardening in Raised Beds and Containers for Older Gardeners

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Published by: Neroulidi854 on Sep 21, 2011
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http://www.hort.vt.edu/human/pub426020d.html1 of 181/8/2006 11:27
Gardening in Raised Beds and Containers for OlderGardeners and Individuals with Physical Disabilities
Prepared by
Diane Relf, PhD, H.T.M.
Extension Specialist, Consumer HorticultureDepartment of HorticultureVirginia Polytechnic Institute & State UniversityBlacksburg, VA 24061Publication 426-020 Reprinted 1995INTRODUCTION
Gardening is the number one outdoor leisure time activity of America, with 84% of households involved in at least one form of gardening activity. Gardening is a source of personal satisfac- tionand pride providing esthetic pleasure and opportunity for relief from daily stress. Gardening is an ideal preventative therapy tomaintain personal well being. With a little planning and creativity,it can be available to everyone. Disabled and elderly who havenever gardened can acquire a new and rewarding hobby. With proper modification to the site, gardeners who have lost physicalability can continue this valuable activity.While most gardening is considered part of the traditional land-scape or ground level planting, an increasing number of gardenersare discovering the advantages of gardening in planters, contain-ers, and raised beds. These gardening styles can be readily adaptedto make gardening easier for disabled and elderly gardeners. Theyare equally adaptable for gardening in a small backyard, a thirdfloor apartment patio, on top of a hospital, or on the grounds of aretirement home.
The first step in planning a raised garden is understanding theneeds and abilities of the gardeners. The garden area should be assmall as possible to adequately meet these needs. As the gar- densize increases, the fun of gardening tends to change to drudgery.All of the raised beds or planters should be easily accessible andarranged in a fashion to fit together as an at- tractive landscapeunit. Avoid the tendency to line up little garden plots in rowsresembling grave yards. Trees and shrubs can be used to encloseone or more sides of the raised garden site, providing both privacyand a pleasing backdrop, but avoid shading the garden withexcessive plantings. Beds and planters can be designed to fit
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individual needs; however, standard dimen- sions for raised bedsare given in Table 1.
Table 1.
Standard dimensions for Raised Beds:WheelchairSemi-AmbulatoryGroundHeight2-2.5 feet2.5-3 feet1/2-1 feetWidth(one-sided)2 feet2 feet2 feetWidth(two-sided)3-4 feet 4 feet4 feetDiameter (circle)3-4 feet 4 feet4 feetRaised beds are generally 3'-4' wide and as long as desired.However, depending on the individual's strength and endurance, itwould be wise to limit the length of the bed to 10 or 20 feet to prevent over exertion in circling the bed.
Due to the many materials available and to the many types of raised planters, adaptability to the disabled individual's needs is great.Planters can be located for easy accessibility and used in areaswhere plants would not otherwise grow, e.g., downtown on roof gardens).Focusing attention on small, easily managed areas provides suc-cess and feeling of achievement and reduces frustration and feelingof being overwhelmed by a large garden.The planter can be placed at a height which gives the disabledindividual maximum gardening space within his normal reach.Raised planters can be either permanent or temporary structuresdepending on the desires and needs of the gardener.There is a wide choice of plants that can be used in planters.Planters can be built to be mobile if needed to adjust to avail- ablesun or move out of the way during other activities.Problems of poor soil or soil borne disease can be easily over-come.Planters drain well, warm quickly, and thus produce early crops.Seedlings can be started in small mobile planters indoors and brought out when the weather is appropriate, thus extending thegrowing season.Planters offer opportunities for innovative landscape ideas andcreative plant structures such as walls of plants.
Full sun or at least six hours of sun a day is recommended for raised planters and containers, 8-10 hours if vegetables are to begrown. If full sun is not available, then choose shade- tolerant plants such as begonias and impatiens.
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All raised planters and container gardens will need more water- ingthan a standard garden. A water source should be nearby and thehose should be light, accessible, and easily used by the physicallydisabled gardener. It may be worth the investment to installautomatic or trickle irrigation systems in permanent planters.Attachments that are of value to any gardener include: on/off valveat the hose end, extension nozzles, water breakers, and easy to uselever controlled water faucets.Fertilizer is usually incorporated into the soil at the time the planter is filled. Later applications are based on normal re- quirements of the plants.Mulching is a must with most of the larger raised planters as itslows the evaporation of water from the bed and helps keep the soilcool for the roots. Mulching is also an excellent weed de- terrent.Weed-free organic material is preferred for mulching so that itenriches the soil as it decays.Most pest control should be done by hand and without chemicals toavoid the danger presented by working with toxic substances.However, if chemicals are needed, contact your local extensionagent for specific recommendations.Careful observation and prompt action can alleviate most pest problems. If weeds are kept down through mulching and pulling assoon as they are identified, they will not become invasive. Insectscan be a big problem with some plants. Make sure all plants areinsect-free before planting. Remove by hand any pest that is found.Disease can also be a problem with certain varie- ties. Use plantsthat are resistant to problem diseases in the area. If just one portionof the plant is infected, remove and destroy that portion, do notcompost. If the whole plant has become excessively damaged, thenremove the plant and replace. Only use pesticides if absolutelynecessary and carefully follow the directions for applicationamounts and frequency.
It is essential that the disabled individual be able to reach thegarden with a minimum of difficulty. All gates or doors must bewide enough (36 inches) for a wheelchair to pass through withoutdifficulty. Gates and doors should slide rather than swing, and theyshould be light enough to move easily. Stairs are better for thosewho walk with aid but ramps are required for those in wheelchairs.Ramps, along with gates, doorways, walks, and space betweenraised beds, should be a minimum of three feet wide for single-person travel and six feet for two persons. The ramps needto have a slope of no more than 8% and should be edged to preventthe chair from rolling off the ramp's sides. All surfaces should benon-slip and have a 2% slope for water drainage or be made of  porous materials. The surface should be continuous and should nothave any bumps. Brick walk- ways are discouraged because theyare very susceptible to heav- ing. If a grassy area is desired,open-work paving stones which have holes for the grass to beseeded through are available. A traditional lawn is too uneven andnot appropriate for the per- son in a wheelchair or with impairedwalking.

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