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Container Gardening: Benefits for Seniors - The Bristal

Container gardening is a great option for those with limited space, mobility, or time to devote to the maintenance and upkeep of traditional gardens. Gardening using pots or other containers offers flexibility to switch out plants or move the containers from one location to another with relative ease. Container gardens are ideal for seniors with smaller indoor or outdoor living spaces.

This blog will explore the health benefits of gardening, the advantages of container gardens, and tips to help you get started.

Benefits of Gardening for Seniors

Gardening offers numerous health benefits. It provides a way to grow your favorite fruits, veggies, or flowers, as well as helps you stay active.

Here are a few ways that gardening can be beneficial for older adults:

  • Source of vitamin D. Spending time outdoors or on a patio or balcony gives you a chance to soak in the sun. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D and can help prevent osteoporosis and reduce bone fractures. Spending approximately 10 minutes a few times a week in the sun can help reduce your chances of being vitamin D deficient. If you’ll be outdoors for longer than 10 minutes at a time, apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

  • Daily exercise. Gardening, including container gardening, is a form of exercise. This can be an enjoyable way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. You’ll have the opportunity to work your muscles when lifting a watering can or moving pots around. You’ll also likely improve the strength of your hands by digging, planting, and pulling.

  • Mood booster. Gardening often allows you to focus on the task at hand and let go of other stresses or worries. Watching new plants and flowers grow can provide a sense of accomplishment, improving self-esteem and a sense of purpose. These experiences can help reduce anxiety and boost your mood.

  • Connection with others. Gardening is an easy way to connect with others, especially if you join a community garden. This type of garden includes communal spaces where participants work together to cultivate flowers, fresh fruits, and vegetables the members share within the group.

If you don’t have a community garden near you, you might consider sharing what you grow with neighbors. Gardening can be a rewarding way to give back to the community or friends and family.

A child getting help from grandparent to plant strawberries.

Advantages of Container Gardens

Traditional gardening often requires a lot of space, time, and physical effort to be successful. A container garden may be a good option for those who want to scale back their garden or are ready to test their green thumb for the first time.

Here are some additional advantages to container gardening:

  • Decorative. Have fun selecting a type of container that suits your tastes and preferences. Feel free to mix and match styles and sizes.

  • Portable. Since your container garden is portable, you are free to move it and rearrange your containers any way you like. This is helpful if you live in an area with colder winters, so you can more easily move your garden indoors as needed.

  • Space-saver. Container gardens allow you to take full advantage of outdoor spaces like window ledges, patios, and front steps. Adjust as needed for sunlight and shade.

  • Versatile. Container gardens are versatile and can cater to the needs of each individual plant. Some of your containers may be placed indoors, and some may be outdoors. One plant may require full sun, while another may need more shade.

Mix and match flower pots for a container garden.

Tips for Starting a Container Garden

Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned gardener, it’s important to begin with a plan. You’ll want to consider the amount of space you have for your container garden. Then, you can decide what type of containers you prefer, what plants you’d like to grow, and what materials you’ll need to help them thrive.

Here are five important things to consider when starting a container garden:

1. Container

When choosing containers for your garden, it’s essential to keep in mind your available space, budget, style, and climate. It’s important that whatever container you select has holes in the bottom that allow water to drain out.

Terra-cotta containers are an inexpensive option, but they aren’t ideal for climates where temperatures drop below freezing during the winter. You can use them in the warmer months — just plan to bring them indoors in the winter.

Other commonly used containers include wood, metal, plastic, or even repurposed containers like baskets or buckets. If your container isn’t already waterproof, treat it with a sealer to help it last longer in the elements. And containers that will heat up quickly, like metal tubs or buckets, will require a garden fabric liner to protect the plants from the added heat.

You’ll also want to consider the size of your containers. If your space allows, choose larger containers because they can hold more soil and moisture and allow proper root development. This requires less maintenance and care from the gardener and usually a more successful outcome. However, it’s important to keep in mind that larger containers can be difficult to move once filled, so you’ll want to select your containers accordingly.

2. Plants

Select plants to suit your environment so you can provide them with the proper conditions like sun, shade, and temperature. When choosing flowers for your containers, pick out perennial foliage to complement the annual flowers. You can add different heights, colors, and textures by using flowers and foliage together.

Providing the correct light and temperature is key to successfully growing vegetables in your container garden. It’s also important to buy plants that are suited for a smaller space — some are specifically meant for container gardening — and ensure your climate has enough growing days for your vegetables to mature.

Here are examples of vegetables and herbs that tend to grow well in container gardens:

  • Cucumbers
  • Leafy greens
  • Bell peppers
  • Radishes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Thyme
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
  • Oregano

3. Soil

Before you add soil to your containers, make sure you have them placed in their designated spots. Once the soil is added, containers can become quite heavy to move around, so it’s best to arrange them while they are empty.

To help with drainage, you can add a few small rocks at the bottom of your container. Then, fill your container about two-thirds of the way with potting soil mix. You’ll want to steer clear of using garden soil, as it tends to be too heavy to allow pots to drain properly. On the other hand, potting soil retains more moisture for plants to grow and roots to absorb.

To add your plants, place them on top of the potting mix, so they sit a few inches below the rim of your container. Then, fill in around them with additional potting soil mix. Once you’ve finished planting, water your container well and add more soil as needed to ensure all the roots are covered.

4. Care and Maintenance

Keeping your new container garden watered is critical as your plants start to grow. Check each day to see if the soil is dry to the touch. Water again according to your specific plant’s requirements, generally whenever you notice the first inch of soil is dry.

Watch for the water to drain through the holes at the bottom to ensure you’re adequately watering your plants. If you’re using a saucer to catch the water drainage, make sure to empty it to prevent the plant roots from rotting.

Nutrients can become quickly washed away from the soil due to watering, so adding a small amount of fertilizer to your containers every week may be necessary.

5. Display

Have fun with your container garden by experimenting with a variety of flowers and plants in several colors and sizes. When selecting plants, it’s helpful to keep in mind these three elements: a thriller, a filler, and a spiller.

Using all three elements can add interest and balance to your garden:

  • Thriller. These plants add height to your container. Some common options include ornamental grasses, foliage plants, or geraniums.

  • Filler. Filler plants are usually placed in front of or around the thriller plants. They tend to add roundness to the container and fill out the space. Examples include wax begonias, salvias, verbenas, and ornamental peppers.

  • Spiller. Spillers tend to spill over the edge of the container. Some common spillers include petunias, creeping zinnias, or bacopa.

Container gardening is an ideal option for beginners and those with limited space to reap the benefits of gardening. No matter the size, container gardening can be a fun hobby, an opportunity to be part of a community, and a simple way to add exercise to your routine.

More Lifestyle Resources

To get additional tips and resources on building a healthy lifestyle, view articles in The Bristal’s blog. Learn ways for seniors to relieve stress, how to choose an indoor garden that is right for you, and more under our Lifestyle category.

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