Our Readers Want to Know: Can I Continue Gardening with Vision Loss?

flowers in window box

Editor’s note: One of the many benefits associated with an online information center and website, such as VisionAware, is the ability to hear from our readers and implement their suggestions for keeping VisionAware relevant, timely, and useful. Most recently, our reader interactions have included several inquiries about hobbies or recreational activities for adults and older adults with vision loss:

  • I would like to help a social director in an independent living facility find activities that are appropriate for people with vision loss/macular degeneration. Can you help?
  • Can you suggest activities or hobbies that would be fun for older adults with very limited – or no – vision?

What about Gardening?

With the first day of summer fast approaching on June 20, it’s appropriate (and timely) to enjoy the sensory and physical joys of gardening, along with helpful adaptations for gardeners with vision loss.

Use Colorful and Tactile Borders

  • Use commercial edging products, such as crushed stone, bricks, pavers, pieces of lumber, or fencing to mark where one area ends and another begins.
  • Use planking, long boards, rocks, or bricks to mark off the outer edges of your garden for easier location and separation from lawn or play areas.
rose garden and fence
  • Paint your fencing or stones in contrasting colors, such as white or yellow, that will contrast with the green grass.
  • Use textured and/or colorful materials, such as crushed white marble chips, natural wood chips, or crushed seashells.
  • Consider using natural or organic fertilizers and pest control treatments, especially if you use your uncovered hands to feel your plants or tend your garden.

Create Your Own Plant and Row Markers

  • If you have low vision, create large print labels with index cards and a wide-tip black marker. Laminate the cards or seal them in plastic sandwich bags. Attach each card to a small craft stick.
  • See Labeling and Marking and Large Print to help you make accessible labels for your plants.
  • Use brightly-painted stones in different colors to indicate the type of flower or plant. For example, white stone=daisies, red stone=tulips or tomatoes.
  • Yogurt cups with the bottoms removed can protect young plants. Sink the cup halfway into the soil and plant inside it. The cup will outline the area in which your seedlings are growing and can also help with weed control.
  • Use an egg carton as a planting spacer. Poke a one-inch hole in the bottom of each egg portion and position the egg carton/spacer on the soil. Place one seed into each hole and cover with soil. Remove the spacer gently, move it to a new section, and continue planting.
  • Lay down a fishing line or a cane and use it as a guide for planting straight rows.
  • If you form rows by running strings between stakes, you can secure old tennis balls or another type of tactile reminder on the top of each stake to help you identify the plants in each row.
  • A long-handled garden tool can also become a measuring stick by placing a piece of contrasting tape every six inches along the handle, or whatever distance you need to measure.

Try Container Gardening

a container garden

Container gardening is easy and can be very enjoyable. Flowers, herbs, and many vegetables grow well in containers – and even shallow six-inch-deep pots full of basil, parsley, or chives can sit on a porch rail. Container plants have several advantages, including:

  • They make it easier to identify plants and seed locations.
  • They let you garden anywhere without digging garden beds.
  • They allow you to have the best soil, moisture, and growing conditions for a particular plant.
  • They make changing a plant’s location much easier.

Preparing Containers

Good soil is the foundation of a garden and allows plants to thrive. Try using topsoil or potting soil from a garden center to fill containers. The quality will be good and it will be free of weeds and weed seeds. Also, you’ll have to do less weeding later in the season.

  • Use containers with good drainage holes in the bottoms. The holes must be small enough so that soil stays in the pot, but large enough to let excess water drain out. If water collects and pools in the bottom of a container, it will damage plant roots. Place a layer of small pebbles or wood chips in the bottom of the container, about half an inch deep, to absorb water and help with drainage.
  • Next, fill the container with soil, an inch from the top. That remaining inch is to allow water or falling rain to drain. If the container is full of soil to the rim, water might wash away seeds or the top layer of soil.

Planting the Seeds

  • Plant your seeds, following instructions for spacing. Try planting seeds and small plants in the same container. You can enjoy the small plants while the seeds are germinating and sprouting.
  • Use labels in large print or braille to mark containers. You can place the labels on the containers or on wood or metal markers that you can purchase at garden stores or make from Popsicle sticks. Use waterproof tape and wide-tip markers to create your own large print labels.

Your Gardening Tools

  • If you have low vision, look for commercially-produced garden tools with brightly colored handles that contrast with your grass, flower beds, or planting bench.
  • You can also apply tape or paint in colors that contrast with the handles of your favorite tools, or paint the tines of your rake to help with locating your tools and identifying your work area.
  • Use an apron, utility belt, or plastic carryall container to hold your gardening tools.
  • Use upper-body protective techniques to protect your face and eyes from injury when bending down in the garden.

Additional Gardening Information