Rhubarb plants

Early spring lures us outside to tackle garden chores such as dividing and moving old rhubarb plants. But don’t strain yourself. As your work, stretch, drink plenty of fluids and take breaks. 

KODIAK — Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the US. Played with a wiffleball on a court half the size of a tennis court, it’s popular with paddles owners from ages 6 to 100. That includes me. So I was pleased when, during a recent stopover in Tucson, Arizona, a friend invited me to play.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning at six o’clock” she texted.


The next morning, after a cup of coffee, I joined up with about 50 seniors. Remember, this was 6 a.m. In spite of the hour, we played hard, for over two hours. I’m assuming everyone else was running on caffeine.

Later, I shared my experience with a doctor friend who rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, yeah. Orthopedic surgeons and chiropractors certainly benefit from early morning exercisers like joggers to pickleballers.”


“Most people, not just seniors, who exercise first thing in the morning, fail to stretch and limber up before their workout. They just jump out of bed and go.” This, he said, leads to pulled muscles, twisted knees, more falls, broken ankles and wrists. 

How, dear readers, does this relate to gardening?

Getting outside and playing in the yard and garden is one of the joys of crawling out from underneath winter. But just like early morning pickleball players, this sudden burst of activity can lead to new aches and pains as folks tackle gardening tasks like a thoroughbred hitting the race track.

Preparing for spring gardening is no different than a track star preparing for a race. To prevent injuries and run your best race, it’s best to warm up.

So, let’s go through a couple spring gardening tasks and incorporate a warm up at the same time.



Depleted of nutrients taken up by last year’s plants and then flushed away by winter rains, garden soil needs to be replenished. The best way to do this is to turn in compost, steer manure, kelp and other organics into the top few inches of soil. 

Not so fast. Work smart. As you load up the wheelbarrow for example, avoid bending over unnecessarily. When lifting a shovel-full of compost or soil, don’t overextend. Keep the shovel or pitchfork close as practical to your body.

When transplanting seedlings into pots or hanging baskets, set the tray or container on a tote, bucket or bench; close to your working level, not on the ground.

Need to bend over and pick something up?

Bend at the hip, not at the waist. Your hip joint is the pivot point, not your waist. Creasing at the hip will prevent lower back strain. Along with bending correctly, don’t lock your knees. Keep them “soft” (bent) and use your leg muscles--not your back--to do the work.

It may take conscious effort at first, but it’s worth it. 



Rome wasn’t built in a day and you don’t have to prepare the yard over a weekend. As excited or anxious as you might be to have the perfect lawn and a garden full of blooming flowers, spreading the work over days, even short weeks, is a good investment for your body’s health.



In my 2020 calendar (due out this summer) I devote a section to how to take a break. I call it “A Break Sampler,” a variety of recommendations based on Daniel Pink’s bestselling book, “When.” Pink says, “Breaks are significantly more important than we realize.”

Along with social breaks, nature breaks, and office yoga breaks, Pink recommends we take a “Hydrate” break. “Get a small water bottle. When it runs out, walk to the sink or outside faucet and refill it. It’s a three-for-one, he says. “Hydration, motion and restoration.”

Another way to take a break is to pause and stretch periodically. Twist gently from side to side. Reach up to the sky and rotate your wrists. Rotate your ankles. Prevention is the cure.



When dividing rhubarb, for example, use a shovel to split the root ball in two. Separate the sections and replant them two or three feet apart. Then, before tackling another clump, take a break and weed for a little while. Or use the shovel to sprinkle compost around your perennials and rhododendrons; then split another rhubarb clump. If you don’t know when to stop, set the alarm on your smartphone.



Need to move boulders? Build a hoophouse? Dig up a stump? Build a new deck? You might consider hiring a professional. When it comes to big chores ask for volunteers or hire someone to do the work.

By the way, a batch of fresh cookies is always appreciated. Every pickleball player will tell you that.



1. Locally grown seeds from Anton Larsen Bay are now available at Sutliff’s. Early birds do get the best worms.

2. Vegetables to start from seed: Broccoli, lettuce, kale and cauliflower.

3. Flowers to start from seed: Marigold, calendula and nasturtiums.

4. Herbs to start from seed: Cilantro, dill, basil (for greenhouse growing).

5. Pre-sprout your potatoes for planting soon.

Marion Owen has over 30 years of experience as a teacher and columnist. She’s on a mission to help busy people enhance their daily lives. To contact Marion or to sign up for her “Goodness from Kodiak” newsletter, go to her blog at MarionOwenAlaska.com.

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