Indoor Gardening for Nursing Home Residents: Anticipating the Spring Plant Sale

Winter seems endless for nursing home residents. Activity directors and caregivers can break the dormancy of winter with a series of indoor garden activities leading to a spring plant sale. In no time the robins and daffodils will appear at the window.

Supply each resident with a colorful pocketed garden smock or apron and a pair of soft pliable garden gloves. Use trigger spray misting bottles for watering rather than watering cans.

Coaxing Springtime with Bulbs

Bulbs are large enough for participants to see and to grasp easily. Start baskets of bulbs using Easter baskets lined with layers of newspaper or coir mats or plastic pots with saucers. Participants scoop moistened lightweight soilless potting mix like Fafard’s into containers.

Provide assorted bulbs with large pictures of each flower. Participants poke holes into soil with their fingers to bury the bulbs to proper depth. Summer bulbs for the plant sale include achimenes, agapanthus, allium, begonia, caladium, crocosmia, dahlia, daylily, elephant’s ear, ginger lily, gladiola, and lily.

Coaxing Springtime with Branches

Coaxing spring flowering branches into bloom is a wonderful way for residents to preview spring over a sequence of months and bring flowering sprays to mealtime trays and dining tables.

Preparation includes pruning 12” or longer branches from spring flowering trees and shrubs. Candidates include crab apple, flowering almond, apricot, azalea, cherry, dogwood, forsythia, lilac, star and saucer magnolia, mock orange, peach, pear, plum, pussy willow, quince, redbud, and spirea.

Gently crush cut ends of stems with a mallet to expose more tissue to absorb water. Participants arrange the stems in floral foam or in vases with water. Place in well lit environment but away from heat vents. When blossoms appear, residents can create centerpieces for the reception desk, nursing stations and dining tables. Refresh water frequently.

Invite a local Ikebana International chapter member to conduct a flower arranging workshop with residents using their forced branches.

Seed Starting for Seniors

Vegetable, herb, and flowers are popular bedding plants for a spring plant sale.

Planting seeds can be a difficult task for those with loss of sharp vision or reduced manual facility. Sow seeds in seed trays, in peat pots, biosponges, or expandable peat or coir pellets. Adaptations exist to make sowing easier for seniors.

One obvious way is to use larger seeds since they are easy to see and grasp. But many choice plants come from small seeds like lettuce, basil, and vinca.

Smaller seeds can be sown using commercially available seed dispensers like seed spoons, seed syringes, and seed trowels.

However, before investing in equipment that residents might find cumbersome, try several other tried and true ways. One old method is to combine tiny seed with flour to make the mix visible on the soil.

Another adaptation is to put tiny seeds in a shaker jar like an old parmesan cheese or spice container. A salt shaker works for very fine seeds.

Another method for planting tiny seed is to use a sharpened pencil and glass of water. Dip the pencil tip into the water and then into the seed. The seed adheres to the tip and may be placed in the soil or peat pot.

Seed tapes, biodegradable strips with seeds attached and spaced, are available from Park Seed, Burpee and Ferry Morse in vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

Making seed balls is an innovative option for the plant sale. The compressed mixture of compost, clay, water, and seed can be tossed onto the garden when temperatures moderate. For seniors familiar with home baking, the activity will remind them of mixing and rolling cookie dough. Seed ball themes include herbs, wildflowers, annual flowers, and fragrant flowers.

Rooting Cuttings

Making new plants from old is an easy and fun indoor year-round activity. Chances are the houseplants decorating hallways, offices, and resident rooms can supply the parent African violet, philodendron, pothos, spider plant, wandering Jew and ivy for the nursing home plant nursery.

Root leaf cuttings in water in transparent spice, jelly, or baby food jars. Transplant to recycled yogurt or margarine containers filled with potting soil for the plant sale. Residents print plant names on tongue depressors to insert in pots.

Growing Grass for Cats

Some nursing home residents have a cat and some homes have a resident cat. Residents can grow cat grass for the cats and for the plant sale.

Obtain organic oats, rye, wheat, and barley seed. Gardeners sprinkle seed over the surface of soil in recycled plastic containers gently pressing seed into the soil with fingers or back of hand.

Since grass seed sprouts and grows quickly, this activity should be started a month before the plant sale.

Indoor gardening for nursing home residents plants the seeds of anticipation of spring.