The Right Tools
Shovel: A wide handle and bigger step give you better leverage. Choose from three sizes to fit your height. (Green Heron Tools HERShovel, $66.49; greenherontools.com)
Knee cushion: Gardening can be rough on the knees. The Jolly knee cushion buffers them from the hard ground. ($36.95; gardenclogs.com)
Pruner and shears: Contoured handles fit your hand shape and motion; gears make tough cuts easier with a light tool. (Fiskars PowerGear2, $24.99; Hedge Shears, $41.99; fiskars.com)
Trowel: A gel insert in the wrist-friendly grip means extra comfort. (Ergo Gel Grip Hand Trowel, $8; homedepot.com)
Hose nozzle: A flip of the thumb turns it on; a twist of the wrist adjusts flow. (Dramm Revolution 9-Pattern Spray Gun, $14.99; amazon.com)
Watering can: Get more control from a no-slip, soft grip. Turn the spout backward to stow. (Outdoor Pour & Store Watering Can, $24.99; oxo.com)
Position yourself correctly to use the right muscles.
Planting and weeding: Keep your back straight (not hunched) to minimize back strain and take breaks every 15 minutes or so to protect your knees and back.
Picking up bags of soil: To lift any heavy item, bend at your knees—not your waist—to engage your leg muscles. This decreases stress on your neck, shoulders, and back.
Pruning: Always pull branches to your level (or use a reacher). Avoid twisting or reaching overhead.
Grow It, Eat It
Families who garden grow $677 worth of fruits and vegetables a year. The No. 1 vegetable that people grow in their gardens: tomatoes, with 86 percent of American households planting them.
Green beans: They're loaded with heart-protecting antioxidants—even more than their cousins in the pea and bean family.
Cucumbers: Make your own probiotics: Brine pickle-size cucumbers in water and salt (vinegar kills the healthy bacteria). You'll also get a good dose of vitamin K.
Leafy greens: Most are nutrition standouts, but based on a ranking of nutrients per calories, watercress and spinach are in the top five, beating out kale.
Tomatoes: Packed with vitamins A and C, plus cancer-fighting lycopene, tomatoes are even better for you after being cooked. Heat increases the antioxidant.
Peppers: Every bite gives you vitamin C, beta-carotene, and carotenoids. The longer peppers ripen (on the vine or your counter), the higher the levels.
Zucchini: Stop and eat the flowers! They have vitamin C. The squash itself has potassium and fiber (much of which is in the skin).
Calm & Content
Gardening provides powerful stress relief. In one study, people who took a frustrating test then gardened for 30 minutes enjoyed an uptick in their mood and a lowering of the stress hormone cortisol. Make the most of your time in the green.
Unplug: Leave the electronics (your phone, iPad, and laptop) inside. Focusing on the greenery without distractions helps you truly disconnect, soak in the moment, and fully recharge.
Breathe: Up the relaxation factor by paying attention to your breathing as you work. Breathe slowly, inhaling through your nose and exhaling out your mouth.