Garden & Landscape Tips

This ergonomically designed hand saw comes with an extension that transfers some of the force to the forearm.
This ergonomically designed hand saw comes with an extension that transfers some of the force to the forearm.
© George Weigel

Gardening provides great exercise in the fresh air, but it is wise, even for young people, to take a few precautions before spending several hours working outdoors. Today few people are used to physical labor, however gentle. Health threats, such as back strains, bug bites, thorn punctures, fence cuts and sunburn are just a few easily avoided problems that can take the joy out of nurturing your garden and landscape.

Here are a few tips to minimize trouble. Remember, these tips are no substitute the advice of medical professionals.

Back Trouble. Overdoing it with bending, lifting heavy objects and, sometimes, making one wrong twist is enough to set off chronic aches. Stretch before heading outside, use your knees and legs to lift, and get help with the heavier objects. If you’re prone to a bad back, consider wearing a back brace.

Avoid bending by using long-handled tools, such as scuffle hoes or long-handled weeders to dispatch weeds. Or short-circuit weeds in the first place by sprinkling Preen Garden Weed Preventer over garden beds.

Repetitive Injuries. Carpal tunnel syndrome and sore, achy hands can happen when you repeat strenuous actions, such as pruning. Keep tool blades sharp and vary your jobs so you’re using different body parts. Wear gloves to prevent blisters.

Don’t overexert yourself with activities such as jumping on an edging tool to get through rocky soil. Choose top quality, well-designed tools in the first place. Look for ergonomically designed tools that fit your size and body build comfortably. Shovels and spades must be clean and sharp. After cleaning, dip the blades into a bucket of oily sand to deter rust and maintain an edge that will cut through soil easily.

Falls. Tree legend Dr. Alex Shigo once said one of the world’s most dangerous combinations is a homeowner, a ladder, and a chainsaw. It only takes a second for an accident to happen. Hire a trained, insured pro to handle the high stuff. Certified arborists specialize in tree work.

Become familiar with your power tools. Read and follow safety instructions always, and refresh your memory before use each spring.

Stop working before you’re getting tired. And ditch those old shoes when they lose their traction.

Eyes and Ears. Protect eyes with goggles if you’re using a chipper, weed-whacker, or any tool that causes materials to fly. Wear earplugs when operating noisy power equipment such as leaf blowers, tillers, and chipper-shredders.

An often-overlooked eye threat is poking your eye on a stake when bending over to pull or pick something. Buy stake-toppers or rig up your own poke-preventers. Split tennis balls and thread spools work well.

Cuts and Punctures. Get in the habit of wearing gloves any time you’re working in the soil. You never know when you’ll encounter a piece of broken glass, a discarded nail, or a sliver of wood.

Wear a pair of durable, puncture-resistant gloves when working around thorny plants, when fixing or installing fences, or when using sharp tools. Cowhide works well.

Always wear sturdy shoes for garden work. Flip flops and sandals are invitations for a toe to be skewered.

Doctors often recommend that gardeners get tetanus booster shots every 5 years instead of every 10 for those who don’t have their hands in soil regularly.

Reduce sunburn and bug bites in the garden by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and covering up as much as possible with light-weight clothing.
Reduce sunburn and bug bites in the garden by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and covering up bare skin with light-weight clothing. (click to enlarge)
© George Weigel

Sunburn. Wear a hat in the garden – especially one that covers the ears and back of the neck. Bald heads and ear lobes are especially susceptible to sunburn.

Stay cool but covered as much as possible by wearing light-colored, lightweight clothing (cotton or muslin, for example), and protect uncovered skin with a liberal coating of sun-block lotion (minimum 15 SPF). Reapply it if you’re outside more than a few hours.

Dehydration. Working for hours on a hot, sunny, humid day increases risk of muscle cramps, heat exhaustion, and potentially fatal heat stroke due to lack of water.

A good rule of thumb: Drink 2 to 4 cups of water per hour while you’re working in the heat. Take frequent breaks in a cool spot.

Bug Bites. Gardeners, especially in deer country, are at increased risk for Lyme disease. Black legged or deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis that hide in vegetation and lawns cause this neurological malady. Another common threat is mosquitoes – some of which can be infected by the potentially fatal West Nile virus.

Avoid bug bites by applying repellent sprays or lotions to exposed skin before going outside. Wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into your shoes or boots. Inspect yourself carefully when you’re done for the day.

Get rid of standing water, cover rain barrels, and change birdbath water every few days. Add Bt pellets to still water features. Egg laying mosquitoes seldom target moving water in fountains; pond fish consume mosquito eggs and larvae.

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