Trowel & Error

It’s a jungle out there

Awareness and common sense help you stay safe in the garden

By Nancy Crowe

Master Gardener Nancy Crowe knows it’s dangerous out there, and she recommends sensible gardening safety practices.We don’t think of gardening as an especially dangerous pursuit, and yet you can wind up with anything from a blister to a back injury. Most such mishaps occur in the spring, but now is a great time to look at what we’ve been doing all season and how we might do it better. I am not a medical professional, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

•    If you pull weeds, wear gloves. We all have been known to see and pluck a weed or two on the way to the car or mailbox. Just make sure the weed isn’t prickly or irritating to the skin. I learned this the hard way years ago when I yanked a clump of what I now know was stinging nettle. It’s called that for a reason, and, ironically, the plant has many medicinal uses.

•    Speaking of evil weeds: If you know or suspect you’ve come into contact with poison ivy, Ohio State University recommends washing with soap and cool water as soon as possible. Warm water opens the pores and invites the toxic oil further into your skin. Anything else the poison ivy might have touched — clothing, gloves, tools, spouses — must be decontaminated as well. You can also swab a little rubbing alcohol or witch hazel on potentially exposed skin, but then rinse to prevent drying or irritation.

•    When working with any kind of chemical, even organic, read and follow the label. Protect your hands with gloves, your eyes with goggles and your entire being with common sense. Don’t mess with the stuff on windy days. Don’t wipe your eyes or bite your nails while you’re using it. Do wash thoroughly when you’re done. Don’t even think about putting it in another container without a bold and accurate label; it’s worth digging masking tape and a permanent marker out of the junk drawer.

•    To keep supporting stakes from poking you in the eye while you’re weeding or harvesting, put something on the stake. You can get boxes of antenna toppers, rubber balls and the like in just about any theme from party supply companies. Then you not only have eye protection but a whimsical garden ornament. Does a yellow, pink and green tropical fish look goofy above an Indiana tomato plant? Yes, delightfully so.

•    “I probably shouldn’t try to move this, but …” Save the “but” and get a wheelbarrow, wagon or godson to help get the heavy object from point A to point B. Bending and twisting also strain the back. If there’s a way to make a task more comfortable, even if it takes an extra minute or two, isn’t it worth it?

•    Dirty knees are a badge of honor for gardeners, but functional knees are better. Squatting, as we frequently do for weeding or planting without even thinking about it, can do a number on our knees. If you’re going to kneel instead, knee pads, a kneeling pad or portable bench can ease the task. Look at it this way: You’ll enjoy gardening more — and do a better job — if you’re not in pain.

•    If you’re using tools such as a retractable knife or sharp pruning shears, watch where you set them down, even “for just a second.” I’ve tried to get into the habit of retracting or closing the tool before I set it down. Sure it takes an extra second, but preventing injury to hands, feet or paws if I forget to put it away is worth it.

•    If you are working in a community garden or other public area, stay alert to your surroundings and avoid being there alone.

•    Use sunscreen or wear a hat like you know you should. ’Nuff said.

•    When you read this, we will be near the end of what may be one of our hottest summers ever. Not working outside during the warmest periods of the day, drinking plenty of water, knowing the signs of heat exhaustion — this is basic stuff, folks.

Remember that gardening is about working with and being kind to nature, and nature includes us. Let’s be careful out there.

Nancy Crowe

Master Gardener Nancy Crowe's Garden Spot column also appears in interactive format online.

Posted Thu, 08/30/2012 - 9:00 am