Stay Safe in the Garden

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With springtime comes the urge to spruce up lawns and gardens by cutting grass, pulling weeds and planting seeds. Avid gardeners jump in and begin the arduous task of digging, prepping, pruning, and planting perennials and annuals. Eager to get spring and summer plants in the ground after a long winter’s rest, gardeners often overlook the dangers gardening can pose.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), gardening and yardwork ranked second – following walking – as the most frequent form of physical activity. Gardening is a healthy physical activity with abundant and beautiful results, but it is an activity often performed with sharp objects and powerful equipment. Therefore, preparing and planting your garden requires preparation to prevent injury.  If you are a weekend gardener, you could accumulate a plethora of aching body parts after a weekend of spring planting if you don’t take into consideration your body’s lengthy winter hibernation. If exercising over the winter meant moving from the bed to the sofa with the remote in your hand, caution is in order lest you beautify your yard and wreak havoc on your body.

Gardening may be one of the best forms of exercise, but overdo it in the garden and you can put your back out, pull muscles, strain joints, cut digits and even acquire serious injuries if garden tools are not used properly. Using the right tools and using them correctly will decrease body stress and prevent injuries. Patty Davis, with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, says it’s particularly important to turn power tools off, “especially if children are in the area, given children are often attracted to motorized garden tools.”

Stooping, bending, twisting and moving about in the garden are common tasks many of us forget in our eagerness to create and build our garden. Charlie Nardozzi, with the National Garden Association (www.Garden.org), says, “Too many people jump into prepping their garden by raking, pulling weeds, digging holes and are surprised to find that what they consider a little puttering in the yard can cause injuries or strained, achy muscles the next day.”

Garden Machinery Menace

We have become dependent upon the powerful equipment we use today to tame the jungle of our lawns and gardens after winter’s respite. However, lawn mowers and other machinery can also be a great danger when not used with care. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) data shows that each year about 400,000 people are treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries from lawn and garden tools. The CPSC says 25,300 people are injured and 75 people are killed each year on or near riding lawn mowers and garden tractors. One out of every five of these deaths involves a child, usually occurring when the child was in the path of a moving mower.

Each year, Davis says, thousands of people visit emergency rooms and their personal physicians for treatment of injuries related to lawn mowers, garden tools and supplies. The most common injuries are caused by strikes from debris, such as rocks and branches, propelled by the mower’s spinning blades.

Davis stresses clearing the lawn and garden of debris, sticks, glass, toys and other objects that can shoot out of a garden mower and cause injury. “Always make sure you don’t refuel your mower while it’s still running. Don’t mow your lawn if it is wet and soggy and the material can clog the discharge chute,” she says. Finally, Davis recommends using a grand fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) to prevent electrical shocks.

Equipment Makes All the Difference

  • Many injuries can be avoided and the whole process of gardening and yard maintenance can be much more comfortable if you use the proper tools and protective gear while you prepare for the harvest to come. 
  • Pad your kneeling surface: It doesn’t mean you’ve become a complete geezer if you need a little help kneeling while you work. A long spell of kneeling when planting or tackling weeding in the borders can not only be uncomfortable but also leave you stiff with sore, achy knees. Cushion knees with a kneeling cushion; kneepads can also help and come in nifty colors and sizes these days. Ease the strain on joints by standing up from time to time. 
  • Wear appropriate clothing: Snakes, bees, sharp rocks and debris are hazardous to exposed skin. Davis says, “Dress in long sleeves and pants with a good pair of shoes and socks. Wear safety goggles, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat to prevent sunburn and sun damage.” 
  • Protect your hands: Wearing gardening gloves, particularly if you’re clearing brambles or doing heavy-duty pruning, makes sense. They protect your hands – and wrists and forearms if you choose gauntlets (gloves with longer cuffs) – from scratches and thorns. Choose a heavy-duty glove made from deerskin, which is soft and supple, yet tough enough to keep thorns at bay. Pamper your hands after gardening with lots of thick body-butter creams and lotions that will moisturize overworked hands. 
  • Use the right tool: Pruning shears and other garden tools can put considerable strain on weak fingers, wrists and arms. The NGA’s Nardozzi says there are a variety of ergonomic garden tools designed to combat these problems on the market. Fiskars, for example, has a line of long-handled shovels that are great for taller people. Talk to your local nursery when choosing an ergonomic garden tool to suit your special needs. (For a couple of our favorites, see our Bookshelf.) 
  • Water with help: Another piece of equipment that will take the strain off your arms and shoulders is a well-designed, lightweight watering can. The slim line shape of a plastic watering can means that you can carry it comfortably at your side, without whacking your legs, and the top and rear handles allow you to pour with ease. Carry one in each hand, and only half-fill them to keep strain to a minimum. 
  • Shift pots the easy way: Moving heavy flowerpots can present risks both to your lower back and to your health and safety if they break. A large pot filled with damp soil and a plant can be a weighty object to move about the yard. Use a dolly or pot mover to transport your plants or, for smaller plants, at least ask a friend to help and make sure you both “lift from the knees.” It will eliminate injuries due to pottery breakage and lessen the stress on your lower back, Nardozzi says.

Gardening can be a fun, relaxing and fruitful pastime. With the appropriate precautions you too can keep yourself healthy and remain a stranger to the emergency room.   /G

Nancy Duncan is a health and lifestyle writer based in California. Kansas City artist Brad Anderson created Gritty, our stick-figure friend.


Gardener’s Supply Company

Lee Valley Tools Ltd.

Duluth Trading Co.


Peaceful Valley Farm & Garden Supply

Fedco Co-op Garden Supplies

Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Nichols Garden Nursery

Park Seed Co.

Territorial Seed Co.

Published on May 1, 2007

Grit Magazine

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