Gardening Safety

It's a jungle out there—simple precautions prevent a gardening injury from sneaking up on you.

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When you’re gardening, a few commonsense precautions can mean the difference between enjoyment and injury. Gardening can be tough on skin, muscles, and joints, but if you follow good practices and procure the right tools and equipment, you’ll be able to garden safely now and for years to come.
 
Stretching: The first thing to remember is that gardening is exercise, just like running or aerobics. To prevent muscle strain, it helps to do a few simple stretching exercises after your gardening session. (You don’t need to “warm up” with stretches before you start gardening, though.) 
 
If you already incorporate stretches into your exercise routine, simply do them after gardening, too. If stretching isn’t part of your routine, ask for a demonstration at your local gym, health center, or YMCA.
 
Good gardening posture: Think about it—a lot of gardening activities almost require you to stand on your head! Weeding and planting are two examples of gardening tasks that you do with your hands and face close to the ground. If you do these activities standing up and bent double, you can put a tremendous strain on your back. And unless you come from a culture that habitually relaxes by squatting on heels instead of sitting in a chair, squatting down will feel uncomfortable, and put undue stress on your knees. 
 
Instead, bring yourself closer to ground level in a comfortable manner. The best choice is kneeling and it’s helpful to cushion your knees with a waterproof kneeling pad or individual kneepads. Kneepads, which strap on over your jeans, are less cushioned than a kneeling pad but offer the advantage of mobility—they move with you as you work your way down the bed or row. Some kneelers are designed with side supports, so you can use them with the cushion on the ground as a kneeling pad, or flip the whole device with the other end up to convert it to a handy garden seat.
 
If you have knee troubles or reduced mobility, there are three other options:
 
  •  A convertible kneeler—just use the seat at all times.
  •  A sturdy plastic bucket with a handle and a padded lid. You can carry seed packets and supplies in the bucket, then sit on it while you do your gardening chores. 
  •  A mobile gardening “chair,” or “tractor scoot,” which is basically a tractor seat on wheels. The seat is broad and comfy, and you can scoot along the row or bed as you work. 
 
Tools: Choose tools that work for you. Using a poorly designed tool can make gardening twice the work it should be. And if you have carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, or limited strength, choosing the right tools is essential. Ergonomic tools have been designed for comfort and ease of use. These tools do their job with much less effort on your part. 
 
Whether you choose an ergonomic tool or a standard design, make sure you “try” before you buy. Practice making the motions you’d normally do with the tool while you’re still in the store. If it’s a trowel, a pair of pruners, or a hand fork, make sure the grip is comfortable. If it’s a long-handled tool, think about whether it’s too short or long for you to use easily. Check the weight and balance. Better to look a little silly in the store than risk blisters or worse in the garden!
 
One last thing about tools, and that’s basic tool safety. A sharp tool like a pair of pruners can actually be dangerous if the blades are dull, since you have to exert tremendous pressure to get them to work, and the dull blades can slip under the force, cutting you instead of the branch you’re pruning. Of course, they can also be dangerous when they’re sharp! Keep sharp tools out of the reach of children at all times. And remember that any tool is a hazard if you leave it out in the garden where someone can trip on it, or worse, step on the blade and hit themselves on the head with the handle. Always put your tools away after you’ve finished with them. As for power tools like chainsaws, use them responsibly if you want to stay out of the emergency room.
 
For more on choosing, using, and maintaining tools, see the Tools and Equipment entry.
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