When spring arrives, gardeners look forward to the warmth of the sun and the budding of the bushes, trees and bulbs. The next thing you know, we are at the nursery loading up on plants, soil and other goodies. We look forward to spending time outdoors, thinking about our successes and failures from the previous year, and are anxious about freshening up our garden in preparation to receive new plants. Whether you are a novice or an expert, health and safety precautions are important to protect yourself, your family and your pets as you head out to your garden, vegetable plot or lawn.
• Dress to protect. Wearing eye goggles, a mask to prevent inhaling dust, a hat with a wide rim to shade the face, head, ears, and neck, heavy duty gloves, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, close-fitting clothes and no jewelry go a long way in preventing injury, exposure to harmful chemical, insects and the sun. Sturdy shoes with slip-resistant rubber soles, and hearing protection when using motor-driven equipment are also worthy of consideration.
• Honor your limits in the heat. Long periods of time in high temperatures can lead to serious health problems. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water.
• Body mechanics. Proper body mechanics are important to an injury free summer. Maintaining a strong core will go a long way to keeping the rest of your body healthy. If you are lifting anything or stretching your body to reach a particular place, be mindful to engage your core muscles. Keeping your stomach tight will protect your back. When lifting heavy objects, lift with your legs and keep the object close to your body.
Tip: Raised beds provide an excellent environment for plants and reduce much of the bending and stooping of a traditional garden. If you are working at ground level for long periods of time, use a kneeling pad, knee pads or a garden seat to alleviate stress on your lower back. New ergonomic and light-weight tools reduce repetitive stress injuries while digging, weeding and transplanting. Gloves with reinforcement pads in the fingers make gripping easy while reducing strain and pressure points on your hands.
• Safety first. Keep sharp tools and machinery in a shed or storage area that can be locked and away from children and pets. Before using machinery, remove objects from the area that can cause injury or damage equipment such as sticks, glass, metal, wire and stones. Use safety devices on equipment, whether manual or electric, and ensure it is locked or turned off and unplugged when left unattended. Check your equipment before each use and limit distractions while using it.
• Know your plants. Many plants can be toxic in some way to humans and animals causing skin reaction, allergy or even poisoning. Teach young children never to eat anything that they pick or find in the garden, be it mushrooms, flowers, berries or leaves. Wait until children are older before you show them what can and can’t be eaten.
Tip: Ponds and water features can be fatal for children and pets. Ensure that your pool, ponds and water features are safe and covered or fenced. Use a pond cover or wire mesh just below the water surface to protect children and pets. Remove any items that may collect standing water, such as buckets, old tires, and toys. Mosquitoes can breed in them within days.
• Pesticides and fertilizers. Read all instructions and labels before using, whether they are organic or not. Be aware that as herbicides become more organically oriented using ingredients such as orange, clove and peppermint oils, their smells may be of interest to small children and pets. Again, teaching your children to never eat anything that they pick in the garden until they are old enough to know what can and can’t be eaten is an important caution to take.
Gardening is an excellent way to get outdoors and to get physical activity. Before you start gardening this season, protect yourself!