Now that you have pored over your gardening catalogs, ordered your seeds, and set up your indoor greenhouse, it’s time to get yourself and your equipment into shape for the gardening season.

Gardening can be a wonderful physical activity to promote flexibility, strength, better balance, stress reduction, and improved bone density. It’s a great way to burn off calories while obtaining the ultimate reward—beautiful flowers, fresh fruits, and fresh vegetables. Unfortunately, gardening can also cause injuries and illnesses; such as sprains and strains, fractures, heat exhaustion, bug bites, poison ivy, and machine-related injuries.

Here are some safety tips for gardening:

  1. Perform a Tool Check – Sharpen your tools and tighten the handles. Make sure you are using the right tool for the job and use long-handled tools when possible. Add a two-wheeled cart (less likely to tip over), padded knee cushion, and a small rolling stool to your inventory.
  2. Dress to Protect – Wear sturdy shoes, long pants, garden gloves, long-sleeved shirts, and a wide-brimmed hat. Apply sunscreen and bug repellant several times during the day. Perform tick checks. Consider wearing knee-high rubber boots and spray bug repellant on them—easy to hose off, no laces to catch on the chicken wire, and toe protection all at the same time.
  3. Use of Powered Equipment – Make sure the electric and gas-operated equipment is in good working order, and that you know how to safely operate them. Wear protective gloves. Never put your hands into equipment while it is running. Avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing as it might get sucked in- along with your hand.
  4. Use of Pesticides and Organic Gardening – Follow all directions carefully and wear protective clothing. Have clean water nearby to rinse off any residue that lands on you. Wear goggles to protect your eyes.
  5. Hydration and Nutrition – Drink plenty of water while gardening so as to avoid dehydration thereby preventing heat exhaustion and heatstroke. Bring healthy snacks to provide energy.

While the first warm spring day can tempt a gardener to spend the whole day outside, it is very important to prepare your body for gardening as well. Otherwise, you may develop muscle soreness or tendonitis.

Here are some tips to get your body ready for gardening. Many of these can be started 4-6 weeks before you break ground in the spring.

  1. Establish your range of motion to get in the positions that you use when gardening – perform stretching exercises daily. Practice kneeling, squatting, crawling, sitting on your heels.
  2. Develop the strength necessary to perform gardening tasks – perform general strengthening exercises daily with light weights or exercise bands. Practice squatting and getting up/down from the ground.
  3. Plan out your garden ahead of time – Consider adding formed raised beds. I have used 2” x 12” boards with great success as they are high enough to double as a seat while planting seeds, weeding, or harvesting. Table height garden boxes work nicely as well.
  4. Mulch, Mulch, Mulch – In addition to providing soil nutrition and water conservation, mulch can be used to deter weed formation—hence less work. I use cardboard or several layers of newspaper, topped with straw for my footpaths. Mulch for the garden beds can vary based on soil requirements. Compost, chopped leaves, grass clippings, and garden fabric topped with straw all work well.
  5. Water – Consider installing drip irrigation for your plants. It will conserve water and save your hands from developing arthritic pain or tendonitis.
  6. Protective row covers – If you have ever planted potatoes, you have had to deal with Colorado potato beetles. These are managed by hand-picking and some natural repellants in an organic garden. The use of crop rotation methods combined with row covers will deter their infestation.
  7. Garden early in the day – This will help you to avoid heat exhaustion and sunburn. Also, it will allow you to continue to move throughout the day and deter soreness from building up
  8. Stretch before you garden – This will make kneeling and squatting easier
  9. Build up your gardening time – In order to avoid pain and muscle soreness, begin with short gardening stints of one hour, and build up your time to 2-3 hours at a time. Listen to your body as it may need more time to recuperate.

Enjoy the 2020 Gardening Season. May your harvests be plentiful!

Dr. Lori Schneider is a Physical Therapist and Regional Director for Access Physical Therapy and Wellness.