Blog & News
Getting Ready for Spring Gardening
Now that you have pored over your gardening catalogs, ordered your seeds, and set up your indoor greenhouse, it’s time to get yourself, your garden plot or garden boxes, 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 gardening safety tips:
- 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.
- 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. They’re easy to hose off, have no laces to catch on the chicken wire, and provide toe protection all at the same time. I actually broke my wrist a few years ago in my garden–by catching a shoe lace on the chicken wire for my cucumber cage–and landing on the wood of my raised bed with an outstretched hand. Lesson learned about keeping garden paths clear!
- Use of Powered Equipment – Make sure electric and gas-operated equipment is in good working order, and that you know how to safely operate it. 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.
- 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.
- 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 and your garden beds ready for the spring season. Many of these can be started 4-6 weeks before you break ground in the spring.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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. Do not use pressure treated lumber, as the residue will seep into the soil from which your vegetables will feed. Table height garden boxes work nicely as well. I use these at home for things that I use frequently: herbs, cherry tomatoes, peppers.
- Wide Bed Gardening – When I joined the Town of Montgomery Community Garden over 10 years ago, I purchased The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward Smith and immediately implemented this approach, which advocates use of wide/raised/deep beds, organic gardening, companion planting, and close proximity planting. My gardens have performed well and I have had much less work to do once the beds were planted.
- Rotate your crops – Many insects feed on very specific plants. They lay their eggs in the soil near their food source, and wake up in the spring looking for the same food source. Rotating crops makes it difficult for them to find their favorite meal.
- Companion planting – there is much available online about which plants like each other, and which don’t. Onions are one of those very friendly plants – I plant them everywhere, as they grow easily, serve as dividers between different plant types, and ward off bugs.
- Replanting – Once a plant is done, I like to plant something from a different vegetable family. For example, once my carrots are harvested, I replant the area with lettuce or green beans as these both grow quickly.
- 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.
- Water – Consider installing drip irrigation for your plants. It will conserve water and save your hands from developing arthritic pain or tendonitis due to holding the hose.
- 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. Be sure to look under the leaves for the orange eggs. I also like to cover them with protective white fabric.
- 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.
- Stretch before you garden – This will make kneeling and squatting easier.
- Build up your gardening time – In order to avoid pain and muscle soreness, begin with short gardening stints of one hour, and build up to 2-3 hours at a time. Listen to your body as it may need more time to recuperate.
Enjoy the 2022 Gardening Season. May your harvests be plentiful!
In addition to an avid gardener, Dr. Lori Schneider is a Physical Therapist and Regional Director for Access Physical Therapy and Wellness.