A trip and fall in my flower bed a few weeks ago got me thinking about how easy it is to get hurt working in our own personal paradise.
Various health articles have reported that most accidents occur in the home, and most car accidents occur close to home. Our gardens can also be places for mishaps to happen.
Falls are possibly the No. 1 cause of injuries in the garden, with No. 2 being tools.
My recent tumble happened purely from carelessness. I had clipped some woody stalks, leaving about 3 or 4 inches standing straight up — an accident waiting to happen, breaking my cardinal rule of snipping stems down to the ground to prevent tripping.
I had forgotten those nasty little stalks were too long, got my foot tangled and ended up having a close encounter with a rose bush. As I sailed through the air, I wondered who would win this battle: me or the rose bush. The thorns did.
After I recovered my pride, I got the clippers and cut those stubs flat to the ground.
We can trip over not only plant leftovers but also over tools, garden plaques or stepping stones (especially those that are loose or uneven). Some of us are as graceful as swans, while others (like me) can fall over their own feet.
I have tripped over a hose more times than I can count. My new note to self: Put up the hose when the watering chores are done. It is definitely a nuisance to wind up a hose every time it is pulled out, but those few minutes might save a nasty altercation with possible serious injuries. Heaven forbid that the UPS man should stumble over the hose as he runs to the front door.
Using power tools safely
Several years ago, when I was using an electric hedge clipper, the buzzing sound suddenly stopped. I had cut through the cord with the shears. A kind neighbor repaired the cord and told me I was lucky to be among the living.
Use extra care with any power tool. If you are unsure how to use a tool safely, let someone who is more experienced handle that task.
Do not prune over your head with a power tool, either standing on the ground or on a ladder. Although this chore seems easy, in fact it is a job best left to a pro.
Climbing a ladder
Stay off a ladder unless you are good at climbing and doing so safely. My husband was cleaning a gutter and decided that it was too much trouble to move the ladder to new place, so he leaned over. The ladder leaned over too, and he missed the concrete bird bath by inches. He does not climb a ladder anymore.
It is best to have the roof cleaned by a professional. A roof fall can have life-threatening consequences.
If you are determined to tackle a job and climb a ladder yourself, let safety be your watchword. Always face toward the ladder; never lean; make sure the ladder is tall and sturdy enough for the job and for you; do not leave tools on the rungs; steps should not be wet or slippery; the ladder must be on even ground.
Using chemicals safely
Handling chemicals incorrectly in the garden can also be a source of trouble. Take the warnings on the label seriously.
A speaker at a Master Gardener class many years ago said most accidents with chemicals occur when we are pouring them into a sprayer. Spilling excess toxic liquids into the ground is not good for the environment or our plants.
If a garden problem can only be handled by a herbicide or a pesticide, it is time to plan and prepare.
Read the label carefully to make certain you are purchasing what you need before you leave the store.
Follow the directions to the letter, paying careful attention to spraying temperatures, plants to use the product on, and amounts.
Use only what the manufacturer recommends; if a little is needed, more is never better.
Dress for the job: gloves, masks, long sleeves and pants, and appropriate footwear. Although the gardener may look like a member of a hazmat team, the extra precautions will certainly pay off.
Keep pets and children off recently sprayed areas. If there are any questions about a product, call the company’s toll-free number and ask. It never hurts to keep the number for the poison hotline handy, in case of a mishap with a chemical.
Mowing the yard
Protective eyewear and ear plugs are an excellent addition to our garden gear whenever we are using power tools, especially the lawnmower.
Mowing the grass requires our undivided attention. It seems so easy; just push or steer. Yard accidents, however, frequently occur around a lawnmower.
Dress appropriately for mowing with sturdy shoes and long pants.
Check the area for objects that could get caught in the blades. Send children and pets into the house in case a rock becomes a rocket.
Take a stroll around the property to be mowed to make certain there will not be a run in with nest of yellow jackets in the grass; yellow jackets do not like to be disturbed and will let you know in a heartbeat. A friend told me that a nest of angry yellow jackets once chased her into the house.
A riding lawnmower is not a children’s toy; mow by yourself. No one should be gardening while the lawnmower is on the move.
Keep tools sharp
More people actually get hurt using dull tools than sharp ones. Dull tools don’t work nearly as well as sharp ones and require more effort. Keep tools sharp and clean; your hands will thank you.
If you sharpen tools yourself, do so carefully.
Most communities have at least one person who is an expert at sharpening tools. A newly sharpened pruner is as good as a brand new one!
Many years ago, some workers were installing a fence and someone threw down a pick. Unfortunately, it hit my irrigation line and I had a small geyser. Take care handling tools, especially ones with sharp points.
Child-proofing and pet-proofing
It goes without saying that chemicals and tools and children (and pets) are not a good combination. Keep tools and chemicals stored properly so they do not become an attractive nuisance.
You would be surprised what games kids can invent with a tool, whether it is pushing a yard cart down a hill with another child in it, or using tools for pretend sword fights. The list is as long as a child’s imagination.
The gardener’s armor
Wearing gloves in the garden is a necessity for me. One day I pulled up what I thought was a weed and it was a 3-foot long vine of poison ivy.
Gloves are a lifesaver in case the spot where you are digging is the same spot the neighborhood kitty uses for a litter box. (Been there, done that too.)
Nitrile gloves fit close to the hand and are easy for small tasks as well as large ones. I have gloves for every chore and wear them religiously.
I am also one of those adults who keeps my tetanus shot up to date. One can never can be too careful when handling debris or tools or digging in unknown territory.
Protect skin from sunburn with a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen. Some outdoor clothing has sunscreen (and insect repellent) in the fabric. Additionally, hats and sunglasses protect eyes from the bright sun.
Use insect repellent regularly. I hate spraying myself with chemicals, but I do. I have tried them all. DEET seems to do the best job.
Mosquitoes, unlike many humans, seem especially attracted to me. I could actually serve as mosquito repellent for another person. My spouse and I can walk in the yard, and I will come in with half a dozen bites and he is not touched.
When dealing with the mosquito population, it is helpful is to keep the bird bath water clean and to empty any containers with standing water.
I remember nine tick bites last year. It is time to put the tick collar on my dog when I get my first bite, usually in March. Tick bites can at the worst make a person fairly sick and at the least cause a spot that itches for weeks. Long pants don’t do me much good; the tiniest tick still manages to climb under the fabric. Time for the DEET again.
Don’t overdo it
Take note of how heavy something is before moving it. My spouse and I have invented all sorts of ways to move pots or bags of soil without wrenching backs, arms or legs.
Be kind to your body when you are gardening. Know when you have had enough and recognize when you are not truly able to handle a task. If you are feeling faint or weak, stop.
Drink generous amounts of water while working away in the garden and take rest time, especially in the heat. The phrase, “Even mad dogs and Englishmen stay away from the noonday sun” is good advice. Take a break during the hottest part of the day, or at the least garden in the shade.
We can all be our own worst enemies in the garden. We try to take a shortcut; we really don’t know what we are doing (and thinking about saving money); we do not realize how dangerous a job can actually be or how we lack the skills to do it safely.
Sometimes accidents just happen regardless of our best efforts. That is when a good first aid kit comes in handy.
An ounce of prevention ... makes a safer gardener.