Safety in the Garden

Safety in the Garden

By Mary St. Clair

While gardening is a healthy and fun pastime, it’s important to remember there are risks involved. Enthusiasm for getting out in the garden and completing a task sometimes leads people to forget caution. Better to be forewarned and hopefully avoid some of these risks yourself. What are some of the dangers lurking in the garden?

Power Tools

As we would all expect, power tools cause the most trips to the emergency room for gardening injuries. Most can be avoided by following the directions and never mixing power tools with alcohol. Wear proper covering, long pants and closed toe shoes. Use eye and ear protection. Your sight and hearing are so precious and easily lost. And remember, power tools are not toys.

But there are a lot of dangers that we might not think of. Here are just a few, in no particular order.

Heat Stroke

Many of us don’t realize how dangerous heat stroke is or how easy it is to become overheated. More than 400 people die from heat stroke each year and many more become very sick from it. So while you are enjoying the great outdoors, remember to drink a lot of water, then drink some more. And take frequent breaks. If you feel light headed, overly hot, see spots or stars, stop immediately and get out of the sun and cool down. A cool drink, air conditioning or a fan, and a damp towel around your head and neck help. Don’t say, “I’ll go inside when this task is done.” Don’t wait. Cool down now.


As with heat stroke, your body can get chilled very easily, especially if you get wet. The same advice applies. If you get too cold and can’t stop shivering, go inside. Shivering is your body’s way of telling you to stop what you are doing. Get something warm to drink, put on dry clothes and allow yourself time to warm up. Hypothermia can become dangerous quickly, so don’t wait.


Every year people die from lightning. Don’t take the chance. Stop, go inside and let the lightning pass. Your garden will wait.


Most people think they only need to worry about tetanus if they step on a rusty nail, but did you know the tetanus bacteria is in garden soil? All you need is a nick or a hangnail. Any break in the skin and you can get it in your body. This is the easiest thing on this list not to get. How long has it been since you had your last tetanus shot? It’s just that easy! The experts disagree on how frequently you should get the shot, so consult your doctor and make sure you get it regularly.

Exercise and Stretching

Gardening season begins with digging, bending, kneeling and pulling, followed by sore muscles, pulled ligaments and slipped disks. But how do you keep that from happening? Keep your body in shape all winter. Most people think that winter is the time to rest from all the gardening labor. Wrong! More injuries occur at the start of the gardening season due to being sedentary all winter long. The solution? Get on a regular exercise regimen and make sure you are in shape before the gardening season starts.


Sunburn is easy to avoid and has long-term effects. To protect yourself, cover up. You have some choices as to how to cover. Long-sleeved shirt, long pants, a wide brimmed hat, sunscreen or even a portable tent are all things you can use to help prevent sunburn. Just make sure you cover up. In addition to the discomfort of burning your skin, sunburn has been directly
connected to skin cancer.

Eye Injury

We all know we should wear eye protection when we use power tools. But how about when we do other work around the yard, homestead or garden? I clean out my ducks’ water troughs every day. When spraying them with the hose I got splash-back in my eye that caused an infection. When my daughter was putting in a new fence, she hit a staple with her hammer. The staple bounced up and hit her right in the eye, taking a big chunk out of her cornea. Both eye injuries could have been avoided with a $2 pair of safety glasses.

Inhaling Dust

If you are mixing fertilizers, peat moss, moldy grass clippings or other “dusty” things, wear a dust mask. Your lungs will thank you.

Poisonous Animals, Insects and Plants

Know your poison. When my daughters were younger, they were playing in our yard and one was bitten by a snake. As it turned out we had gone to the nature center the week before and had looked at all the snakes. That was why I could identify the snake as a poisonous pigmy rattlesnake and was able to tell the hospital so she could be given the correct anti venom. Anytime you are outside there is a danger of being bitten or stung by something. Even though it doesn’t happen often, it’s important to be able to identify the critter so you will know how it needs to be treated. Contact your local nature center or extension office to learn about the different poisonous things in your area.

Common things to watch for include: fire ants, spiders, scorpions, wasps, centipedes and some caterpillars; snakes, including rattlers, coral, water snakes; and plants, including poison ivy and poison oak, mango, parsnips and stinging nettle.

I’m not a doctor, just a fellow gardener who wants to see others enjoy gardening as much as I do. And you can’t enjoy anything while being sidelined by an injury. So as the sergeant on Hill Street Blues used to say, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Mary St. Dennis has been gardening for more than 25 years. You can follow her at

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