Make safety part of your gardening plan

Andy Crossland
Adams County Master Gardener

When spring finally arrives, we can hardly wait to get gardening. We have been cramped up in the house or shop all winter, now we can escape to our gardens. Whether your garden is a few containers on the porch or a spread as big as the back forty, you need to think of safety.

Container gardens are beautiful, and I'll bet you are wondering how safety could be a part of this simple form of gardening. Container gardens require pots, tubs or some form of container. These containers have weight to them, especially when full of potting soil. With the advent of synthetic flower pot materials you can have a light weight container that looks as good as the "real thing". Some of these containers can be quite large. Before attempting to move them you should do a few things to help ensure that you are healthy enough to enjoy your efforts for the rest of the growing season.

First, as with all garden activities, you should do a few simple stretches to get your body ready for physical activity. A pulled muscle or torn ligament will hamper your ability to enjoy the gardening season and life in general, so get loose before you begin. Second, use your head! Don't try to move something too large to move alone. Men, especially as we age, often let our egos get in the way of reality. Get some help. Lighten the load by removing some or all of the planting medium. In large containers invert a plastic bucket in the bottom and fill the soil around it to reduce the weight. Use carts, hand trucks, tractor loaders, wagons, or ramps to get your containers to their correct positions and save the back.

If storing pots in the shed for the winter, there are steps to be taken to put them back into service. Safety needs to be a part of these procedures. The pots should be cleaned and sanitized before putting them back to work. Washing them with soap and water will make them look better, but sanitizing them requires a solution of mild bleach. Mix 1 part liquid bleach and 9 parts warm water in a non-reactive container. Be sure to apply in a well ventilated area and wear old clothes (unless you like that tie-died effect) with long sleeves. Wear safety goggles and rubber gloves as you apply to the inside and outside of the pot. If you splash concentrated bleach on your skin, wash it off with running water. Depending on the location of the splash, call your doctor or go to the emergency room.

One of the most common and recurring tasks in the yard garden is mowing the grass. Most of us will mow once or twice a week for the growing season. You can take Audrey Hillman's suggestion and let your yard revert to prairie. Some of us have homeowner associations who will take offense to this style of yard care! Even Audrey has paths mowed into her prairie…..

Talk about a time for considering safe practices - power tools and gardening are a prime example of an accident waiting to happen. You could be like the man who heard that most accidents happen within 25 miles of home, so he moved!

A better approach is to use safe practices and be aware of your surroundings. How many times have you seen some one mowing in flip flop shoes or bare-footed? Worse than that, how many times have you seen someone with a small child on their lap while driving the riding lawn mower? Believe me, folks, this is not quality time!

Don't forget to pull the spark plug wire off the spark plug before servicing it. Remember that the rotary mower blade has a tip speed of over 200 mph. Talk to your children about mower safety. Have them stay out of the area where you are mowing. If an emergency arises and they need to talk to the operator, show them how to safely approach the person on the mower away from the discharge chute side of the mower and in the vision angle of the operator. Wear strong shoes. Wear eye and hearing protection. A pair of good gloves will help protect your hands from minor injuries. When all goes wrong, the mower wins!

String trimmers and mowers can both launch items that are in their paths. Keep people away from your area of operation as much as possible. Stop using the machine if you see someone approaching in an area you cannot control. Wait until the area is clear to resume using power equipment.

If you are using corded electrical equipment, make sure that the cord is plugged into a Ground Fault Interrupter receptacle. The GFI plug will shut down the flow of electric before it can harm you. New construction currently requires GFI as building code, but many older homes do not have these life saving plugs. They can be retrofitted by a competent home handyman or certified electrician. If unsure of your electrical skills, call for help - the cost of hiring an electrician will be less than the cost of a funeral!

I don't want to scare you out of the yard and garden but rather help you think about the consequences if something goes wrong. We often believe these kinds of things only happen to the other guy. Please remember that to everyone else in the world, YOU are the other guy. Think safety, practice safety and enjoy your yard and garden with family and loved ones. We come from the Earth, we return to the Earth, in between we garden. See you in the garden.

Read other articles on gardening techniques

Read other articles by Andy Crossland