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Protective gear's important in the garden, too


This is part of my personal arsenal of gardening protection items. The glasses turn darker when sunlight hits them. (Photo:
Kathy Morrison)

If you don't protect yourself, who's going to do it?


In these days of coronavirus, we're all familiar now with wearing masks to the store, as well as wiping down door or car handles and washing our hands a lot. The acronym PPE, for personal protective equipment, has entered the lexicon and settled in for a stay.

But gardeners, we also need to remember our GPG, or gardener protective gear, whether we're out in the backyard or the back 40.

I'm as guilty of forgetting this as anyone else. Now that planting weather has arrived, I want to rush outside first thing, to enjoy the early morning air and the chirping of the neighborhood birds. But it's worth the time involved to use these protective products:

1. Sunscreen. Arms, neck, back of calves, bridge of nose -- anywhere that's not going to be covered by clothing gets a nice layer of greaseless sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a product with broad spectrum protection, an SBF of 30 or higher, and water resistance. To avoid breakouts, I use one specifically for faces on my face, neck and ears.

2. Lip balm, preferably with moisturizer or protectant. That's exposed skin, too.

3. A hat. After trying all kinds of gardening headgear -- straw, cloth, nylon, strings or not, brimmed or not -- I settled on a personal favorite: a washable synthetic baseball cap with a large bill, anchored with bobby pins. It soaks up sweat and doesn't get knocked off (or strangle me) if I brush past a tall shrub or tomato plant. I now have four that I rotate through during a busy gardening week. But everyone has different needs; the point is to cover your head and shade your eyes a bit.

4. Sunglasses or safety goggles. Ever accidentally gotten dirt in your eye? How about a pointy leaf? I've done both, and wound up seeking medical care in both cases. Whatever was in that soil gave me a case of pink eye. Blech. The pointy leaf poked the corner of my eyelid and it hurt like heck for several days. Didn't look so great, either. Now I always have something over my eyes when I'm outdoors. Goggles are especially important if you're working on something over your head, or you're running a power tool.

5. Gloves. Keep your hands clean and protected, especially when using soil amendments, fertilizers and sharp tools. I prefer washable ones with a velcro cuff and reinforced fingertips, but again, this is personal preference. If you're working with roses or anything else thorny, a longer leather cuff would be more protective.

6. Closed-toe gardening shoes. When it's hot, it's tempting to garden in sandals or flip flops. But you might live to regret it, especially if working with pruning shears or another sharp tool. I got stabbed in the toe once by a sharp piece of bark mulch, and that was enough to convince me to wear my Sloggers or some clogs in the garden at all times. (I wear them with short white cotton socks, which keeps them from sticking to my sweaty feet.)

Those are the GPG basics. Here are some other items to have on hand when gardening:

-- Bottle of cold water. We get busy in the garden and forget we need water regularly just like the plants do. Keep something to drink nearby so you don't get dehydrated,
-- A container of wet wipes. Clean your hands, wipe your brow, clean the dirt off that thorn prick -- lots of reasons to keep them nearby. (I know, wipes are hard to find these days, but worth the search.)
-- An old, clean bath towel. Folded, it makes a nice kneeling pad that won't disintegrate like those foam things. Or you can wipe your tools on it.
-- Basket or bucket for the tools you're using right now. Everything goes back in when you're done -- no stepping on a forgotten tool later.

Stay safe out there!




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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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