Safety in the garden – tips for being a healthy and safe gardener

Yesterday, I was digging over the compost with my usual gusto, when the shovel slipped and drove into my foot.

Fortunately, I have a tough pair of standard black gumboots, and it slid off with no harm done. But if I had been wearing some other less solid form of footwear, I would have been in real trouble.

That got me thinking about safety in the garden. It’s such an important issue. There are many things I do to keep myself safe while gardening, and a few things I do…that I probably shouldn’t. Here’s a list of safety tips to keep in mind while gardening, some of which I have learned the hard way.

Please note these are not exhaustive and are not professional advice.

Protective footwear

This is one I have already mentioned. We are all guilty of tramping out to the backyard in our Aussie safety sandals (i.e. Havvies/thongs/flip flops), but for time spent in the dirt, gumboots that go up to your knees are really the go.

We each have a a pair of standard black, knee-length gumboots, purchased from the Big Green Shed for $10 a pair. These have lasted us a couple of years and are still good as new (although encrusted with filth). There’s really nothing that can go wrong with them: even a shovel glances right off.

Just remember to check for redbacks before you put them on, and you’ll be right.

I also have a pair of Sloggers, which are rubber garden clogs. These are also great for protecting your toes, but because they are clogs, they do not protect the whole foot. I slip these on when doing some basic garden work, like planting seedlings, but I would not wear them for heavy duty work.

Protective Headwear and Clothing

I live in Australia. This means you slip, slop, slap – shirt, sunscreen, hat, even in Winter. In Winter, I usually wear a beanie because it’s cold, and in Summer, a baseball cap. I know wide-brimmed is better, but I find the brim gets in my way. 50+ sunscreen, and a long-sleeved shirt is preferable to prevent both sunburn and scratching from plants.

Protective Gloves

I always wear gardening gloves. I am obsessive about gardening gloves. When my husband mixes them up, and wears mine, I hunt him down and pull them off his mitts so he doesn’t stretch them out. Good gardening gloves are surprisingly difficult to find. They must be comfortable, protect your hands and fingers, while also allowing the dexterity needed to thin out carrot seedlings, prune a bush, and weed a plot.

Gloves not only protect your hands from dirt and grot, they also protect from thorns, bug bites, and other nasties. They are a barrier between you and the parts of nature that you may not want to be quite so up close and personal with.

I searched high and low for my gardening gloves. I needed a pair that was tough enough to enable me to prune Audrey II, our boysenberry canes. Audrey has spikes that make pruning her a very painful experience. I spent a solid hour in Bunnos trying on multiple pair of gloves until I found ‘the pair’ that seemed tough enough.

If you think I’m being paranoid and too obsessive about gloves, I’m not. A rose or blackberry thorn can cause some nasty damage to the human body, including bacterial infections. If I can avoid, I will. We often have little cuts or nicks on our hands we are not aware of, and gloves act as an additional barrier to prevent bugs getting in.

Anyway, I found a pair. I can’t tell you the brand because, like a doofus, I chucked out the label, dooming me to another hour of searching when they finally give up the ghost.

Face Mask

When handling any garden soil, manure, or compost, I always wear a mask. Potting soil in particular can be a carrier of a type of pneumonia called Legionnaire’s Disease. The safest way to handle it is to wet down the potting mix first, so dust does not fly up when you handle it, and to wear a mask and gloves. Also try to use it in a well-ventilated space, rather than in a close-in space like a shed. Wash your hands well after using potting mix, even if you have worn gloves.

I always wear a mask when handling seed raising mix, when digging over my compost bins, and when cleaning out the chook shed. It’s not like masks are hard to come by nowadays.

Back Care and Movement

I learned this the hard way. Sometimes, particularly in Spring, I spend all day in the garden.

But I’m only a part-time gardener. During the week, I basically sit on my can all day, glued to my laptop.

So what happens to a middle-aged lady who spends 60-70 hours a week on a laptop and then tries to spend 8 hours straight digging in the garden?

Bad things. Bad back things.

One Monday morning, I tried to get out of bed, and I just could not.

Not because I was tired. Because I could not move.

All that gardening had buggered my back, because I had moved in a way my body was not used to.

As I healed and saw the physio regularly, she taught me some exercises to do as I garden that help prevent that ever happening again. Every now and then, I stop digging and do my little back exercises. So far, I have not had any further serious issues.

I can’t tell you what the exercises are, because I am not a medical professional. However, can I suggest that if you are like me, and you spend most of your time sitting down, and then want to spend your spare time outside doing physical activity, either ask a professional or look for some resources on small movements you can do to prevent a back injury.

Chemical and Tool Storage

I don’t have little kids anymore. And I don’t use poisons in my garden. However, young kids do visit sometimes, and I do have a lot of garden tools.

I don’t want the kids that visit to pick up a pair of secateurs and remove a finger. And frankly, I don’t want to trip over a rake in the garden either.

We have a dedicated garden shed, and all tools are returned there at the end of the gardening day. I do a walk around after each morning or afternoon spent in the garden and make sure every tool has been put away.

My garden shed isn’t one of those schmick sheds you see on TV. I don’t have one of those peg boards with an outlined spot for every tool. But everything generally has a spot (more like a pile), and it all goes back.

That also saves some cash. The best way to ruin a tool is to leave it in the rain.


Wash your hands after gardening. And scrub under those nails. I try to keep my nails short so fewer nasties can get under them, but I still give them a good clean after every gardening session.


This last one is something you only need to do every ten years – but it’s important. Tetanus is a terrible disease that can kill you. The death rate from tetanus is 1 in 10.

It can be prevented by a vaccine, with a booster every ten years. I had my booster the other day.

It’s a common misconception that tetanus is passed by rusty nails or other items. Tetanus is passed on by a toxin in soil or animal waste – (rusty nails may have tetanus on them, which is why the misconception exists). That is why gardeners are more at risk. If you are not sure of the date of your last tetanus booster, your GP can check on the Immunisation Register.

Do you have any safety tips for the garden? Share in the comments!

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