One thing on every gardener’s wish list is a green thumb. Who wouldn’t want everything they plant to grow to perfection?

On the other hand, the last thing any gardener wants is a sore thumb, or worse. After all, what could be more humiliating than to hurt yourself while gardening?

While tending to your yard might seem like the safest of hobbies (what could possibly go wrong while planting a geranium?), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that gardeners suffer thousands of injuries every year. In 2012, for example, the CPSC estimates there were more than 100,000 injuries related to garden equipment or accessories in the United States. Here’s the CPSC’s top 10 list of what caused the most garden injuries based on estimates nationwide for 2012, the last year for which figures are available.

1. Unpowered garden tools: 28,349

2. Pruning or trimming equipment (not specified): 24,523

3. Greenhouse or gardening supplies: 17,014

4. Garden hoses, nozzles, or sprinklers: 16,897

5. Decorative yard equipment (excluding water features): 15,171

6. Wheelbarrows or lawn carts: 5,358

7. Decorative water features (including ponds and fountains): 2,316

8. Power tillers or cultivators: 2,134

9.Power pruning or trimming equipment: 1,833

10. Manual pruning or trimming equipment: 1,495

It’s worth noting that the list above doesn’t include injuries associated with yard maintenance equipment. The No. 1 villain in that category? Lawnmowers. In 2012, the CPSC estimates that lawn mowers were associated with around 47,645 injuries nationwide. Injuries from using lawn trimmers or edgers were a distant second among maintenance equipment at an estimated 13,799 injuries, followed by hatchets and axes (11,125), power hedge trimmers (4,246), and leaf blowers (2,761). The list also doesn’t include injuries from sunburn, back pain and other ailments related to being outdoors or engaging in light exercise.

Obviously, it’s dangerous out there among the tomatoes, squash, lettuce, petunias and day lilies. To help keep you safe, here are some practical tips to avoid common garden injuries:

Getting started – warm up!

While gardening isn't a contact sport like football (or isn’t supposed to be!), it does involve the use of motor skills both small (fingers) and large (arms, legs). Before you start gardening, consider “warming up” with a few basic exercises. All that’s required is a walk around the garden (who wouldn’t enjoy that?) to get the blood flowing and a few sustained stretches of your hands, back and legs to prepare your muscles for light exercise.

Take care with garden equipment

Exercise caution in handling and using garden tools, especially those with sharp edges or pointed tips. Remember, haste can make waste, not only of food crops and ornamental plants but of fingers and toes, too! Always comply with the manufacturer’s instructions on proper use of equipment, and never tamper with or remove safety guards. Clean and keep your equipment in good working order. Always wear safety glasses when using power equipment. Make sure you know where your electrical lines and TV cables are between the street and the house to avoid cutting through them.

Choose hand tools that fit your grip. If moulded finger grips are too small or too large for your hand they can cause blisters, calluses, or muscle pain.

Garden injuries

Gardening gloves provide protection from a number of injuries. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Wear gloves

Never neglect to wear gloves when mixing soils and planting. This is especially important if you have cuts on your hands and fingers. Small organisms in the soil can enter your body through lesions and lead to infection. Buried objects such as metal or glass can also cause puncture wounds and carry a risk of tetanus. Consult with your doctor about keeping your tetanus vaccination up to date.  If you must use garden chemicals (organic gardening is safer for you, your pets, and the environment), be sure to wear rubber gloves and check to make sure they don’t have holes or tears that will allow chemicals to touch your skin. If you find that traditional gardening gloves don’t give you the flexibility you want, ask the staff at your local gardening center what options they might suggest. You might also ask at your local sporting goods store. Some people find that form-fitting baseball batting gloves are ideal for digging in the dirt!

Use sun protection

Avoid gardening during the hottest part of the day, which is usually 10 or 11 a.m. to 2 or 3 p.m. Cover as much exposed skin as you can with long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a broad-rimmed hat. Apply sunblock to exposed skin. Even water resistant/proof sunscreens should be reapplied every 1 to 2 hours. Most people fail to use enough. Be generous in your application.

Protect against insects

Ants, scorpions, and a host of flying insects can have irritating bites or cause allergic reactions in some people. Wearing gloves, long clothing, and applying insect repellant can help reduce the possibilities of injuries from insects bites.

Avoid repetitive stress injuries

It’s easy to get into a “zone” when performing various garden work and lose track of time. Bring an egg timer into the garden and use it to remind yourself to rotate tasks – raking, pruning, digging, pulling weeds – that require different motor skills. Rotating your routine (think of rotating your veggie crops!) every 15 minutes will help you avoid repetitive stress injuries to your knees, wrists, and back. To relieve stress on your knees, for example, think of getting a garden stool. Put one knee on the stool and one on the ground. Switch back and forth to relieve stress on your knees and your back. Also try to keep objects your are pruning straight in front of you and avoid stretching too far to reach them. The closer objects are to you the less stress you are putting on your body, especially your back, to reach them.

Don’t overdo it!

Try not to engage in long gardening sessions. Bend at the knees when lifting heavy objects and ask for help if an object is too heavy for you. After all, it’s a lot less embarrassing to ask for help in moving that heavy rock than it is to admit from a hospital bed that you injured your back attempting to move a rock that, oh! by the way, is still sitting there. Remember, too, the egg timer. You can use it to remind yourself to take frequent water breaks. After all, sitting in the shade every so often with a bottle of water and admiring the beauty of your work can be as therapeutic as gardening is supposed to be. Better yet, who can get injured taking a water break in the shade?!

Additional tips to help you stay safe from injuries related to garden products are available from the CPSC through its various publications and a special blog devoted solely to lawnmowers.

If you are using a product you believe has safety issues, you can report product-related incidents to the Consumer Product Safety Commission on the CPSC’s SaferProducts website or by contacting The CPSC Hotline at (800) 638-2772.

Have you ever suffered a garden injury? Don’t be embarrassed to admit it. Even botanical gardens say that their professional staffs occasionally report repetitive injuries such as tennis elbow, carpal tunnel, and backaches; cuts from equipment, including hedge shears, chainsaws, pruners and loppers; bug stings and bites from bees, Asian needle ants, fire ants, yellow jackets and hornets; and bumps and bruises from tripping, sliding and falling in summer and winter. Sharing stories of your injuries just might help keep a fellow gardener from suffering the same fate. So, give it up for another lover of the dirt. What indignities have you endured planting peas in the backyard vegetable area or pruning those ubiquitous knockout roses in the ornamental garden?

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