Be Careful Out There! Safety in the Garden
By Thom Morgan, Springmoor Landscape Manager
Right now the weather doesn’t seem conducive to enjoying our outdoor hobbies such as hiking, bird watching or gardening. I’m writing this blog just after the February 16/17 “Event.”
The hot weather will come soon enough though, and in our rush to get back outside we might forget about some of the dangerous aspects of our outdoor hobbies.
I like to divide the dangers into two parts Man-made and Environmental.
Chemicals: Everyone likes their plants to be healthy and full of blooms, and so we rely on chemicals to give our lawns and plants that special look. Ideally, we would not use chemicals at all but it is hard to resist spraying the Japanese beetles when they are tearing apart a rose we worked so hard to take care of. Chemicals are readily absorbed by our skin, especially the palms of our hands and the soles of our feet. Always wear rubber gloves, goggles and rubber boots when applying any chemical in the garden.
Medications: Do you know if your medications make you photosensitive? Be aware of what’s in your medicine cabinet and check to see if any of your meds can make you extra sensitive to the sunlight.
Tools: Tools are supposed to help us with some of the tasks we do outdoors, but if your potato rake is the same color as the ground and you step on it, forget about gardening for a while. Always use brightly colored tools and if they are not brightly colored, use outdoor spray paint to make them easily seen. A lot of the tools today are ergonomic, and don’t force us to bend our backs, wrists and legs in ways that our bodies were not designed for. Power tools and equipment should be respected, and always follow the safety manual that comes with them. If you are pulling the chain saw out that you haven’t used in months, go over the manual first. Better yet, know your limitations and hire an insured professional for tasks that you may not be able to complete on your own.
Sunlight: In addition to causing adverse reactions to medications, sunlight also causes a great deal of skin cancer and glaucoma each year. Wear prescription sunglasses, cover up and use the highest SPF sun lotion you can buy. Time of day matters a lot, too. The sun is most intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. during the summer, so avoid going outside during those hours. Take advantage of the cooler temperatures during dawn or twilight.
Stay Hydrated: We need to drink eight ounces of fluid a day, so take a sports drink bottle with you when you plan to be outside for a while.
Fauna: Here in North Carolina we have very few poisonous snakes. The rest are good guys, probably eating rodents we don’t want anyways, but it is important to be able to easily identify ones that are potentially harmful. The copper mouth, as well as other poisonous snakes, can be identified by bands of color, arrow tip shaped heads and eye pupils that are slits, not round. You are most likely to run into them after it has rained and the sun has come out. The last warm days of fall is another time I have run into one at my home. It was seven years between sightings, but I was looking first before I started poking around. However, I have never seen or heard of any dangerous snakes here at Springmoor.
Spiders: The Black Widow, and the Brown Recluse like cool, dark places such as under pots, logs and garden furniture. Black widows are of course black and have a red hour-glass shape on their backs. Brown Recluse are non descript brown spiders that can pack a punch. Always wear gloves or use a tool to lift an object off the ground and inspect for spiders.
Ticks: If you are outside a lot, you are bound to pick up a tick or two each summer. Ticks have two plans of attack: they can attach to your ankles and climb up your leg, or hang in a tree and get to your scalp. Always apply sprays that repel ticks before going out, and check yourself when you get inside.
Mosquitoes: Very few carry diseases here in North Carolina, but to be safe, always apply repellant with DEET in it. Also, remove any sources of standing water around your area.
Plants: Almost everyone knows what poison ivy looks like: leaves of three, let it be. I have gotten it in the winter as kid by touching the roots. The roots are not smooth. They have thousands of hairs which they use to attach themselves to trees. If you think you have touched poison ivy, wash the area with warm water and hand soap within an hour of contact. Also be aware of plants like green briar, wild black berries, stinging nettle and any other plant with thorns. Again, make sure you have a good pair of leather gloves before taking these guys on.
March Focal Points- What’s Blooming Now
- Japanese Camellias
- Flowering Apricot
- Star Magnolia
- Winter Jasmine
- Winter Daphne
- Chinese Mahonia
March Things to do
- Fertilize fescue lawns. Use a fertilizer that also has a pre-emergent herbicide. This feeds the lawn and takes care of potential weeds for the next 90 days.
- Fertilize any trees and shrubs you planted last year with 10 10 10 or 8 8 8 fertilizer. This will be your second application if you started in February.
- Trim back liriope. The dead leaves on liriope can be trimmed back and the beds fertilized. A lawn mower on high setting works on large beds.
- Severe Prune Shrubs. In a well-planned landscape you shouldn’t have to do this at all, but if you inherited someone else’s mistakes, then now is the time to do it.
- Do not prune azaleas, forsythias or any other shrubs that haven’t bloomed yet.
- Take a Soil Test. If you plan to have a vegetable garden this summer, now is the time to test your soil. The NCDA+CS Agronomic Division can test your soil for you. They are located at 4300 Reedy Creek road in Raleigh. You must first go there and pick up the cardboard boxes they ask you to put the soil sample in. Follow the instructions on the box, and return. They will mail you the results.