Ergonomically Correct Garden Tools – Your Back Will Thank You

In most endeavors, a person will opt for the easiest, most comfortable manner by which to accomplish his task task. An artist painting a magnificent sunset, shimmering delicately over a lake, will use the best quality artist's brush made of camel hair, not a house painter's 3 "wide, synthetically bristled brush. pain when there is a food processor waiting to do the job, freeing you from the tedium, and the additional back pain that comes from standing interminably at the kitchen counter, wondering to yourself if your recipe really needs a full cup of finely diced celery? And why would anyone use a manual typewriter that has absolutely no features to boast about, other than causing carpal tunnel syndrome or muscle spasms, that come from the repetitive motion of striking the keys with force when, in the other room, sets a state- of-the-art computer with all the bells and whistles, capable of doing practically everything for you but actually compose the text that you want? I can not think I could begin to be confident proficien t (more like bumbling) if I had to worry about setting margins and spacing, and trying to figure out where to put that *% @ # "e" inadvertently missing in cheese [sic] without destroying any semblance to proper space placement.

The same thing is true with gardening. You do not use a shovel when a lot lighter weight spade will do. And you do not spend an hour, bent over a flower bed, without causing grievous pain to your back and shoulders, when you could be using an ergonomically designed kneeler pad specifically crafted to keep your knees on speaking terms with the rest of your body.

Any gardener, beginner or professional, needs a basic set of tools. As is the case with any job or pastime requiring specialized tools or paraphernalia, to garden you must amass for yourself a set of good quality tools which will not fall apart with the slightest provocation. Plus, you owe it to yourself to obtain the most comfortable tools within your budget. It is better to buy just a few of the basics before you start salivating at the sight of "designer" garden tools. At this point, more is not necessarily better. Pick wisely.

The first category of ergonomically designed garden tools includes SPADES, TROWELS, CULTIVATORS, and SHOVELS. A SPADE is used for digging or cutting the ground. It has a sharp-edged metal blade and a long handle. A TROWEL is basically a small spade, used for lifting plants or soil. A CULTIVATOR is used to prepare the soil for a garden.

A STANDARD or GARDEN TROWEL , a very versatile hand tool, can do many jobs such as digging and shaping holes, hollowing or leveling soil, and close-up weeding. A TRANSPLANTING TROWEL , with its narrow design, is the ideal tool for digging deep and / or narrow holes for planting seedlings. It is also excellent for removing root balls easily, with no damage to the plant or neighboring areas. Some transplanting trowels have measurements marked on the trowel so the gardener can dig to the correct depth for planting seeds. An extremely versatile tool, the CULTIVATOR , with its three elongated prongs, is perfect for many tasks. It can be used to loosen and prepare soil, extract immature weeds, amend the soil with compost or fertilizer, and to aerate the soil to make watering more efficient. A long-handled ROUND POINT SHOVEL can make or break your garden. You can accomplish anything and everything with this kind of shovel. It is ideal for turning ground or scooping soil, as well as for creating planting holes, filling in holes, and for cart away dirt loosened by another tool.

The next group of gardening tools includes PRUNERS, SHEARS, and LOPPERS. HAND PRUNERS are quite useful. They are perfectly suited for removing dead or damaged branches from rose bushes and shrubs, and they can cut through thin branches. Other uses can include cutting back perennials, and collecting herbs and flowers. I have found, from personal experience, to keep the blades clean and sharpened, or else you will find yourself with an armful of mangled rose stems, hanging half on and half off the bush. Not a pretty sight. I'm very territorial about my rose pruners and really do not like sharing them with others. If the pruner fits …

There are various styles of SHEARS available. Generally speaking, shears are large clipping or cutting instruments shaped like scissors. GRASS SHEARS are designed to get into areas difficult to be trimmed by the lawn mower, such as around tree trunks and flower beds, and to trim the lawn's edges. HEDGE SHEARS and grass shears are alike, but the hedge shears have longer blades. This tool is good when trimming hedges and shrubs. In the Fall, it comes in quite handy when cutting back perennials and also when clipping off dead flower heads.

LOPPERS have long handles in order to prune back or cut off branches from a tree or other such woody plants. They are able to cut through branches up to 2 inched in diameter.

Another important grouping of garden tools is made up of WEEDERS and EDGERS. WEEDERS do just that; they dig up weeds. A weeders consist of a long metal handle ending in finger like projections or scrapers that have been sharpened to facilitate piercing the earth and pulling up long, straggling weeds up and away by cutting them off below the surface. It rather looks like a BBQ fork. EDGERS are used to keep flower beds and bushhes maintained in their proper contours. Basically, an edger will help delineate the garden borders by loosing up grass impinging onto sidewalks, stepping stones, flower beds, and around the circular space surrounding the diameter of a tree.

There are two basic types of RAKES : the BOW RAKE and the LEAF RAKE . The BOW RAKE is a basic in any garden. Solidly built with sturdy steel tines, it is used to move and smooth soil. It is also useful for drawing up raised flower or vegetable beds or mounding soil around plants. It is indispensable to "catch and toss" garden debris. LEAF RAKES have flexible plastic or aluminum tines. It is not as heavy as the bow rake but is perfect for gathering scattered leafs, grass clippings, and so forth. Both rakes have long handles so no bending is involved.

Do not forget to select a WATERING CAN , a HOSE with a HOSE REEL and NOZZLE , a ROLLING GARDEN CART / SEAT and a KNEELER . A WATERING CAN has a long spout, enabling you to water your flowers and shrubs from a short distance away while still standing. They do tend to feel quite heavy – water weighs 8-1 / 3 lbs. per gallon – so try to find a watering can that is made of lighter weight materials, such as aluminum or a sturdy plastic, that is well constructed. A good quality HOSE is essential for your garden and your sanity, unless you are particularly fond of lugging that heavy watering can around to water your lawn. Do not pinch pennies on a hose; buy the best quality hose you can find so you will not be spending your weekends giving first aid to all thoseoles and leaks that seem to announce themselves the minute you look away. A hose made of rubber should be your best bet. Some are even reinforced from the inside with a material mean to flex with the hose. You will need a NOZZLE of plastic or metal; metal will definitely last longer and frustrate you less. A HOSE REEL will make your life so much simpler. How many times have you beaten over a hose that has been carelessly dropped in serpentine tangles all over the driveway? Try to buy a hose that is of sufficient length to reach from the spigot to the point furthest away on your property where you might need water.

Last, but certainly not least, are the GARDENING STOOL and the KNEELER . These two accessories are designed for those of us who are not quite as mobile as we once were. The GARDENING STOOL helps eliminateinate back and knee pain by providing a surface upon which to sit while doing gardening chores that generally require standing in one place and / or bending. The stool usually is equipped with wheels and a storage space for your tools, and even has a holder for your water bottle. There is another type of gardening stool resembling a round hassock but it is mounted on a spring mechanism that allows the gardener to sit and reach in all directions without having to get up to reposition the stool. Unfortunately, this second type of stool tend to be very expensive.

The KNEELER , a padded surface in the shape of a rigid swing seat, is designed to take the ground's hardness away from your poor aching knees. A variation of the kneeler is as described above but with grab bars on either side of the cushion to facilitate standing up when you have finished working in that part of your garden. Both models ease pressure on the knee, especially helpful for arthritics.

Probably one of the most effective items, ergonomically speaking, is the ADD-ON HANDLE . It structurally modifies conventionally designed garden tools in a manner that gives the tool an ergonomic grip. It can be used with hand tools such as trowels and spades, rakes, hoes, and brooms. An arm support cuff for increased control and leakage is also available. Both the handle and the cuff are removable and can be used on the tools mentioned above. There are also long reach cultivators for those who must work from a seated position, particularly wheelchair users.

A few final thoughts:

  • You must treat your body as a shrine. Bending incorrectly is the same as taking a sledge hammer to your shrine. Both are destructive.
  • It is easy to make a quick move without thinking. I can not count the number of times my doctor has fussed at me for just that reason.
  • When RAKING or HOING , try to keep the tools close to your body. Keep your back straight. Use your arms and NEVER twist your trunk (my doctor's very bone of contention – I still feel guilty when he catches me). If you are short, use long-handled tools in scale with your height. The same is true for tall individuals.
  • Do not consider bending from the waist. This is where the KNEELER or the KNEELER WITH GRAB BARS come in mighty handy. When WEEDING , use long-handled tools to ease the strain on your back, legs, and knees. Forget about bending over to TROWEL ; consider squatting or sitting on the ground.
  • When SHOVELING or DIGGING , step on the top of the blade as you vertically insert the head of the shovel in the ground. Lift only small loads, bending at the knee. Never involve your back when lifting. Again, avoid twisting your trunk. This will become your mantra. Use as small of a shovel as possible to perfectly complete your task. Again, match your shovel to your body size.
  • Do not push your physical limits when lifting or carrying. Bend from the knees, but not your back and keep the load close to your body. Avoid twisting or reaching. Sound familiar?
  • Get as close as possible to your work. Do not force your reach beyond your comfort zone. More importantly, do not stretch beyond your stable footing! On a personal note, stretching can be deleterious to your health if you have not arranged your footing to your best advantage. To preface this precautionary tale, due to having Degenerative Disc Disease for many years, my chief mode of transportation is my trusty wheelchair. I also wear bilateral leg braces which give me some support when standing. A few summers ago, I thought it would be nice to raid my rose garden to dress up the dining room table as we were expecting dinner guests that evening. Nobody else was at home. Like a fool, I went out to my rose garden, armed with my favorite pruning shears, thinking I would like to cut at least a dozen beautiful roses (we have over 50 bushhes). I was wearing rather baggy shorts that billowed in the breeze. Both my legs were ensconced in their braces. Espying a particularly delightful rose, I reached forward toward the bush. I thought my feet were firmly planted atop the redwood chips surrounding the bushes. Boy, was I wrong! As I reached for the stem to be clipped, each foot went in an opposite direction, propelling me toward all those thousands of deadly thorns. With extreme accuracy, I was thrust directly onto the bush. Correction. I was impaled upon the rose bush, imprisoned by those menacing thorns in a bent-over, face-in-the-bush position. Doomed by my thorn-snagged shorts, I was literally immobilized. My neighbor and his brother came trotting across the street to untangle me. Talk about humiliation, not to mention the blood oozing out from the zillion thorn holes on my body. I was the picture of sophistication, not. I thanked them for their help and red-facedly slunk back into the house. I can honestly say that from that point on, I stop to consider all options before even approaching anything in my garden. I had definitely learned my lesson and hope this tale will remind you to plan ahead whenever your body mechanics are involved.

By the way, I never got the roses cut for that evening. Sigh …