Regardless of how hot it is outside, most gardeners are going to want to go out there and mess around in their gardens anyway. But heat stress is a serious issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly so it’s a good time for some:
Hints and Tips for keeping Cool while Working in the Garden
Heat stress occurs when your body can’t get rid of excess body heat quickly enough. According to a document on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website “The majority of heat-related illnesses - early heat illness or fainting, heat cramps, heat rash, and heat exhaustion - are considered minor.” (Although, personally, I wouldn’t consider fainting outside in my yard a minor problem.) But in extreme cases, high temperatures can cause heat stroke, which can lead to death.
The symptoms for heat illness are pretty vague and include dizziness, fatigue and difficulty making decisions. Since these symptoms describe my natural state most of the time, I figure it might be pretty difficult to know whether the heat is really getting to me or not, so I always follow these steps for staying cool in extreme heat.
1) Plan garden activities for the cooler times of the day. Early morning and late evening are best or even during the rain if there isn’t any lightning. Some garden activities, such as watering, pruning and dead heading, etc., are better for the plants when done in early morning. And applying garden chemicals (organic, of course) is more effective if done in the late afternoon when the wind is down and beneficial insects are not present.
2) Wear proper clothing. Loose fitting, light colored, lightweight, breathable fabrics, such as cotton, are best. Avoid non-breathable synthetics. Breathable fabrics help aid sweat evaporation. If you are around your own home, wear as little clothing as possible WITHOUT exposing too much skin to harmful UV rays. I have to admit that I have never tried freezing my bra, but the women in my family have been gardening braless for generations, and I hate to break tradition.
3) Protect your skin and eyes. Wear a wide-brimmed hat (also keeps you cooler) and sunglasses and use sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher (the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels). Sunburn affects your body's ability to cool itself and causes loss of body fluids. It also causes pain and damages the skin. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going out and continue to reapply it according to the package directions.
4) Cool your pulse points. Applying cold water to your pulse points is much better than wearing a frozen bra. Your pulse points - areas where you can feel your pulse because your blood vessels are close to the surface of your skin- are the direct super highway to cooling off your blood and body temperature. I usually take a couple of bandanas and keep them soaking in cool water while I work outside. I wring one out, fold it down and tie it around either my neck, wrists or inner elbows. Believe me, this trick works. Splashing water on your temples or face can produce a similar effect. Another way to cool your pulse points is to stick your feet in cool water. Keep a plastic kiddy pool or large tub filled with water in your yard and walk through it from time to time. You can also use the water to give your plants a drink when you are done with it.
5) Skip the strenuous chores – 100 degree weather is no time to be digging ditches or lugging bags of compost. Work on the easy chores like watering and weeding and save more extensive chores for another day.
6) Drink plenty of fluids. Don't wait until you are thirsty to have a drink. Keep a bottle nearby and visit it often. No, sorry, beer and wine don’t count and neither does iced coffee. These products actually cause your body to lose body fluids. Plain water is preferred, except when heat cramps occur (then drink a lightly salted beverage like a sports drink). Several sights I checked said you should drink 2-4 glasses of water an hour (16 – 32 oz). The water's temperature should be cool, not cold. Very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps.
7) Replace lost salt and minerals . Heavy sweating removes salt and minerals from the body. These are necessary for your body and must be replaced. A sports beverage can replace the salt and minerals you lose in sweat.
8 ) Avoid hot foods, and keep meals light. Foods (like proteins) that increase metabolic heat production also increase water loss (the body has to work harder - and use more blood - to digest heavy foods).
9) Take lots of breaks. Personally, drinking 2 – 4 glasses of water every hour is going to force me to take breaks. But even if your bladder isn’t calling for a pit stop, don’t wait until your heart starts pounding and you feel light headed to take a break. Set the timer on your watch or cellphone and go inside or rest in the shade for a few minutes every hour. Check your email. Or call another friend who you know is out gardening to force them to take a little break, too.
10) Don’t garden alone. Even if you are following all of the other rules, and you are healthy as a horse, why risk fainting …or worse, while working in your yard alone. Gardening with friends is always much more fun anyway.
The following are just some of the signs, symptoms, causes and treatments of heat related illnesses from Gardening and Your Health, a document on the Virginia Cooperative Extension website- consult medical references for additional information:
Early heat illness or fainting -
Signs and symptoms - dizziness, fatigue and irritability; difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Cause - reduced blood flow to brain
Treatments - drink water; loosen clothes; rest in shade
Heat cramps -
Signs and symptoms - painful arm, leg or stomach muscle spasms; thirst and heavy sweating; (may not occur until after gardening activities)
Cause - body salt loss due to sweating
Treatments - drink water, and avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine; remove hat and loosen clothes; rest; lightly stretch muscles in a cool location
Heat rash ("prickly heat") -
Signs and symptoms - pricking sensation and tiny, blister-like red skin spots usually on body areas covered by clothes
Cause - plugged and inflamed sweat glands
Treatments - wear loose clothes; wash skin; apply talcum powder
Heat exhaustion -
Signs and symptoms - early heat illness signs, plus: loss of coordination; collapse; heavy sweating; cool, moist, pale skin; dry mouth with excessive thirst; fast pulse; low to normal temperature
Causes - reduced blood circulation and flow to brain; dehydration
Treatments - if conscious, give cool water to drink (do NOT give beverages containing caffeine or alcohol)-- make sure they drink slowly by giving a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes; rest lying down in a cooler, shaded area; loosen or remove clothing and hat; splash cold water on body and massage arms and legs
Heat stroke -
(May occur suddenly and is life-threatening. According to the American Red Cross. Follow the following recommendation.)
Signs and symptoms - dizziness, confusion, headaches, irrational behavior, coma; reduced or no sweating; fast pulse; rapid breathing; convulsions, nausea, vomiting
Causes - dehydration; sustained exertion; reduced blood flow to brain, heart, etc.; body unable to cool itself; overexposure to high temperatures even without exertion
Treatments - call 911; move to shaded area; remove shoes and outer clothing, wrap in wet cloth/pour water on/fan rapidly; elevate legs; clear vomit to prevent choking; if victim refuses water, is vomiting, or there are changes in level of consciousness, do not give anything to eat or drink.