Please Wear Your Gloves

An array of gloves.


By Kit Flynn and Lise Jenkins

I am always amazed at how many people fail to don their garden gloves while gardening. My gardening gloves are like having a second skin, and I cannot imagine going outside with my hand pruners in hand without them. You see, there are dangers lurking in that eden you so lovingly created.

I have several friends who wander out in their gardens only to begin weeding nonchalantly, using their gloveless hands. They then wonder why they received a bug bite or a bee sting. Long-time gardeners realize they have to protect themselves sometimes from their own garden.

Many of our prized plants are poisonous (eat a Daphne flower at your own peril), but they can also be poisonous to touch.

We all know about the dangers of poison ivy: 85 percent of us react to the urushiol, that oily resin that resides on the outside and inside of the plant. If you find yourself in the 15 percent that is impervious to the touch of urushiol, don’t rest easily as repeated exposures can suddenly trigger a devastating reaction, a reaction that could have been avoided if you had worn the appropriate gloves.

There are other plants that can cause pain. Lise has discussed the worrisome progression of the giant hogweed plant, a plant that is on the march from Virginia. Suffice it to say that its sap can cause extreme discomfort and even blindness. The number-one rule is that if you spot a specimen, notify the authorities and resist the temptation of pulling it out by hand, especially without a glove.

Now The New York Times reports that researchers have discovered the existence of the puss caterpillar in Virginia and are cautioning us to refrain from touching anything that resembles a wig on a tree. Touching the hairs can trigger pain, even resulting in a fever, because the hairs are connected to a poisonous gland. Touch the caterpillar only when there’s a glove on your hand.

Anyone who grows roses know that the thorns can present problems. Tetanus is a toxin found in our soil, and thorns touching the ground can easily come into contact with this toxin. The best way to protect yourself is by wearing gloves and getting that tetanus booster every ten years.

All this isn’t meant to scare you, but it does demonstrate the importance of donning those gardening gloves. Chances are great that you won’t be exposed to giant hogweed or the puff caterpillar in your garden and that you can recognize poison ivy. However, I have listed just a smattering of plants and insects that can make your existence miserable.

Some gardeners find that garden gloves can be very cumbersome, and certainly some are. Those leather gloves stretching to the elbow are meant for the rose gardener. When rose pruning time occurs, I happily don them because they are the only things that are guaranteed to protect my arms and hands from hurtful thorns.

For everyday gardening, I go cheap. I need gloves that have waterproofed palms because the morning dew can be incredibly wet. I never use any chemical spray, including insecticidal soap, without wearing waterproofed gloves, even on a day lacking any hint of wind — no matter how carefully you spray, there is always the danger of drift settling on your hands.

I want gloves that are lightweight so I can feel the branch I am pruning. And, I want the gloves to easily peel off in case I’ve pulled poison ivy with them and don’t want to come into contact with the urushiol on the palms.

And I don’t want to buy each pair separately. I want them to come in bunches of 5-10 so I always have new ones on hand to replenish those I’ve finally discarded.

The garden is there for your enjoyment. Nature can always throw a wrench into the best laid plans, so to protect yourself against Mother Nature, please put on those gardening gloves.

Absent from their gardens, Kit and Lise enjoy roaming our region exploring the intersection of horticulture and suburban living. More on Instagram @AbsenteeGardener or email:

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