To many, gardening and back injuries go hand in hand. But that shouldn’t be the case. Gardening can be the most back friendly activity that you engage in, but you have to be smart about it.
Gardening is not about killing yourself with hard work, heavy lifting or tugging and pulling.
I’ve got back problems and have had for many years. Is my bad back the result of 40 years of nursery and landscape work? That would be an easy conclusion to come to, but I know dozens and dozens of people with back problems and when I visit the chiropractor the office is filled with people with back injuries. I’m guessing that most of them haven’t spent 40 years day in and day out doing the kind of work that I do. Many of them have spent their entire career sitting in an office chair.
Have I done stupid things that attribute to my back problems? Yep!
Keyword? Stupid. I’ve done things that I’m sure have taken a toll on my back, but when I look back at many of the things that I’ve done most of them probably helped to strengthen my back. Why is my back so weak now? I’d say that being 75 lbs over weight for 25 years or so is probably the biggest contributing factor. Finally, I did manage to lose a lot of that weight in the last year. I’m down about 65 lbs and I feel really good!
How to Avoid Back Injuries in the Garden.
1. The right tools for the job.
2. The proper technique.
3. Patience my friend, patience.
In a few days I’m going to share with you some things that I’ve learned about shoveling dirt, stone, mulch, anything at all. Shoveling. Sounds simple enough right? Everybody does it wrong. I can’t share it today, I have to take some photos first. But in the mean time, tools, techniques and strategies that will make your life easier.
Preparing a New Planting Bed.
1. Make friends with the grass, sod and weeds that are in your way. Don’t fight with them. Don’t pull, pry, lift, lug and haul them away. Simply till them in. Let the soil dry. Till again. Let the soil dry till again. If you do this several times over ten to fourteen days the weeds and grass that you need to get rid of will be complete expired. Tilling once won’t work. Tilling, letting the soil and exposed roots dry will kill those plants and they will become organic matter for your garden. Don’t haul them away, make them work for you. Me? I love my Mantis tiller. I also have a Troybilt and I love that too, but they are different machines for different jobs.
How to Use a Wheelbarrow Safely.
Duh!!! Who doesn’t know how to use a wheelbarrow? Most people. Most people don’t know how to use a wheelbarrow. But I will show you and you will learn something valuable.
If you have a cheap, rinky dinky wheelbarrow go buy a new one. These are the brands that I recommend.
Plastic Wheelbarrows and Me.
You know those plastic wheelbarrows? Man oh man are they light. And when you dump mulch out of them it flies out like a kid going down a playground slide on a sheet of wax paper! But they flex! What happens is when you put something heavy in the tub like soil or stone, the plastic tub will flex a little as you raise the handles to move the wheelbarrow.
The flex is ever so slight, but it’s just enough to throw the wheelbarrow off balance so you instantly try and compensate and when you do, you will tweak your back in the process. Not good! Not good at all. Those little tweaks can put you in bed for two weeks.
Two years ago I ordered two super heavy duty plastic wheelbarrows from a company that will remain nameless. When I unpacked them and put them together I was fall down impressed at how well they were built, how wide the rubber tire was and just how well constructed they appeared to be. They did not work well at all. And this is why.
1. The plastic tubs still flexed when loaded with soil. I hate that! I feel it in my back every time it happens.
2. The big, wide, rubber tires could not be inflated to the point of being hard. At the recommended air pressure the tires would still squat when loaded with soil. A soft wheelbarrow tire is a killer. It quadruples the effort that it takes to move the wheelbarrow. It’s a good work out for a football player, but not so much for an old guy like me.
3. After just a few loads one of the wooden handles snapped in two! Nothing worse than having 10 cu. yds. of topsoil in somebody else’s driveway and have one of your wheelbarrows self destruct.
Needless to say I was disappointed with these wheelbarrows. I spent the right amount of money, $130 bucks each as I recall. The guy that designed this particular wheelbarrow had the right idea, it just went bad.
Did I mention that I like Jackson Wheelbarrows and will be forever sold on them? Make sure you watch
My Wheelbarrow Movie.
Digging Out Old Plants Safely and Easily.
Easily? I might of made that part up. Digging out old plants can be a work out, but without a doubt I know how to make it as easy as possible. There are two tools that I use. They are my secret weapons for digging out stumps. Once you learn how to do this you’ll learn to enjoy the process. Sorta. Take a peek, Mike’s Stump Removal Instructions.
Quit Pulling on Things Dog Gone It!
Wanna hurt your back? Grab a root, branch heavy thing-a-ma-jig and pull. That’s a sure fire why to hurt your back. My all time favorite gardening/landscaping tool is the Nursery Spade. I’ll do you a demo, remind me. But a good nursery spade is heavy strong, super reinforced handle and heavy. I said that right? They are heavy. At least heavier than the typical garden spade. But that weight is the magic of the tool. My point? Use the spade to cut the roots before you start tugging on them. If there were a way, I’d wear my nursery spade in a holster on my side. The most valuable tool I own because it can do the most work with one swing than any other shovel on the wall. You can see it in action in the stump removal video.
A good nursey spade will set you back $90 to $120 depending on where you shop. Spend the money.
Bend Your Knees When Lifting Heavy Items.
This is difficult to explain, I probably need to make a movie about this. But if you just bend over to lift something all of the weight of the lift is on your low back, right at your waste line. On top of that, all of the weight of your upper body weight is already pulling on your low back before you even add any additional weight to the lift. This is not good!
If you crouch down and bend your knees your upper back is almost straight, your upper body weight is not pulling on your back, then use your arms to do as much of the lifting as possible. When I have to carry something really heavy, say a balled tree coming off the tailgate of a truck? I’ll slide the ball off the truck, onto my bent leg, right above my knee. Then to the ground using my arms not my back. If I have to carry it a short distance I will actually walk with my leg bent, tree riding on my leg not my back.
Make a Sling and Split the Load with a Pal.
In the nursery biz we often use a piece of burlap to carry balled trees. One guy on each side, the tree riding in the sling. The weight of the tree is cut in half for each person. Duston and I demonstrated this last fall and did a video for you, put that video on this site, but me and Google couldn’t find it quickly so I quit looking. I know it’s here but I don’t remember what keywords I used on the page. It had to do with digging a Hemlock tree, planting a Hemlock tree and I think it was November. Somebody will find it for us, I know they will! Thanks for that, I’m running out of time. Got a truck load of pots waiting to be unloaded!
Questions, comments, additional tips you want to share? Post em below!