Avoiding Heat-Related Illness in the Garden

Avoiding Heat-Related Illness in the Garden

In summer, there are four common illnesses that affect gardeners in the heat – heat cramps, heat rash, heat exhaustion and the potentially fatal heat stroke.

Avoiding these is always important but is crucial if you’re older, less physically robust or on certain medications.

First, consider your personal situation

Are you older than 50? Overweight, out of shape or taking any medications that could make you even MORE heat- or sun-sensitive? (These include antihistamines, antidepressants, over-the-counter sleeping pills, anti-diarrhea pills, beta blockers, anti-Parkinson’s drugs and psychiatric drugs.)

If so, you’d be smart to keep a close eye on the thermometer (and the humidity level) and limit your outdoor activity when the temperature and heat index is high.

The simplest solution is to refrain from heavy garden work in the hottest hours of the day and in the sunniest parts of your garden.

Actually, it’s better for plants when you water, deadhead and prune early in the day, so plants can recover before the wilting power of the sun is at full force. Insecticides and foliar feeding of plants is usually best confined to the late afternoon when wind is lessened and beneficial insects are not present.

Just as you’d harden off plants by acclimating them slowly to outdoor conditions, you should “harden” yourself to the effects of the heat in small amounts over a couple of weeks.

Staying hydrated is critical

Water is the best choice unless you’re affected by heat cramps, which indicates a need for electrolyte replacement such as a sports drink.

Water temperature should be cool but not ice-cold. Cool tea, fruit juices and other flavored drinks can be substituted.

Caffeinated soft drinks and alcohol actually dry you out so avoid drinking those in the heat.

Dress appropriately

One of the best ways to stay cooler is to dress appropriately in loose fitting, light-colored clothing (dark colors absorb heat.) Don’t be tempted to try to beat the heat by wearing less clothing unless you want to trade heat rash for sunburn and possible skin cancer – and perhaps too much attention from your neighbors.

Break out the headbands and wristbands from the 80s, along with a shady hat or visor, these can help keep you cool through evaporation. Slather on the sunblock.

And don’t forget your sunglasses.

Even if you’re wise enough to follow all the rules above, you should limit your active hot-weather gardening to shorter periods with regular breaks to cool down and have a drink in the shade.