Friday, November 17, 2006

Choosing and Using Gardening Gloves

No matter how you slice it, gardening is a dirty business. Though that should be obvious, since plants (unless hydroponic) grow in dirt, I've been surprised by the comments new gardeners have made to me over the years. Some favorites include "I was out digging and weeding all hands are all brown and green and won't come clean; what will everyone at my dinner party think!" and "Gosh, these rose bushes are leaving scratches all up and down my arms and hands!" and the absolute best, "Ohmygod, I went to put my plant in the ground and I saw a worm...a huge, slimy worm! I had no idea there were worms in the ground...I almost TOUCHED it! Ewe! I don't think I like this gardening thing." So, what's a gardener to do? Simple...get yourself some gloves.

Ah, but here comes the interesting part...will one pair do it all? Or do you need a different pair for different tasks? The answer? It depends.

First, ask yourself what you'd most like protection from in the garden. Dirt? Wetness? Thorns? Then factor in whether you'll be using tools and how much 'feeling' you need to remain so you can complete your tasks with as little clumsiness as possible.

If you're looking to keep your hands free of dirt but still want to be able to feel the texture of the dirt, have maximum dexterity and don't need protection from thorns or barbs, I suggest giving any of the following a try:
  • Simple cotton gloves: they're available everywhere, come in cute colors and patterns, and are cheap as all get out with an average retail price of $2-$4. If you lose them, you won't beat yourself up over it, either. Make sure you get they type with an elastic knit cuff otherwise you'll wind up with dirt IN your glove. The cons: they often are a one size fits all, which often means you'll have finger overlap.
  • Foxgloves Garden Gloves: these are also available nationwide in smaller stores and online, with a retail price of $25. I know, they're pricey...but man, are they WORTH it! They're made of Supplex Nylon and Lycra Spandex and fit like...well, a GLOVE, but a super snug yet comfortable dress glove. They come sized small, medium or large in a rainbow of yummy colors like Spring Green and Iris Purple. I was skeptical (read: cheap) at first, but when I tried them I was amazed at how well they kept the dirt out. And, the best part, it's like working with your bare hands! You can feel's wonderful. They are washable and clean up well, and the only con is that they aren't waterproof and get soaked easily.
If you want to keep your hands free of dirt AND stop them from getting wet, I've got four suggestions:
  • Vinyl coated cotton lined: these are very inexpensive, and the cotton lining makes them quite comfortable. I've seen them in some lovely colors, too. The cons? They are often one size fits all, so there's the finger overlap again...and these get downright HOT when you're working in the sun. Most don't have an elastic cuff, either, so they're more for the wetness factor and not dirt.
  • The Mud Glove: you've seen these for years, I'm sure, and if you've tried them you know they're great. Price should be right around $10, and they come in unisex sizes from Extra Small to Large. The colors are pretty, too...bright so you don't lose them in the garden, with the exception of the green ones. The glove itself is a cotton knit, the palm and fingers coated with textured rubber. Bear in mind that they aren't waterproof, only resistant...if you dunk your whole hand it the back of it will get wet! The knit cuff really keeps dirt out, too. The only cons I can think of are the weight...they are a little on the heavy side...and the's impossible to feel what you're doing.
  • Atlas Nitrile Touch Gloves: My absolute FAVORITE pair of gloves, hands down. They come in Lime Green, Purple, Pink and a dark Periwinkle, sized small, medium and large. A very lightweight nylon knit makes them feel like you're not wearing gloves, and the nitrile coating on the fingers and palm is like a feather but unbelievably protective, and also provides a sure grip. You can use these for anything...seedlings, planting, even writing and making change! Virtually no loss of dexterity at all, and I love that. The one thing I would change...coat the whole puppy so I can immerse my hand and stay dry
  • Water Gardening Gloves: These are for when playing in your pond, or in muck...normally they come right up to your armpit. They're hot, and uncomfortable, but if you have issues with sticking your hands in your scary dark pond water, you'll love them.
If you have roses or other thorny plantings, you need special protection when working with them...and if you want all around protection but aren't concerned with wetness, try one of the following.
  • Goatskin Gloves: An old standby, goatskin gloves offer much protection and contain lanolin to keep your hands soft. They work just fine, I just don't like to use them because they start out looking white and gorgeous and after 15 minutes they look like you've had them for years. They are washable, but you have to keep putting them on when they're drying and that's just...icky. Reasonably priced, and they will protect your hands pretty well.
  • Rose Garden Gloves: The version of these that I like come up to your elbow and are made of thick coated cotton with little holes to keep you cool; the palms are made of suede. They do offer lots of protection and are very inexpensive ($8 or so), but most are one size fits all and that's always a problem for me.
  • Bionic Garden/Rose Gloves: If there's a Cadillac of gloves, these are it. They were awarded the Arthritis FoundationÂ’s Ease-of-Use Commendation, which means “they can reduce stress on joints, and make everyday tasks easier for all people". Lots of do-dads, bells and whistles, including Lycra 'zones' in key spots so they stretch and support. The rest of the glove is made of cabretta leather, which is washable...and the Rose version has an extra long gauntlet of something called 'Tough-Ex". They're very expensive (around $50) but they are the only ones I've tried that provide protection AND still leave you a nice degree of dexterity. Sizes for men (L and XL) and women (S, M, L and XL), too.
Now that you have some options for picking the right pair, how can you use them? All the gloves I've mentioned are suitable for your everyday tasks, including planting, weeding, pruning, watering and such and will work fine with standard tools (trowels, pruners, etc.). DO be careful with wearing gloves and using a pruner or scissors. I'm famous for cutting the fingertips off my gloves, which is certainly better than cutting off my FINGERTIP, but is annoying when the gloves are pricey. I prefer sized gloves for that reason...they fit better. I have gotten some nasty cuts on other areas of my gloved hands from pruners, too...because I couldn't feel what I was doing. If you're doing some heavy tasks, such as moving rocks, using a pick axe or large shovel, pruning roses...use a heavy weight pair for sure. The lighter gloves will seem to be a better choice comfort wise, but they simply aren't made to stand up to such conditions. All gloves should be kept indoors when the temperature starts to dip near 50 at night; they become stiff and who the heck wants to put on cold gloves anyhow? Check your labels when purchasing for washing and drying information...just because something is washable does NOT mean you can put it in the dryer, too. Ever see a dried pair of goatskin gloves? Hilarious. Replace your gloves every few seasons, too, to prevent fungus and all that other gross stuff from making a nice home in them.

Happy glove shopping, and happy gardening!

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