February 26, 2024

If You Can't Stand the Heat…Get Out of the Garden!

Simple Strategies to Keep your Cool While Gardening

Heat Index Chart

Heat Index Chart

I had an unpleasant experience while gardening yesterday and I believe it’s one that many gardeners have experienced.  Heat Cramps.

Heat cramps are just one of several heat induced conditions that may be experienced by gardeners who subject themselves to working in hot and humid conditions.  Here, I have listed the most common and given you information as to how to avoid these conditions as well as identify and treat them.

I have experienced Heat Cramps a few times since I moved to the Southeast.  It gets so hot and humid here and although my intent is to work outdoors in the morning while it’s still cool, I often end up working in the heat of the day in order to get everything I want to do done.  Sound familiar?  The first time it happened I was scared enough to pay a visit to the emergency room where they diagnosed the problem and also gave me a scolding about using sun screen.

First, let me address that I am not a doctor or a medical professional.  All of the information I am about to post is from my own experience or was gathered from resources on the internet.  Should you experience any of these conditions and are not sure what they are, see a doctor!

However, after doing some research, I found several other heat induced problems worth posting in hope that if you are savvy about strategies for handling the heat, there’s no reason to put your garden projects to the back burner in the summer.  However, when temperature soar, watch for the following heat induced problems.

Heat Cramps are brought on by profuse sweating and the loss of body salt, heat cramps are painful spasms of the abdominal, leg, and arm muscles.  Cramping usually goes away when you firmly press on the area with your hand, apply warm wet compresses, and sip slightly salted water (1/2 teaspoon salt to a pint of water), at 15 minute intervals.  It’s best not to resume gardening until the cramping has totally subsided.

Heat Rash – This condition, commonly called “prickly heat,” results from a temporary blockage of the sweat pores when skin gets waterlogged with perspiration.  The sweat damages cells on the surface of the skin, forming a barrier and trapping perspiration beneath the skin, where it builds up and causes the characteristic bumps.  As these bumps burst and sweat escapes, you may experience the “prickly” or stinging sensation that gives this condition its familiar name.

The rash generally appears on the torso and thighs, or in folds of the skin, especially if there is friction from clothing.  Because moisture aggravates the condition, it’s best not to garden in wet or damp clothing.  Symptoms of prickly heat may include itching, irritation (prickling), small blisters, or large red patches.

If you have heat rash, don’t apply sunscreen or insect repellent to your skin because they may further aggravate the rash.  Also, don’t use thick creams or ointments, which further block your sweat ducts.  Instead, make your own cooling lotion from equal amounts of witch hazel and rubbing alcohol.  For a soothing bath, add 1/2 cup each of cornstarch and oatmeal to cool water.  After bathing, blot, don’t rub, your skin dry.  If you keep the affected area cool and dry, most cases of heat rash will clear up in two or three days.

Heat Exhaustion – Caused by exposure to heat and excessive perspiration, this condition results in the loss of vital body fluids and minerals.  Unlike heat stoke, a far more serious condition caused by prolonged exposure to excessive heat, heat exhaustion isn’t usually associated with high fever or cessation of sweating.  One way to tell the difference is by the feel of the skin, which is hot and dry in heat stroke and cool and moist in heat exhaustion.

Symptoms of heat exhaustion include dizziness, paleness, nausea, headache, and muscle cramping.  If you experience any of these telltale signs, immediately stop gardening, get out of the heat, and drink plenty of fluids to combat dehydration.  Apply cool compresses to your skin and rest in a cool area.  With fluids and rest, symptoms generally subside within several hours.  It’s wise, however, to take it easy (translation, STAY OUT OF THE GARDEN!) for the remainder of the day, even if you do recover quickly.

Dehydration – To avoid the effects of dehydration, drink lots of fluids.  Especially cool water.  Drink a tall glass, 10-18 ounces, thirty minutes before gardening.  Then continue sipping (not gulping) 4-8 ounces every fifteen minutes while you work.  As a reminder, keep a pitcher, thermos, or bottle of water nearby for easy access.  Add freshly squeezed lemon, orange, or other citrus to the water, or try crushed mint leaves to enhance the taste.

Don’t wait until you feel thirsty or weak.  At that point, you’ve already become dehydrated.  When gardening for long hours in high temperatures, you may want to increase your salt intake. (Ask you doctor if this makes sense for you).  Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to a quart of cold water or lemonade, or drink a commercial sports beverage which already has the salt added.  You can also replenish lost fluids and electrolytes by drinking diluted fruit juices.  your body absorbs beverages better when they’re cold, not iced.

Remember too, that humidity, like we have here in the Charleston, SC area, challenges your body’s cooling mechanism even more than high temperatures alone.  That’s because it’s more difficult for your body to get rid of extra heat.  So be as aware of decreased sweating as well, which can be a sign of serious dehydration.

Stay Cool Strategies

  • Garden in a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Tie a damp handkerchief around your forehead and moisten it periodically.
  • Wear loose fitting, light colored clothing in fabrics that “breathe” and wick perspiration like cotton.
  • Be prudent regarding when and where you garden.  Try to work in the morning hours or late in the afternoon.  If that’s not an otion, plant yourself in the garden’s shadier areas when the sun is most intense.
  • Try a “Minted Cooler” recipe below
  • Remember, many plants require full sun, but YOU do not!

Recipe for Minted Cooler

2 cups diced cantaloupe

1 cup diced honeydew melon

1 cup diced seedless watermelon

1 cup white grape juice

6 large Mint leaves

4-8 ice cubes

Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth and enjoy!

Stay Cool!

Garden Decorative Items & The Empty Nest
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