Ear and eye protection always should be used when operating...

Ear and eye protection always should be used when operating power equipment. Credit: iStock

It doesn't matter where you stand on weapons control because apparently even those of us who think we're unarmed may actually be wielding assault weapons in our gardens, according to a recent ruling by a judge in Memphis who designated a leaf blower as such.

Pointing a leaf blower at someone may, in fact, be a dangerous move, but that allegedly didn't stop Michael Bridgewater, 33, of Bartlett, Tenn., from blowing air at Kelly Carraway. The plaintiff claimed he did so "in an offensive and provocative manner" after she complained that his leaf blowing was covering her car with debris. Bartlett had been working in a movie theater parking lot when Carraway returned to her car and demanded that he wash it, according to an affidavit filed in the case. His response -- directing blown air at her -- resulted in respiratory problems, she said. Bartlett has denied the charges, and the case has been sent to a grand jury.

Regardless of whether this case has any merit, it reminded me that although gardening might seem like an innocuous pastime, there really is potential for danger lurking among our weeds, and appropriate care should be taken to avoid injury. So I've pulled together a list of precautions you should be taking as you clean out the garden this fall, and as you plant and maintain your yard all year long.

Pruning trees

Sure, you can do it yourself, as long as branches aren't taller than you are. But once you get to where you're reaching above your head or climbing a ladder, you'd better leave the pruning to the pros. Not only might you tumble from the ladder, but falling limbs can cause severe bodily injury and property damage.

Using power equipment

Watching your toes when mowing the lawn and keeping children out from underfoot are obvious precautions. But it might not occur to you that operating power tools in rainy weather or when the ground is wet can lead to electric shock, as can using tools with frayed cords in any weather. It's also a good idea to wear ear protection when mowing the lawn or using any motorized tools to prevent hearing loss, and goggles to protect your eyes from splinters and flying debris when operating chain saws and trimmers.

Rinse edibles

Always give fruits, vegetables and herbs a good rinse before eating, even if you grow them organically. Pesticides aren't the only threats: parasites, bird droppings and bacteria such as E. coli, salmonella and listeria can contaminate plants grown by even the most careful gardeners. It is nature, after all.

Poison ivy disposal

So you've finally managed to pull up all that poison ivy. Double-bag it in plastic, seal it tightly and dispose of it in the trash. Don't compost it and never, ever burn it (inhaling smoke that contains the rash-inducing toxic oil urushiol can put you in the hospital). For the same reason, always inspect firewood before burning to ensure poison ivy isn't clinging to logs. And to avoid a false sense of security, it should be noted that even dead plants and plant parts contain the toxin.

Wear gloves and shoes

Protecting your hands from dirt and scrapes is always a good idea, but covering up your cuts with a bandage or gloves is absolutely necessary: Soil-borne diseases, including tetanus, can enter your body through small wounds. For the same reason, if you cut yourself in the garden, stop what you're doing and go inside to wash up. The same precautions should be taken to protect feet: Don't walk outdoors barefoot.

Hold your breath

Commercially available fertilizers and amendments are considered safe for use in the garden, but inhaling some of them can make you sick or lead to respiratory damage. Open packages away from your face to avoid inhaling dust from vermiculite, compost and other products, and take care to avoid breathing in fungal spores when handling diseased plants.

Protect your skin

Although you're not slathering on baby oil and lying on a tropical beach, time spent gardening outdoors also can lead to skin damage. Always wear sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat to help prevent sunburn and skin cancer, even on cool and cloudy days.

And, of course, watch where you point that leaf blower.