Those who work construction and road repair jobs already know the tricks of working in the heat. Those who work outside on rare or infrequent occasions may not be as savvy. I’m talking about the new home owner who suddenly has to do yard work they’ve never had to do before. My daughter just bought her first house and for the first time in her life is responsible for lawn care. Two of her friends have also recently purchased houses and are facing routine lawn care for their first times, too. They all live in Oklahoma, and as we all saw last summer, the heat here can be brutal. Yesterday was nearly 80ºF, and today is shaping up to be equally warm.
This diary is written with them, and those like them, in mind.
The number one most important thing is actually two: hydrate aggressively and slow down.
Take frequent small breaks and drink water or a sport drink while doing so.
When it’s humid and hot out, as it frequently is in Oklahoma and many other places, you sweat off nearly half a gallon of body fluids an hour, so pause and drink at least 8 ounces every 15 minutes. Hydrate aggressively. Drink up before you start working outside, drink every 15 minutes, and drink some more when you’re done. Plan out how long it will take you to do what you’re going to do and pre-fill glasses of water. Mowing the average suburban lot takes an hour, front and back, in cool, pleasant weather. When the temperatures hit 90 by 9:00 a.m. and the humidity is at 75% or greater, expect that to take two to three times as long. Now that you know it will take you at least 2 hours to mow and edge your lawn, fill up 10 eight ounce glasses with water or sport drink. Drink one before you haul out the mower and edger, drink one every 15 minutes on a short break, and drink one when you’re done. You’re working slower and you’re keeping hydrated, both of which will give you more energy for the rest of the day and keep you healthy and less likely to suffer from heat related sickness.
Every time you pause for a hydration break, take a short rest - 5 minutes is often sufficient. Take longer if you need it.
Work slowly. This is especially true if your grass has gotten high (over 6 inches) - both you and the lawn mower work better when you take it slow. I have an electric mower for many reasons and it really works best if I take it slow even in cooler weather. It will mow down grass as tall as 10 inches even when it's wet if I go slow and let the mower cool down - and with frequent pauses to clean out the wet grass build up. Even gas mowers appreciate a slower pace and cut the grass cleaner.
Do your work in the cooler early morning hours. There’s a reason you hear suburban mowers fire up at the crack of dawn – these people know that heat kills and it’s best to do the heavy yardwork when it’s coolest. Failing the early morning mow-a-thon, mow late in the day, an hour or two before sunset. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an evening breeze and shade. Evening mowing is not ideal, though because the heat can still be quite brutal, especially if there's no shade.
If you must mow during the heat of the day, wear light clothes in a single layer. If you can, wear ones that are woven as sunblocking clothes or wash them in the RIT UV block wash that blocks sun rays to both keep you cool and prevent sunburn. Multiple layers trap heat and you want to be cool, so wear loose, single layer, light clothing. Wear a wide-brimmed hat with a sweat band in it. Wear long sleeves and long pants or skirt to protect from bug bites and small debris tossed in the air. Wear sunblock even if you’re also wearing UV blocking clothing.
Mosquitoes are sometimes overwhelming. The OFF fan sort of works – if you’re moving slow and there’s little or no breeze. If there’s a moderate breeze, use an insect repellant you apply rather than clip on. I prefer to drape mosquito netting treated with an herbal mosquito repellant (citronella) over my hat and weight the ends with fishing weights. The breeze gets through but the bugs don’t, and I can lift it up for drinking those glasses of water lined up on the patio/porch (also draped in mosquito netting – who wants to drink bug water?).
Wear enclosed shoes. My daughter says she likes to mow barefooted and this is fine when you use a manual powered reel mower, but if you use a gas or electric powered mower, wear shoes. I like to wear heavy duty garden clogs. They rinse off easily and they protect the feet from broken twigs, small rocks and pebbles that get tossed up by the mower, stickers, and bug bites, not to mention the string on the weed whacker.
Wear goggles. For much the same reason you wear shoes, wear goggles to protect your eyes. Mowers toss up all sorts of small debris and weed whackers are worse. If you use a mulcher or a wood chipper, it also tosses fine debris into the air and small chunks into the air. Weed whackers and lawn edgers are dreadful about tossing up debris. Even if you wear mosquito netting, wear goggles. Some of that debris will go through mosquito netting like a hot knife through warm butter.
Wear gloves. I wear the newer vibration reducing gloves because of my hand disability. If you're diabetic, arthritic, or have peripheral nerve disorders, these gloves are useful for the vibrations you get when mowing, edging, and trimming. Also if you use power pruners and chainsaws.
Edited to add: Crankypatriot reminded me - wear ear protection, especially if you use gas powered mowers, trimmers, and edgers. Electric ones are quieter.
When you’re done with the yard work – eat a banana for the potassium and drink some orange juice or V8 Juice for a boost of energy.
And remember –
Work in the early morning or late evening hours