Casual Gardener: Take care in the sun

Gardeners need to be mindful of sun's effects...

Gardens need the sun but gardeners need to be mindful of its effects
Gardens need the sun but gardeners need to be mindful of its effects Gardens need the sun but gardeners need to be mindful of its effects

Sunlight is essential for plant life. It is one of three key elements (the others being water and nutrients in the earth) that enable a plant to grow from a small seed to a maturity. It's a process that can sometimes take a matter of weeks or months, while some species may take years and even decades to fully grow. Sunlight – or artificial light – is required for photosynthesis, the magic cycle in which a plant converts light, oxygen and water into carbohydrates, the energy that enables it to grow, flower and produce seed. Remove the light and the plant can no longer manufacture carbohydrates, meaning its energy reserves are depleted and ultimately it will die. 

Humans too need sunlight, though not to the same extent. Light deprivation is unlikely to kill us, but our bodies will produce less serotonin or vitamin D, which can lead to lethargy and ill health. 

Too much sunlight, and especially sunshine, can also lead to health problems. Prolonged subjection to UV (ultra violet) rays can bring on a whole range of health concerns such as sunburn, sunstroke, and eye injury, as well as increasing the risk of skin cancer. The weather over recent weeks is unlikely to have many unduly concerned in this particular regard but guarding against over exposure to the sun is something all gardeners should be mindful of.

With the possibility of a second summer heatwave forecast, Lucie Bradley from Two Wests & Elliott – – has offered some specialist insights around minding your health while gardening in the summer heat.

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She recommends researching your local area's UV levels: "As even on cloudy days, the sun can be deceiving. 

"Keeping track of the UV levels will give you a better understanding of when you should avoid being out in the garden."

But no matter what the UV levels are, the advice is to wear sunscreen at all times in the garden. 

"You should be applying suncream that is at a minimum of SPF 30, but the higher the better," says Lucie. 

"Also, don’t forget to keep reapplying – prolonged time in the sun can not only cause sunburn but can cause sunstroke." 

Time planning is therefore very important, she insists, advising that gardening activities are timed for either early morning or late afternoon, when the sun’s UV rays are lower and there's less risk. With echoes of the Noel Coward song Mad Dogs And Englishmen (Go out in the midday sun), it's recommended steering clear of gardening between 11:00 am-2:00 pm, as this is when the UV level is at its highest. 

"Clothing is key for protection, along with suncream - protective clothing is an excellent method to protect you against the sun," Lucie says. 

"As the weather is hot, many people will naturally show a lot of skin, but we recommend you incorporate hats, light and breathable clothing, sunglasses, and wear shoes to protect your feet."

It's also advised to stay hydrated, as dehydration can intensify the effects of the sun. 

"Gardening is a form of exercise, so if you aren't drinking enough water mixed with direct sunlight, it can be a recipe for disaster," says Lucie. 

"Make sure to take rests - give yourself breaks and head back inside to cool down and rest. You don’t want to overdo it in the sun, you may not realise the damage that is being done and the negative effects can creep up later on in the day."