A Handy Guide to Garden Gloves

Choosing the right ones will save your skin.
Steve Bender

Cowhide, goatskin, canvas, rubber--there are gloves for every garden task.
If you want to garden, the toughest things about you had better be your hands. After all, you're going to be digging, pruning, weeding, and spraying. But this doesn't mean you have to put up with hands that look like country hams. Just buy a good pair of garden gloves.

Pick a Pair
Spraying chemicals or handling liquids? You need some rubber gloves. Rubber is impermeable, so liquids can't reach your skin. It's also flexible, allowing you to pick up small objects. On the downside, it doesn't breathe, so your hands get clammy. I use rubber gloves whenever I'm mixing up those water-soluble fertilizers the manufacturers insist on dyeing blue.

For heavy-duty jobs, such as pruning rosebushes or moving stones, cowhide leather gloves are great. Good ones have protective cuffs to cover your wrists. Thorns won't penetrate them, and they last forever, no matter the abuse. On the other hand, these thick gloves are stiff and not very nimble.

Less demanding tasks, such as using a hoe, trowel, or rake, call for medium-weight gloves with palms made of goatskin leather or cotton canvas. Most have cotton backs, making them lighter, cooler, and quite flexible.

Now for those who pretend to garden while everyone else does the work, I recommend lightweight polyester-cotton gloves. They'll keep your hands from getting dirty or tanned, yet they're flexible enough to pick up your demitasse.

Keeping Them Clean
The best way to wash your gloves depends on the type you have. Some can be machine-washed; others will shrink and bleed. Fine leather gloves demand special treatment. To clean them, gently scrub with a pumice-based soap, such as Lava. Rinse, apply a leather protector, and then hang the gloves on the line to dry. Before they dry completely, put them on to restore their shape. Questions? Read the directions! Almost all gloves come with them.

One more thing. Gloves don't cost much, so every gardener in the house should have his or her own pair. That way, guys won't have to squeeze their mitts into flowered things that their friends make fun of, and ladies won't have to wonder what disgusting goo their husbands were handling before they put on gloves.

"A Handy Guide to Garden Gloves" is from the November 2003 issue of Southern Living.