I confess that I do not always wear gloves when I’m digging in the garden, especially when I’m doing something like planting annuals in a container, where I like to be able to feel exactly where the roots are. However, I do wear gloves a lot of the time, both to keep my hands cleaner and to protect them from scratches and bites.
Bites? Yes. The stories that emerged in 2009 of an Oakville, Ontario woman bitten by a black widow spider while gardening, and other tales of brown recluse spiders make me cringe. Public health officials say that these spiders are not a cause for alarm as they generally hang out in dark areas outside, at ground level, and won’t bite unless disturbed. Umm, that sounds exactly like the places where I stick my hands to pull out weeds! And I think that grabbing a handful of plant, potentially including a spider, and ripping it out of the ground is likely to count as being disturbing to the spider!
In general, I like having spiders in my garden—they do a lot of good, eating bugs and being food themselves for birds. I also admit that I haven never seen one of the poisonous ones in my garden. But the thought of a poisonous spider hanging out among my hostas scares me, and I think it’s good practice to wear gloves.
I have many pairs, and mismatched parts of pairs, of garden gloves. Over the years I’ve resorted to a system of keeping all of my right-handed gloves in one bin and all of my left handed gloves in another bin. When I need a pair I pull one out of each bin. If I’m going out in public I try to get a pair that matches, but if I’m just digging around in the back yard I’m not too fussed about it; I don’t think there’s any sense in throwing out a perfectly good single glove when its mate gets a hole.
I garden quite a bit so I have lots of pairs of gloves–it increases the chances of having a clean and/or dry pair on hand. Every so often I throw all my gloves into the washing machine as part of a “dark” load. If they’re covered in visible clumps of soil or mud I rinse them off under the garden hose or in the laundry sink before putting them in the washing machine. I never put them in the clothes dryer, but let them air dry instead. My goal is that they’re reasonably clean, not necessarily that they look pristine–they’re meant for digging in the garden after all.
My favourite gloves
For general gardening, I like cotton polyester gloves that have been dipped in latex. If you only get one pair of garden gloves these are the ones I recommend:
They’re breathable on the back, so your hands don’t get instantly sweaty, and the latex coating provides a physical barrier to dirt and water.
The fact that the latex comes up over the tips of the fingers is key—this is what prevents dirt from going through the fabric and under your fingernails.
In my opinion, these are the best type of general purpose gardening gloves. I’m not loyal to any one particular brand. These ones* on Amazon are likely as good as any.
On the other hand, I think that gloves like these, made out of thin fabric with seams at the end of each finger, are the least useful gloves out there:
They’re usually also the ones most likely to made out of pretty floral fabric and sold as a gift for women gardeners… Thanks, but I’ll take a pair of real gloves please.
The problem with these gloves is that soil and water penetrate through the seams at the end of the fingers, as well as right through the flimsy fabric. If you’re digging or planting with your hands while wearing these, once you take them off you’ll find you have almost as much soil under your fingers as if you weren’t wearing gloves. They’re also too loose fitting to be useful when doing fine work with your hands (like planting or weeding).
They’re not really garden gloves–more like yard work gloves. The only good purpose I can see for them is in protecting your hands from blisters and sun while raking, etc.
My second favourite style of gloves are made out of 100% polyester instead of cotton and then coated with latex. They offer the protective benefits of my favourite type of gloves, but are thinner so you can feel what you’re doing better. They’re very comfortable. However, the polyester doesn’t breathe so your hands start to sweat fairly quickly. I also find that the latex degrades on these within a season or two and they start to stick to themselves.
If you need several pairs of gardening gloves (they seem to usually be sold in packages of 6 or 9) for a particular task (e.g. a community garden cleanup day) they will keep your hands clean better than a lot of other similarly priced gloves. They just might not be especially comfortable during hot and humid summer days and they won’t last for more than a couple years.
I also have a couple pairs of fancier looking gloves I like, with leather palms and Velcro straps to tighten the cuff around the wrist.
These are very good gloves while you’re wearing them–comfortable and sturdy. They’re thick enough that your hands stay relatively dry when working in wet conditions, even though they’re not coated with latex. But they do have a downside: I take my gloves on and off a lot while I’m working and dealing with the Velcro strap every time becomes annoying. And that’s why these don’t rate as my favourite.
Special gloves for special purposes:
If you garden in cold weather, my favourite cotton gloves with latex coating also come in a thicker version*, which are quite cosy. For some reason our dollar store carries a very good version of the winter gloves but doesn’t ever seem to carry the summer weight ones.
I have a very small pond (ok, it’s really a bucket placed in a hole in the ground, but it has a bubbler and some nice stones around it so I’m calling it a pond!) that needs to be cleaned out once or twice a year. For that, I wear a pair of very heavy blue rubber gloves I found at a surplus store, probably intended for use around chemicals. Regular rubber gloves would get cut up by the pond debris pretty quickly, but mine are great for protecting your hands from wet muck. True pond gloves* have a long cuff that goes almost up to your armpits–if you have a real pond (and not just a bucket) I can see where these would be a good purchase.
If you have roses then rose gloves* are a must. I have two pairs—one with leather reinforcements on the palms and one made out of heavy canvas—both have long cuffs that go up to my elbows. I wear these when I’m pruning my roses, tying them up to their supports, or protecting them for the winter. The occasional thorn still punctures through the gloves, but for the most part I’m protected. I wouldn’t try to work around rose canes without a pair of these.
While researching this post I came across the most unusual pair of garden gloves I’ve ever seen*.
I actually thought they had been mislabeled and were part of a Hallowe’en costume, but no, as I read the description, someone actually designed these things for gardening:
I can’t imagine how they would work, but the removable “fingertip claws” are listed as a feature to help with digging.
If anyone has a pair of these please let me know, in the comments section, what you think of them. I think the claws would get in the way pretty quickly, but hey, maybe I’m missing something.
*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.