The importance of ergonomics in the garden

I’m talking to all gardeners: have you ever thought about ergonomics in your garden?

gardener kneeling on a mat and digging into soil in a garden bed
One way to apply ergonomics is to use a comfortable knee pad to reduce knee pain when working your garden beds. Photo by Jenn Fisher, Cooperative Extension.

You may be thinking, what does ergonomics even mean? Merriam-Webster says that ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.

Alright, so how do we apply that to gardening? One example is using a cushioned stool to safely sit and reach to the middle of your garden beds without straining your body. Or, maybe you are pruning your fruit tree and use an extender for your pruning shears so you don’t have to climb the tree or use a ladder. You just used ergonomics in your garden.

But, before you start growing fifty tomato plants to make salsa for your whole block, you must make a plan for your garden. Where will you plant, which varieties will you use, what soil amendments do you need? All of these decisions will determine if your garden will produce a good crop.

You need to do the same kind of planning with your tools, clothing, garden beds and even the way you do things. If you struggle with back issues, you may not want a garden bed where you have to crouch to work the soil, inspect for pests, plant, prune and harvest your crops. By the end of the season, you will most likely find yourself in more pain. But, what if you brought the bed up to you? Using a raised bed at a comfortable height for you to sit and easily access your soil and plants will make your gardening experience more efficient and safer for your back.

Ergonomics is different for everyone. It’s essential to meet your individual needs, whether it be new tools, changes to existing tools, changes to your garden layout or bed type, or just learning how to move your body in ways that don’t cause pain. Ergonomics is for everyone.

There are many resources available, from university sources to catalogs and company websites. Start by thinking about what is most uncomfortable for you when you work in your garden. Do you have back, knee or hip pain? Are you easily burnt by the sun? Do you suffer from arthritis, carpal tunnel or allergies? There’s an option out there for everyone.

After you learn about available products and resources, begin to shop around. You can start online or with a catalog, and then purchase the products at your local nursery, trying products out for size and experimenting to find what works for you.

To learn more about garden ergonomics, learn from Dale Hildebrandt’s class, “Gardening is a Full Contact Sport,” part of University of Nevada Cooperative Extension’s “Gardening in Nevada: The Bartley Ranch series,” 6 to 8 p.m., Feb. 27, at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road in Reno. Dale will teach you to understand why ergonomics is important and efficient, where to find tools and resources and how to improve your current tools at minimal cost.


Jenn Fisher is the Washoe County Master Gardener program assistant with University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Garden questions? Ask a Master Gardener at 775-336-0265 or, or visit