How do you Garden? Bare Knuckle or Encased in Gloves?

I was always a bare knuckle gardener, at least I was for years. I liked the direct connection to the soil, the feel of the the plant stem; it was the only way I knew I was doing it right – by feel. But somewhere I got a bit fed up with perpetually dirty fingernails, having to wash my hands before sweeping hair out of my eyes, or touching anything in brief sojourns to the house. Another benefit to glove wearing: protection from sun and bugs. (re: sun protection I wish now that I had started wearing gloves when I was 14!)

So, I started experimenting with gloves. I hate most traditional garden gloves: the omnipresent cheap fabric ones are abominable and not even worth a look. I have small hands, and even small ones have loose un-finger-filled areas at the top that flap around uselessly getting in the way. In the medium range are those with thin rubbery palms, and fabric outsides. They come in fairly small sizes, and they feel pretty good. They are fine if you are wielding a shovel, digging weeds or soil, or for raking and pruning. For grabbing rough branches you need something with a bit of heft, so I keep these on hand for those tasks.

For heavy duty branch wrangling you can’t do better than these heavy duty Atlas rubberized gloves. They breathe from the top and the thick rubber gives really good palm protection.

I was hooked on these real kid gloves for awhile from Lee Valley Tools. They are fancily engineered – a mix of kid and breathable fabric – and they were the first gloves I swore by, because they felt so natural.

But thin and comfortable as leather or fabric gloves can be, it doesn’t have the same feel as using your bare hands for the more delicate tasks. So my glove routine went what I might term the Hand Condom route.
I used to buy boxes of green latex gloves from Lee Valley Tools, which had enough protection from sun, bugs and soil, and was almost like wearing no gloves at all. (insert condom ad copy regarding thinness and ‘sensitivity’ here) My sister used to say wearing gloves like these made her hands feel like they were suffocating, but for me, I felt like I was getting a spa treatment: my hands would always come out of the gloves all soft and smooth. The ones Lee Valley sells now in boxes don’t appear to be the same green ones they used to sell. They look like the ones I get in my boxes of….shhh….hair dye, the garden variety latex gloves. Too bad. The green ones were my Hand Condoms of choice.

Which brings me to my next glove tip: recycling my hair dye gloves for the garden. Yes, it means I walk around with garish reddish brown hands, but you can’t beat the price. I wear them until one of the fingers breaks, then out they go.

On the weekend I had just torn through my last pair of recycled latex gloves, and I needed some thin gloves for weeding. Dug out of my kitchen cupboard an old pair of Playtex ‘Living’ kitchen gloves – formerly my trusty dishwashing gloves of choice – popped them on and was very pleasantly suprised to find a new avenue of garden glovery! Supple and easy to pick things up, and thick enough to repel any buggy marauders. They work, they’re cheap, and they also cover up past the wrist, giving better sun and bug protection than many gloves.

Later on I ran outside to do a quick garden chore and I was wearing my Casabella kitchen gloves. These are my new – super fancy, and really The Best- kitchen gloves, making one of my least favourite chores, washing dishes, almost enjoyable. And now I know that they work brilliantly for the garden too. Extra long sleeves make them ideal for repelling bugs, and stopping arm scratches. I’ll make sure I have an extra pair now for garden use.

Now if only rubber glove manufacturers would stop making them in those two colours: yellow and pink. A nice lime green would be perfect.


  1. I realized just as I hit post that I had forgotten to talk about my Foxgloves, which are truly my fanciest garden gloves.They are beautifully designed, and a gorgeous colour, the same colour I was wishing for above.

    I always feel that my lime green Foxgloves add to whatever outfit I am wearing, and I feel truly stylish when I have them on. It makes waving to the neighbours extra special.

    In practice though, their main downside is their lack of waterproofness. They soak up water immediately, which is not suprising since they are all fabric. If you know you are only going to do a few things in the garden, and you aren't going to encounter water while you're doing it, they are quite supple and comfortable. But overall, they really make me feel more like attending a tea party than getting down and dirty in the garden. I may just save them for that!

  2. I'm not a big glove wearer. Most of the time I can't find them and love getting dirty, but I love Ethel gloves and West Country. They both look grand. The Ethel's are snug and comfy, and the West Country are roomier but also comfy. I'm one of those people who feel like their hands are strangling when encased in plastic. I can't even paint my nails because it feels like my fingers are suffocating.

  3. Sarah, have you ever looked for gloves in the paint department at a hardware store? I was thinking they might have some there to fit your "thin" needs without the "condom girl" look. There are some thin latex, tight-fitting blue painters gloves that might be great for gardening–especially if you're doing water work.

  4. Looks like I am going to be gardening bare handed! It's raining and I left my favorite pairs of gloves outside! I do prefer to wear gloves…the thin nitral are great, but they can smell after a lot of work…I am now using a pair of Ethels and I do like them. Thanks for asking! gail

  5. I have a million pairs β€” I am always trying something new and my non-gardening sister often buys me some for presents. Best pair are fabric with carrots hand-painted on each finger! Too pretty to ever use. I like the condom kind for weeding moss which is a very delicate but damp task. I'd go gloveless but it is also home to slugs and I don't want to accidentally touch one β€” ugh! Seems like I change gloves often depending on the task. I am going to check out some of the gloves you mentioned and especially the paint aisle tip. Thanks!

  6. I'm a glove wearer. You can actually get some skin nasty skin funguses from working with soil mixes. We had to wear them at work, and I just got used to it. I also don't like dirty cracked nails all the time…green thumbs are not for me.

  7. What a delightful post πŸ™‚
    I always wear latex gloves – and if I need heavier one for a while – I put them on top.

    As I work as a gardener, I go through two pairs a day! One before lunch and one after, but somehow I still have soil under my nails and grubby hands.

  8. Thanks for the tip Kelly, about the painting department. I'm not sure what nitrile is, but I think my thin rubbery feeling gloves might be nitrile.

    Container Garden, I keep hearing about Ethel gloves, I'll have to check them out. Name always makes me laugh because my grandmother's name was Ethel. (She was a big gardener)

    Gail, I'm always leaving my gloves outside too, and my pruners especially.

    Mic, thanks for the tip on skin funguses. Eek! All the more reason to be donning the gloves.

    Karen, I wonder too how the heck the soil keeps getting in those gloves

  9. I garden bare handed, but come to think of it, I don't wear gloves ever – winter included. I have this suffocating feeling when they are covered with anything…. excepting dirt of course!

  10. I was just thinking about this myself and had it on my list of things to post about. I usually start out wearing gloves but always end up taking them off midway through gardening because they get in the way. You've got some really good suggestions in your post that I haven't thought about so I'll have to try them. Thanks so much for a great post! -Jackie

  11. I typically garden bare-handed, but right now, I have some painful blisters at the tips of several fingers. My big dog has severe arthritis and I drag him outside on his dog bed just to save him some steps, so I bought a pair of gloves to take the pressure off my fingers. I like them, so I will get a pair for the garden. They are just cheap ones with rubber palms.

  12. I just have to have gloves for most of my garden chores. My skin is very soft and easily damaged – and that thing they say about hard-working hands being callused is a bunch of bullpucky! I have worked hard with my hands all my life and my skin is STILL so soft I can cut it with a spoon!

    I buy the Atlas nitrile gloves a lot, but do find them to be glompy. I have tried latex and vinyl gloves, but find that they get too moist and slippery after awhile; and they rip way too easy. I got some nice leather gloves from BigBoxClub one summer. They lasted longer than the nitrile, breathed better, and smelled nicer. Two downfalls: more expensive and they were short! I even tried the Playtex dish glove. They don't have enough pliability and they rip way too fast. I have recently discovered Burpee nitrile gloves which are much thinner allowing for finer work. They are much like the Playtex gloves, but tougher.

    Final answer: I'm still looking for the perfect glove.

  13. Weighing in on the gloves issue: like containergardener and Teza, I find gloves to be suffocating (nailpolish, too). I have a pair of rubbery-coated knit gloves I try to remember to wear. Inevitably, I end up taking them off without thinking and leaving them somewhere in the garden. My fingernails are almost always dirty during gardening season, even after using a scrub brush.

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