Is Gardening Safe with CF?

With spring within reach, it’s time to break out the gardening gloves, shovel and lawn mower and get messy! Gardening is one of my favorite hobbies that helps keep me active and inspired in the warmer months. It’s a joy to put some much work into a garden space, watch it flourish, and grow into something hand-reared and beautiful.

However because gardening and yard work involves working in the soil, where harmful bacteria can live, some might wonder if gardening is safe with cystic fibrosis?

There is no Gardening with Cystic Fibrosis 101 manual, but here is what we know about the risks of gardening with CF and how to make it a safe and enjoyable activity.

Benefits of gardening

Gardening might not seem physically demanding--that is, until you do it. If you have ever tended to a garden, whether it be a beautiful bed of flowers or fruit and veggie garden, you know how hard it is to dig, plant, weed, and water on a weekly basis. This is why gardening can be a beneficial activity for someone with CF because it’s an enjoyable form of outdoor exercise to get the lungs working.

Apart from providing a fun form of exercise, gardening is extremely beneficial to overall health. Research has reported improvements in mental and physical health including:1

  • Reduced anxiety and depression
  • Increased feelings of happiness
  • Improved quality of life
  • Increased sense of community and belonging
  • Less levels of fatigue

Risks of gardening with cystic fibrosis

For the general population, gardening does not pose many risks, if any at all. However, with CF, there are some things to keep in mind when heading outside to tend to your garden because of the heightened risk of opportunistic bacteria.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa

Pseudomona aeruginosa is a gram-negative bacteria found in the environment such as soil in gardens, sand, household drains, and standing water.1,2 In CF, pseudomonas plays a major role in respiratory infections that cause lung damage and lead to lung function loss. Once pseudomonas is trapped in the sticky mucus throughout the lungs, it’s difficult to eradicate or get rid of completely.

Other pathogens

Pseudomonas isn’t the only bacteria or pathogen to be weary of while gardening despite being the most common. Burkholderia cepacia complex (B. cepacia), Aspergillus, and Nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) can all be found in moist environments such as a garden bed and lead to infection to lung function loss in people with CF.2

Tips to reduce risk while gardening

Wear a face mask

It’s a good idea when digging in moist soil or when using a Rototiller to break up the soil to wear a mask or facial covering. You want to avoid inhaling the fine particles of soil that can be released into air. In addition, if you plan to mulch your garden, grab a mask as well before the endeavor just to be on the safe side.

Practice good hand hygiene

The easiest and simplest way to avoid getting sick while gardening is to keep good hand hygiene. Avoid touching your face and always remember to wash your hands after being in the dirt or handling garden tools. Garden gloves are a good option to keep your hands clean but it’s still a good idea to wash your hands after you’re done.

Avoid standing water

Standing water, such as water in bird baths or rain barrels, can be especially dangerous and be contaminated with the germs mentioned above. It’s best to avoid contact with those items and leave that maintenance to another family member if possible.

Gardening is a fun activity for people with or without cystic fibrosis. However, if you have CF and enjoy gardening make sure to take extra precautions to keep your lungs healthy.

Do you enjoy gardening? If not, what’s your favorite hobby or outdoor activity? Share with us below!

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