Safety Requirements for Essential Garden Maintenance During COVID-19

Apr 3, 2020

Safety Requirements for Essential Garden Maintenance During COVID-19

Apr 3, 2020

Gardens are not just about plants - they are also about people. Gardens create a learning space, help reduce stress and anxiety, and offer a place to connect back with nature. Over the last few weeks there have been many concerns voiced about garden spaces needing essential maintenance during the COVID-19 outbreak. While we recognize the importance of gardens in our communities, there is nothing more important than the safety of our volunteers.

The UC Master Gardener Program is taking all precautions possible to help minimize exposure and spread of COVID-19, following all guidelines and recommendations from Public Health officials and the CDC. Taking these recommendations carefully into consideration the following requirements have been developed to help volunteers and staff manage essential garden maintenance needs in their local community, demonstration or school gardens. Please connect with your local Program Coordinator, Advisor or County Director for approval before providing any essential garden maintenance activities. Allowable activities may differ county by county; approval must be given by the County Director.

Essential Maintenance

UC Master Gardener volunteers and staff must obtain approval from their County Director prior to providing essential maintenance in demonstration gardens. All work is voluntary. Limit garden maintenance to only activities required to ensure survival of plants and infrastructure, including water systems and fences. UC Master Gardener volunteers age 65 years or older, or at a high risk for COVID-19, may not be considered for essential maintenance in accordance with state guidelines.

Working in Shifts

Work in the garden must be coordinated and staggered between volunteers to allow for required physical distancing. Shifts are scheduled in advance in the Volunteer Management System (VMS). If an assigned shift is missed, please contact your team to discuss reassigning duties. You must sign up for an alternate shift before returning to the garden. Physical distance requirements require six feet or more at all times. Individuals showing symptoms of illness, including: coughing, sneezing, feeling feverish or even experiencing seasonal allergies may not work. In addition, if any household members are showing symptoms of illness or you have been notified you have been in contact with someone that is suspected of having contracted or tested positive for COVID-19, you must follow public health guidelines for self-quarantining prior to returning to the garden.

Tool Use

Volunteers will bring their own hand tools to use, do not share hand tools. Personal work gloves must be worn when using larger tools and equipment housed at the garden – shovels, wheelbarrows, mowers, weed-whackers, hoses, irrigation equipment, etc.


Handwashing requires rubbing hands together with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, followed by rinsing and drying with a clean, disposable towel. More info:

Individuals will wash their hands when arriving at the garden before beginning any work, and before leaving the garden. Hand soap and paper towels are available at the outdoor sink in the garden. Notify your UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator if the supply runs low. Disinfecting wipes will be available (as supplies allow) to wipe down large tools before and after use.

Work Breaks

Wash hands properly before and after work breaks, before and after eating or drinking, or using the restroom. If you leave the site for a break, wash your hands before leaving the garden and upon returning. Follow all CDC recommendations, food sharing is strictly prohibited.

Non-Approved Visitors

No other persons are allowed into the garden, including friends and relatives of UC Master Gardener volunteer and staff. All gates, where applicable, are to remain locked while approved essential maintenance activities are being conducted. 

Harvesting and Deliveries to Food Bank

Harvesting produce from the garden and delivering to food banks requires prior approval from the County Director. Harvesters must follow protocols set by the food bank and local or state Public Health guidelines.
Disposable gloves must be worn when harvesting fresh produce. Refrain from touching your face, hair or clothing with the gloves. When harvesting tasks are complete and the delivery is loaded into a vehicle, discard all disposable gloves and wash hands before leaving the garden. Replace gloves when you take a break. Disposable gloves will be available on site.

Social distancing must be exercised when delivering to the food bank, wash your hands after making a delivery.

Seeking Approval for Essential Work

All essential work must be approved by UC ANR leadership. Contact your UC Master Garden Program Coordinator, Advisor or County Director.

Download the “Safety Guidelines for Essential Garden Maintenance” PDF 

Special thank you to Maria Murrietta, UC Master Gardener Program Coordinator of San Luis Obispo, who spearheaded the development of safety guidelines for essential demo garden maintenance. Many thanks for Maria and contributors Katherine Soule, Chris Greer and others for creating this great resource!



By Melissa G. Womack
Author - Communications Specialist III