Creating a Child-Safe, Pet-Safe Lawn and Garden

Every parent of a young child goes through the process of childproofing the house or apartment interior. Moms and dads carefully select and install everything from tip guards on furniture to dial covers on the stove. Many parents don't realize that outdoor childproofing is just as necessary. Water features, physical hazards, poisoning hazards, and dangerous plants can all harm children playing in the yard and garden. Pet owners also should take safety measures for any pet that has access to outdoor areas.

Do a check around the yard and garden area to identify potential accidents both small and large. Consider the following hazards to create a safe, child- and pet-friendly garden.

Physical hazards

Put away sharp garden tools and equipment after using them, and store them in a location kids cannot reach. Fix or cover broken or rusted metal on garden fences and furniture. Be aware that metals can get very hot under direct sunlight and can cause burns. Evaluate fall hazards and construct barriers if necessary; ensure children cannot use garden furniture to climb up onto a high wall. Some decorative items used in gardens are choking hazards for young children; these include glass marbles and small, smooth rocks. Keep these out of the garden until your children are older.


Avoid using chemical pesticides and fertilizers around children and pets. According to the CDC [1], some pesticides are neurotoxins (chemicals with lasting effects on the nervous system), endocrine disruptors (chemicals that can damage hormonal systems), or probable carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals). Lawn pesticides are often applied at much higher pounds-per-acre rates than are used on farmland. Kids and pets are more likely to take pesticides into their bodies because they touch everything, put objects in their mouths, and are lower to the ground where they can breathe more of the fumes and dust that can come off chemically-treated lawns. Pesticide dust or residues can be carried on shoes and clothing or can drift inside the house, where it can settle on play surfaces and on food.

Safer options for fertilization include commercial or homemade compost, rock dust, cured chicken manure, and organic lawn fertilizer products; these also have the advantage of lasting longer than synthetic chemical fertilizers and improving the structure as well as the nutrient content of your soil. Many safer pest-control strategies are available: planting pest-resistant plant varieties, biocontrol with ladybugs or other predatory insects, and organic pest control products like those based on sulfur, neem oil, or other plant extracts. Look for the OMRI mark, which indicates a garden product is certified for organic use.

If you do use any garden pesticides, including organic ones, store them inside a locked cabinet children and pets could never access. Alternatively, place them within a child-proof container and secure the container in a location children and pets could never reach. Also lock away other toxic liquids including gasoline, motor oil, and antifreeze.

Toxic plants and mushrooms

When planning a child-safe, pet-safe garden, be aware of poisonous and irritating plant hazards. Toxic garden plants include azaleas and rhododendrons, irises, hydrangeas, lupines, rhubarb leaves, oleander, and many others. The University of California maintains an excellent listing of poisonous and safe garden plants [2]. Keep in mind that some plants, like onions and garlic, are toxic to cats and dogs even though they are harmless to humans. Check for and remove poison ivy, poison oak, jimsonweed, and other toxic weeds growing in the garden. Remove and safely dispose of any mushrooms that you see growing in the lawn or garden, as some types are very poisonous.

Water hazards

A backyard pond or stream is a lovely part of a property and a good way to teach kids about nature. But these water features can be seriously hazardous to children. According to the CDC, drowning is the second leading cause of death for children under 5 and among the top five causes for kids ages 5 to 15. Young kids require constant supervision around any body of water, no matter how small. Consider fencing off the area with a secure fence and a gate that locks. Protective pond grates are another good choice; many are designed for both safety and aesthetic appeal.

Store buckets and other containers upside down to avoid water hazards. Kids can drown in buckets, rain barrels, wading pools, and sandboxes that have become filled with water. Additionally, standing water in containers can become a mosquito breeding ground, as their larvae can survive in as little as 1 inch of water.

A safety evaluation of the garden and yard is necessary to prevent outdoor hazards from harming your family. Identify and correct water, physical, plant, and toxic hazards that can harm children and pets. Of course, even the best child-proofing is no substitute for supervision and education. Always supervise young children outdoors and teach them how to protect themselves from backyard hazards.



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