Small children require careful attention outdoors
As the weather warms up, kids and adults alike begin to spend more time outside. I think it is wonderful to get kids interested in gardening. Give them a packet of seeds and a little spot of their own, show them what to do, and watch the magic happen.
Spending time in the landscape with children, especially young ones, requires some attention on the parents’ part. Just as you would childproof an indoor room, it’s important to take safety precautions in the yard to keep young ones safe. The following are some tips on outdoor safety with children.
– Never leave a toddler or young child outdoors unattended.
As they get old enough to understand, teach your children to never eat any plant unless an adult is supervising. While eating fruits and vegetables you’ve grown yourself is part of the joy of gardening, many common ornamental plants can make you ill if you eat them; some are quite poisonous.
A free list of common poisonous plants is available from your parish LSU AgCenter office. Or you can check out the many excellent poisonous plants sites on the Internet.
Speaking of poisonous plants, make sure that poison ivy is not allowed to grow in your landscape. Watch for this vine with three-part leaves and immediately eliminate it if you find any. If needed, herbicides such as glyphosate and triclopyr can be used for control.
– Do not allow children to eat soil from the garden. Some soils may contain relatively high amounts of lead or other toxic substances and should not be consumed.
– Check for plants with spiny leaves or thorns, such as cactuses, roses, yucca, hollies or pyracantha. Point out any potential hazards to the child, and fence off areas or plants that should be avoided. Remove dangerous plants if necessary, especially if they are close by a play area. Do not plant spiny plants next to raised porches, decks or steps where children might fall into them.
– Be careful with sharp tools and discuss with your children which tools are safe for them to use and which are not. When you lay down tools between use, place forks, rakes and other pointed tools with tines down. If kids are around, keep your eye on the tools you lay down when you are not using them or put them away when they are no longer needed.
If you want your kids to do some gardening, it’s a good idea to purchase tools specially made for children and properly sized for them to use. This gives them a chance to more closely identify with gardening because they have their own tools. It’s safer, too.
– Keep chemicals secured. Despite their sometimes-colorful labels, garden chemicals can be extremely dangerous if mishandled. If you do have garden pesticides, be sure to store them in locked cabinets in their original containers. This includes organic pesticides, some of which are quite toxic. Never use empty food or drink containers for storing pesticides, cleaning supplies or fertilizers.
Do not leave pesticide containers out while using them. Put them promptly in a safe location after you have mixed the material. Children should never be around while pesticides are being mixed or applied.
– Be especially watchful of young children around ponds, pools, large puddles, buckets and large containers of any sort. Small children can drown in even small amounts of water. Fence off ponds or other aquatic features if necessary.
– Most insects in the garden are harmless. Even insects that can sting, such as bees and wasps, will generally not be a problem if they are left alone. Do, however, keep a watch out for potential problems and discuss with your children how best to deal with insects they encounter and precautions they should take.
Control any fire ant hills in the area where children are likely to play or garden. Be familiar with the stinging caterpillars that occur in our state. You can contact your parish LSU AgCenter extension office for a fact sheet with pictures.
– Use stakes taller than your toddlers for plants that need support. Short stakes can cause eye injuries to kids. You should be careful around stakes as well, for that matter.
– Though no substitute for a watchful eye, fences are a good way to help keep a wandering young one in bounds. These are especially important on stairs or decks to prevent falls. Also, keep deck furniture away from all railings of raised decks or balconies because children can climb onto the furniture and tumble over the rails.
– Always wash hands after gardening and use antiseptics on cuts or scrapes.
– Store the gas tanks for propane grills so children cannot reach the knobs.
– Don’t use a power lawn mower when children are in the yard, even if they are well away from you. Mowers can throw objects considerable distances with great force. It’s also a good idea to check your neighbor’s yard to see if kids are outside there.
– Make sure that there is no access to the street or driveway from the children’s play area.
Look at the world from your child’s point of view. With the right attitude, the yard can be a safe and happy place ready for hours and hours of family gardening fun in all seasons.
Dan Gill is a horticulturist with the LSU AgCenter. He can be reached at DGill@agcenter.lsu.edu.