Experts dish on the best way to match your lifestyle with your landscaping desires.
The arrival of spring and the abundance of time people have been spending at home lately means landscaping season is fast approaching or, depending on where you live, already in full bloom.
Nothing beats family time outside as the weather warms and the foliage flourishes. But keep in mind, the landscaping choices you make — whether they’re plants you plant or features you install — can sometimes put your loved ones at risk.
So we reached out to some landscaping experts to gather their best tips on keeping your family and furry friends safe. Here’s what they said.
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Landscaping Plants to Avoid
English ivy, oleander, azaleas, foxglove, hemlock and cyclamen are poisonous to children and pets and should not be used in your yard if family friendliness is a top priority, says Lisa Stryker from the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP).
The ASPCA lists on its website more than a thousand species of plants that can be toxic to cats, dogs and horses. And while “toxic” (i.e., not good for you) doesn’t necessarily mean “poisonous” (i.e., harmful or deadly), location-based research to understand the foliage in your geography is advisable.
Tall grasses often add dimension to your landscape, but you’ll want to steer clear of them, says Katie Dubow, owner and president of Garden Media Group. “Tall grasses like bluestem, moor grass, and Ravenna grass [should] be avoided due to fleas and ticks hanging out in them, waiting to attack our pets,” she says.
Stryker says local landscape professionals are experts at selecting plants that best match a family’s lifestyle and desired yard functionality. The bottom line: When in doubt, ask a professional.
Landscaping Features to Avoid
Everything from tools and fence posts to hanging planters and rocks can be dangerous to pets and children if they’re used improperly or without supervision. Keeping landscaping features safe is about being proactive and precautionary.
“Landscape elements including pools, decks, outdoor kitchens and fire features could cause families to worry,” Stryker says. “But … installing gates at a pool, ensuring deck railings and balusters are designed properly, and building fences around outdoor kitchens and fire features help create a safe space.”
Keeping your yard safe can also be about what you’re not doing, Dubow says. “Standing water can become a powerhouse grower of bacteria and parasites, two things that we definitely want to keep away from our furry family members,” she says.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically highlights Giardia as a common and robust parasite that can be contracted from drinking standing water — or exposure to contaminated soil, feces or surfaces — and spread from pets to humans.
Landscaping Materials to Avoid
One of the quickest and easiest ways to eliminate unwanted insects, weeds, rodents, algae, fungi or bacteria in your yard is to reach for some kind of pesticide. Many brands out there do what they promise.
But pesticides are developed to kill things and shouldn’t be used haphazardly. All pesticide products used in the U.S. today must be approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). If you don’t see EPA approval on the packaging, don’t use it.
The EPA web site also provides basic tips on how to protect your kids and pets from pesticide poisoning, as well as a list of common but illegal pesticide products. This information is must-read material if you’re incorporating pesticides in your landscaping.
However, Dubow encourages homeowners to pass on pesticide products altogether.
“The most important way to keep pets safe outside is to use organic lawn care products,” she says. She points specifically to the product line from Epsoma if you’re looking to switch to organic gardening and landscaping products.
The ecological and environmental benefits of composting are well-documented, and those who do it should be applauded for their efforts. But it’s crucial to keep compost around your plants, not inside your pets.
Piles of decomposing and decaying organic matter might smell like heaven to dogs or cats. But as these materials break down they can grow tremorgenic mycotoxins, which are toxic to pets and wildlife. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, there is no antidote for compost poisoning.
“Compost is great for gardens, but not for pets,” Dubow reiterates. “Curious pets that nibble at your compost may become sick. Symptoms range from excessive drooling or panting to vomiting and seizures. Stay safe by keeping compost bins closed and out of your pet’s reach.”
The Big Takeaway
Landscaping features like patios, fire features, native plants, edible gardens, contemporary sculptures and water features are not off limits for homeowners with children or pets.
Container gardens and vertical gardens provide practice for green thumbs while keeping prying paws and toddlers distant. And strategically-placed fencing combined with supervision should do the same for water and fire features.
If you’re put off by the potential dangers of landscaping with kids and pets around, don’t fret. Everything is a possibility.
“If homeowners want to go bold with their design, but they’re concerned how to blend dreams with functionality, it’s best to work with a local professional,” Stryker says.