Gardening can be a safe, fun activity if you take a few simple steps to reduce your exposure to potential toxins.

Gardening is a great way for you and your family to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy a relaxing natural setting. Unfortunately, it may also mean exposure to a variety of contaminants from heavy metals to pesticides to toxic plants and even diseases. But there are steps you can take to make your lawn and garden safe for you and your family.

Pesticides

Even if you want to use pesticides, Ontario's new pesticide ban limits what you can and cannot use. To learn more about the pesticide ban, check out the MInistry of the Environment's website. However, there are lots of great green ways to limit pesticide use and reduce your risk of exposure to toxic chemicals:

  • Replace grass with lower maintenance ground covers. Many require less weeding, and less water to look good.
  • Make weeding a family event! Get your kids to pitch in.
  • Learn about planting complementary crops like basil and tomatoes to protect from pests and disease.
  • Take care of your plants. Healthy plants are your best defense against soil and airborne plant diseases.
  • If you have to spray, spot treat problem areas. Don’t apply chemicals everywhere. Wear the proper protective gear, and follow manufacturers directions carefully. This is one activity where you don’t want to involve the kids!

Soil Contaminants

Healthy soil is teaming with life. Unfortunately that life includes a lot of bacteria. Soil around homes in urban centres or near industry can also be contaminated with heavy metals or other toxins. Manure makes great fertilizer, but it can also contain e. coli and other nasties. All of these contaminants present dangers, but there are ways to limit your exposure:

  • Use well composted, not fresh manure.
  • Wear gloves and boots in garden and wash hands thoroughly afterward.
  • Wash all produce thoroughly.
  • Get your soil tested if you suspect contamination.
  • Pick up animal refuse before letting the kids play.

Younger children just love to put everything in their mouths. If they’re playing outside that probably includes some dirt. The good news is studies have shown that consumption of small amounts of dirt generally doesn’t cause illness in most cases. In fact, some research suggests eating a little dirt may boost the immune system!

However, beware raccoon poop which can carry the raccoon roundworm and has been linked to some cases of serious illness. Keep the sandbox clean.

Toxic Plants

Lots of yummy things grow in the garden, and children should be encouraged to participate in gardening. But not everything is safe to eat:

  • Tomatoes are delicious and great for you, but tomato plants are toxic and forget the fried green tomatoes – green tomatoes aren’t safe to eat.
  • Many ornamental flowers such as morning glory, clematis and hydrangea contain toxins. If eaten, consult your local poison control centre.

By taking a few simple precautions, you and your family can soon be well on your way to spending quality time, safely enjoying your backyard.