Toller dog

Make sure children and pets can enjoy the summer garden safely.

We are still in the best months of the gardening season and it’s time to make your landscape as useful and comfortable as you can for the hot summer months ahead. If you have young children or pets using your garden now or in the future, now’s the time to make your outdoor space safe for them to enjoy.

Safe gardening with children and pets starts with thoughtful design. If you are building hardscape structures (permanent features), plan ahead. These landscape features are the expensive parts of your garden that you want to construct correctly the first time rather than tearing them out later and re-building. A swimming pool, for example, should be located where it can be easily viewed from both indoors and outdoors if children will be using it. Also make provisions for fencing or covers to avoid anyone – two-legged or four — from accidentally falling in.  Construct stairways so they are solid and won’t shift, and make sure the foot fits comfortably on each step. Build paths and walkways without protrusions that can trip up unsuspecting feet. And factor in play areas built with safe materials like sand, lawn or recycled rubber tires.

Plan out seating in areas where young children will be playing so you can be comfortable watching them. Designing in some trees will offer much needed shade for young and old alike. And add some simple, but decorative fencing to keep children from straying from play areas

For planting, avoid poisonous plants and sharp prickly growers. Most garden plants are poisonous only when eaten, so if you have anything toxic growing in your garden, keep these plant(s) fenced off until children grow out of the put-everything-in-the-mouth stage. Young pets and even some older pets that never grow out of the mouthy stage should also be denied access.

Pets often need built-in safety measures more than children as animals are likely to be less supervised and they’re often left outdoors for longer periods of time. Dogs need to run. They need to get exercise. And they need to have space to play.  So design them pathways that move through heavily planted areas and carve a passage that will follow along fences where dogs are likely run back and forth. Although your dogs will occasionally trespass on your gardens, most of the foot traffic will stay to your paths and, if you plant tough enough plants, the gardens will thrive and look great despite the activities of your canine pals. Look for plants that grow with wiry and woody stems and opt for drought-tolerant varieties that can take some occasional abuse.

Female dogs can create brown spots in lawns whereas male dogs naturally like to urinate up against anything that rises vertically. So build in areas of gravel or decomposed granite that will not burn from urine. You can also paint decorative posts and set them near places that need protection so your male dog uses them as pee posts rather than your favorite outdoor furniture or your delicate plants. In times when rain is scarce, creating these non-living provisions for your pets makes it easy to hose down urine areas to avoid bad smells

I prefer that cats are always kept indoors due to the danger of preditors and road acidents. But if you have a safe area outdoors and you want your feline to have access to the outdoors, here are a few tips to make things easier on both cat and garden.

Build areas that will be easy for cats to dig. Cats will use loose soil or sand as a cat box. If you want to build a sand box for your children, either fence it off from your cat or use recycled shredded tires for fill instead of sand. Then you can build a sand box just for your cat’s use.  Flat areas where you don’t want your cat digging can be protected by laying a surface layer of hardware cloth or chicken wire. Wire protection will also help avoid the damage so often done by digging squirrels. Offer your cats branches for sharpening claws and build high smooth-surface walls or fences to encourage them to stay in your property. Plant them some catnip (Nepeta) to help them enjoy your garden space. Catnip and catmint both are loved by cats and grow exceptionally well in our area. They are mildly drought-tolerant and even bloom with decorative purple flower spikes

Make sure pets have a shady spot to relax in and plenty of fresh water. Don’t leave out pet food or water at night, however, or you will be attracting undesirable wildlife  like raccoons, snakes and rodents. In the summer, food and water can bring in armies of ants.

Check over your garden now. Set up your space so it is a fun safe place for children and pets to play. And make sure you build in comfortable seating so you, too, can enjoy your outdoor space. With a little forethought, the summer can be a great time for everyone to enjoy the garden – safely!