Celebrating the Seasons

Backyard Safety


The beautiful morning glory-like flowers belie the toxicity of Datura stramonium, also known as thorn apple and jimsonweed.

It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of security in our own backyards, but dangers do lurk. Playing it safe is easy if you recognize the potential hazards early.

Curious young children and pets can be tempted to taste plants in your gardens and landscape, so it pays to know what plants to avoid. Many popular perennials and annuals, albeit beautiful, are very toxic, even fatally so, when ingested. These include garden favorites like bleeding heart, delphinium, larkspur, foxglove, and lily-of-the-valley. Prevention is easy — don't plant these dangerous beauties and get rid of the ones you have. Visit the Texas Cooperative Extension's Poisonous Plants Web page for a list of common toxic plants.

For plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac that cause a reaction upon contact, pulling isn't an option. Herbicides are your best bet for eradication — there are some new organic types, or choose one containing glyphosate. But you must be patient and diligent. It can take repeated herbicide applications to rid your garden of these tenacious plants. And remember, if you come in contact with the plants, the quicker you can wash off the oil the better. Rubbing alcohol can be effective in removing the oil. Use COLD water in the shower with a strong detergent — don't use a bar of soap as it can spread the oil to different parts of the body. Then follow up with a treatment specifically for poison ivy. Also, remember oils from these plants can be transmitted on your clothes so immediately wash them in hot water and always have first aid ready to go.


Learn to recognize poison ivy and try to eradicate it from your yard.

Mushrooms can be a sign of healthy soil, and not all mushrooms are poisonous — but it's hard to tell. Your best bet is to remove mushrooms whenever you see them.

Ironically, many of the chemicals we use to beautify our lawn and garden are toxic. Search for safer organic products and always follow label instructions carefully. Store all lawn and garden chemicals, fertilizers, and pesticides in a safe place out of the reach of children and pets.

If you garden in the early morning or evening hours, use a bug spray to ward off mosquitoes and ticks which are not only unpleasant, but can also transmit Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus.

Use common sense with garden tools:

  • When using tools with cords or tools that cut, always keep both feet on the ground.
  • Hang rakes after each use.
  • Strewn hoses are tripping hazards; store them safely.
  • Always wear long pants and glasses when using a string trimmer — the debris becomes tiny missiles.
  • Garden gloves can help prevent blisters.
  • Lift with the legs and not the back
  • Beat the heat by keeping cool: Wear a hat and light-colored, tightly woven clothing. Drink lots of water — if you're thirsty, you've waited too long.

Play equipment:

  • Repair or replace any inferior or loose parts.
  • Cover exposed screws/bolts.
  • Always place equipment over ground which has been softened with a thick layer of mulch or something similar.
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