Lawns, Kids & Pets

Many families that have a lawn to care for also have children and pets.  Are they mutually exclusive?  In short, no.  However, if you want the 3 of them to thrive and the kids/pets to be safe, there are some common sense guidelines to follow.

First and foremost, read the product label.  Reading the label can be tedious – similar to reading the Form 1040 instructions or the fine print of a warning label for a medicine prescription, but considering the importance of the health of our children and pets, it’s paramount that sufficient time be invested in understanding how to best use the product.  These labels contain really helpful guidelines on rate, timing, application technique and calibration.  Actually, it’s not just a good idea; any product (other than lawn seed) that is designed to be applied to the lawn contains instructions issued by the federal and state governments.  Any use of them in a manner that is inconsistent of their labeling is a violation of the law.

Second, it’s helpful to break up an application into 2 or 3 parts.  This adds a little bit of time to the overall process, but it really provides a great deal of safety.  In this way, an application can be made to one part of the lawn, and the other part can be used to allow kids and pets to run around and continue to explore nature.  Then, a couple of days later, reverse the child/pet usage and apply the product to the area where the kids were playing 2 days before and let the kids play where the product was apply 2 days ago.  This routine works well for do-it-yourself lawn care; if you’ve hired a lawn care service, it’s best just to keep the kids and pets indoors for a couple of days and use a nearby park for exercise.

Third, determine whether the product is foliage active or root active.  For example, foliage active products such as ones for broadleaf weed control are meant to be applied to and remain on the leaves for a day to be effective.  After a day or so, the sunlight and air temperature above 50 degrees F will break them down sufficiently to be safe.  A light irrigation will assist and provide an extra measure of safety.

Fourth, apply granular products such as fertilizer and root active pest control agents after a mowing, then irrigate to wash them off the grass blades and into the upper layer of soil.  They won’t be effective if they remain on the leaves and moving them into the soil facilitates them being safe for kids and pets.  Core aeration helps to move products into the root zone more efficiently.

When caring for a lawn that children and pets occupy, it’s important to remember that kids will touch just about anything and put most anything into their mouths.  Pets generally don’t pick items up, but will regularly lick their paws.  An important safety guideline with this in mind is that it’s wise to keep kids and pets away from newly treated lawn and landscape areas.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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