Gardening is a fun activity to do as a family. If you have young children, making your garden a safe environment is very important. So, is potting soil a good option for families with young children?
Potting soil may be unsafe to have around toddlers due to possible contaminants. However, it’s a reasonably low risk, so you shouldn’t panic if they play with or even ingest a small amount. However, limiting contact is best as soil contaminants may lead to histoplasmosis, sarcoidosis, and tetanus.
This article will discuss the potential dangers of potting soil for toddlers and what to do if your child eats potting soil. It will also outline other measures to keep your toddler safe around potting soil in the garden.
Can My Toddler Get Ill From Potting Soil?
Although many people view potting soil as a minimal-risk substance, potting soil still presents medical dangers. Recent studies have linked potting soil to Legionnaires disease, an airborne bacterial pneumonia.
However, the incidence of this type of infection is relatively rare, although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC reported cases in Washington, Oregon, and California in 2000. However, this disease affects the elderly and immuno-compromised individuals primarily.
Healthychildren.org, a subset of the American Academy of Pediatrics, reports that children rarely contract the condition, and if they do, their symptoms are mild.
However, potting soil mix may also be a breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and fungi, leading to conditions such as the following:
Although the chances are slight that your child will develop these illnesses, be sure to monitor your child for any symptoms following contact with potting soil, such as
- Shortness of breath
The Safest Type of Potting Soil for Toddlers
Although there are safety concerns about potting soil generally, organic soil without animal byproducts such as manure is the safest option if you have busy young ones.
Manufacturers treat all potting soil to prevent weed growth, reducing the number of bacteria in the soil. However, these potting soils can still contain some chemicals. Organic soil is made entirely from natural materials and does not contain chemicals.
If you need more clarification, look at the back of the bag for the ingredients list to ensure there is no added fertilizer.
Remember that this discussion applies to potting soil out of the bag. Potting soil that has been used outdoors for any length of time has had the opportunity to grow bacteria and become tainted by the environment.
Potting soil can spoil, so it is best to discard your soil if it shows mold growth or emits a foul odor. You can read more about potting soil issues in my article: Is It Normal for New Potting Soil to Smell Moldy?
You may find the following contaminants in exposed potting soil including the following:
- Animal droppings
Some of these variables are out of your control, but keeping your garden chemical-free and using only natural fertilizer will reduce the risk to your toddler.
What To Do if a Toddler Ingests Potting Soil
The Missouri Poison Center classifies potting soil as a low-risk material. This classification means that soil consumption is not typically harmful to children. Generally, toddlers do not eat enough potting soil to cause issues beyond an upset stomach.
Choking is always a risk when toddlers eat anything. Although potting soil can be dry, it is composed of smaller particles and does not pose an elevated choking risk.
If your toddler does put potting soil in their mouth, you should:
- Wash it out as best you can
- Have the toddler drink water to dilute the soil in their stomach.
- Monitor your child for any flu-like symptoms.
If you are concerned that your child ate a large amount of potting soil or demonstrating symptoms beyond an upset stomach, call your national or local poison control center for more information. They will direct you through any next steps you need to take.
Keeping Toddlers Safe in the Garden
In addition to selecting an all-natural potting soil, there are other ways to make the garden a safe environment for toddlers.
- Supervise toddlers. Keeping an eye on children in the garden is essential to reduce exposure to harmful elements in your garden. If there is a danger, you also know what your child handled.
- Wash your toddler’s hands frequently. Toddlers often touch their eyes, nose, and mouths, which are vulnerable to bacteria and germs. Stopping to wash your toddler’s hands will reduce the chances of getting pathogens from potting soil onto your child’s face.
- Make sure everyone is wearing gloves. You may know that adults should wear gloves in the garden, but it can be easy to forget that little ones need the same hand protection. All gloves will protect from dirt and bacteria but consider thicker gloves if thorns or stickers are present in your garden.
- Wear protective clothing. Providing a physical barrier between a child’s skin, irritants, and potentially dangerous substances is essential. This process includes close-toed shoes, long-sleeve shirts, pants, and a hat or other sun protection.
- Store potting soil bags in a safe area. When not in use, you should store potting soil out of the reach of toddlers. The best options are to keep tools locked up in a shed or stored securely above reach.
Making Safe Homemade Organic Potting Soil
The best way to be sure that your potting soil is free of harmful materials is to make it yourself. Homemade potting soil allows you to customize it to your plant’s needs and protect your little ones simultaneously.
- Mulch. Organic matter, such as wood chips and leaves, can aid drainage in your soil. However, avoiding non-organic mulch is best as the wood bark may contain chemicals such as toxic chromated copper arsenate (CCA).
- Coir fiber is part of a coconut husk used as the base for potting soil. It is the most expensive material on this list, but using just a tiny amount can help improve the texture and increase the nutrients in your potting soil.
- Perlite. This volcanic glass contributes to the soil’s water retention and can hold up to four times its weight in water. Perlite is a natural organic product that shouldn’t harm your little ones.
- Sand. This ubiquitous material is crucial for increasing soil drainage, but some sands are unsafe for young children as they contain crystalline silica, a carcinogen. Opt for play sand that is sterilized and free from chemical contamination.
- Vermiculite. This naturally occurring mineral is high in magnesium and calcium. When using vermiculite, you should opt for organic and ensure that it is free from asbestos which can harm your toddler.
- Organic compost. This is the best source of nutrients for potting soil. However, compost can come from almost any source and contain chemicals and animal waste. You can use certified organic compost or make your own to control the ingredients and ensure your child’s safety.
Also, note that compost and vermicompost are not the same things. Vermicompost is made from worm castings and may contain more bacteria and pathogens than traditional compost. Try to avoid using vermicompost as part of a potting mix around children.
Potting soil may harbor pathogens that are unsafe for toddlers and adults alike. You can also opt for organic materials to decrease the risk of harmful chemicals. You can check the back of a bag of soil to ensure no chemicals are in the mixture.
If your child ingests a bit of potting soil, they may experience stomach upset but should not have any severe problems. However, you should monitor your child for any rashes or flu-like symptoms. Of course, poison control is always available if you have concerns.