Outdoor Living

The time we spend outside increases from spring to fall – and so does our use of hazardous products intended to help our gardens grow and keep pests at bay. To be successful as a natural, organic gardener you may need to think differently about the products you use.

When it comes to our basic needs, humans are not all that different from the organisms in the soil: we all have to drink, breathe, eat, digest and excrete. These natural processes can happen more easily—spurring growth—in healthy soil that is fed with natural materials.

With kids and pets spending more time outside, choose safer, natural alternatives to chemical products. Chemicals from the garden can be easily absorbed by exposed skin and paws, putting your family’s health unnecessarily at risk.

Commonly used products:

  • fertilizer
  • bug repellent
  • pesticides
  • insecticides
  • herbicides
  • ant traps
  • slug bait
  • fungicides
  • algaecides
  • flea powder
  • flea collars
  • rat and rodent poison
  • wasp spray
  • pool chemicals

Why it matters

FERTILIZER – Chemical fertilizers can be carried by rain into rivers, lakes and ponds – all the way into our drinking water. The Canadian Food Inspection agency requires all fertilizer and supplement products sold in Canada to be properly labeled and safe for humans, plants, animals and the environment. But, be careful: many of these products are still considered to be explosive, flammable and/or poisonous.

PESTICIDES – Pesticides such as rodent poison, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides are used to prevent, destroy or repel pests. Products that have come in contact with pesticides shouldn’t be inhaled, touched or ingested. Children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are especially at risk for pesticide-induced illness.


Bugs can be annoying, but they can play an important role in maintaining your beautiful garden. So skip the pesticides and protect the natural balance of your outdoor space.

BUG REPELLENT – Did you know that bug repellent or fly spray is one of the most commonly used types of pesticide? The active ingredient in most commercial insect repellents is Diethyltoluamide (DEET) and Health Canada recommends a concentration no higher than 30%. Why? For one, DEET is a known eye irritant and can cause rashes, soreness or blistering when applied to the skin. Also, it is explosive, flammable and poisonous, and its production and use has been shown to have a negative impact on wildlife and water sources. To boot, it’s also toxic to birds and aquatic life, and bug repellents with DEET should not be applied to children younger than 6 months.


  • Avoid outdoor “fogger” and candle style bug repellents.
  • Avoid aerosol sprays as these can be accidentally inhaled.
  • Don’t apply insect repellent in an enclosed space such as a car or tent.
  • Don’t mix repellants with sunscreen – apply sunscreen 20 minutes before repellent.
  • Learn more about Health Canada’s guidelines for use of insect repellents.

What you can do

1. Choose safer alternatives

For everything from bug spray to garden care products, the advice is the same: choose natural alternatives. Not only are these better for the environment, but they are safer for you and your family.

  • Keep it essential. Consider essential oils as an alternative to chemical repellents such as soybean oil. Try the DIY bug spray recipe provided in the video below.
  • Let composting grow on you. Finished compost is a great alternative to chemical fertilizers. Learn more about backyard composting.

2. Store it properly

Yard and garden chemicals are best kept in their original, labeled containers. When using them, be sure to follow instructions for safe use and always keep them out of reach of children and pets. Wear gloves and wash your hands and exposed skin carefully after use. Keep children and pets off lawns that have been recently treated with herbicides, fertilizers or pesticides.

3. Dispose of it properly

Can’t avoid using outdoor chemicals? Choose safe disposal. Regional waste management authorities offer drop-offs and collection events that accept hazardous products from your home and garden. Find your nearest drop-off site.