Be prepared for poisonous plants

As spring approaches, more and more people will be out and about in their gardens and visiting nurseries, so it’s a very good time to ensure retailers are well prepared to help customers with their issues and questions.Plant safely logo

This includes being ready to provide information regarding poisonous plants and general safety measures when gardening. The Plant Safely website ( has been developed with nursery levy-funds, and provides an essential resource for both retailers and consumers.

Many common plants in Australian gardens can harm people and animals, including household pets. Plant poisoning can occur if parts of the plant are eaten, through inhalation or via direct contact.

Poisoning from common garden plants is rare, but it is important to know which plants can be toxic in order to reduce the risk. They include foxglove, crabs eye creeper, angels trumpets, oleander, black bean and lantana. In some cases, just parts of the plant e.g. seeds, or fruits, are poisonous; sometimes the whole plant is poisonous.

For production nurseries, the National Plant Labelling Guidelines provide a list of potentially harmful plants and suggested wording for warnings on plant labels. Labelling plants with potentially harmful characteristics is good practice and compliance with the National Plant Labelling Guidelines is encouraged.

When advising customers about what plants to buy, here are some handy tips:

  • Plant selection – Think about what plants should be selected to best fit your garden – considering boundary lines, thoroughfares and access that children and pets may have.
  • Weed removal – Get stuck into any weeds or unwanted plants that may be harmful.
  • Pets – If you have a pet, know which plants may be poisonous to them.
  • Children – If you have children, do not let them eat plants, seeds or berries, unless you know it is safe to do so.
  • If you suspect poisoning – Contact your medical or veterinary health professional or in an emergency contact the Poisons hotline on 13 11 26 or Triple 0.

It is not only plants which can cause harm in the garden. Soils, composts, manure and potting media contain a wide variety microorganisms including fungi, bacteria, algae, viruses and protozoa. Many of these are beneficial to soil as they help to recycle important nutrients and decompose organic matter, but some are harmful to humans if care is not taken.

For instance, Legionella longbeachae is commonly found in soil and potting mixes, and is the bacteria responsible for Legionnaire’s Disease. It poses a risk to gardeners if contaminated water vapours or dust are inhaled.

To prevent exposure to these bacteria it is important to wet down potting media to reduce the dust from spreading, and to wear appropriate protective gear such as gloves and a mask when handling potting mix. Washing hand immediately after handling soil and potting mix is another good preventative method. Additionally bagged growing media and composts should carry a prominent warning label which complies with the Australian Standard AS3743 Potting mixes.

Project code: NY12001

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