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Friday, January 5, 2018

Choosing and Building a Child Safe Garden Fence

My grandmother was an avid gardener, cultivating a patch of ground in her backyard for years until the rectangle of soil inside a stake-and-mesh fence was dark with nutrients. She would spend weeks getting her beds ready and would carefully plant at peak times. It was with special pride she served up spinach, tomatoes, and other produce grown by hand at her dinner table.

So you can imagine her dismay when four-year-old me got inspired by a broadcast network’s interpretation of Peter Cottontail, slipped under her fence, and pulled up all her carrots under the impression that they would make a tasty snack. They did not, and I discovered that my new-age, hippie grandmother could be surprisingly old-school about child discipline. The issue with my grandmother’s fence was that it worked well enough to keep out rabbits, but it wasn’t what you could call a child safe garden fence. In the case of my rabbiting, the escapade was harmless (except for some well-placed smacks to my rear). In other cases, however, the result of invading a garden could be a trip to the hospital if a child were to eat a poisonous decorative plant. For this reason, it’s worth investing in a fence dedicated to keeping young children out of the garden.

Temporary Safety Fences Aren’t Safe Enough

I was able to breach my grandmother’s fence pretty easily, and, while it was homemade, it shares a lot of features with off-the-shelf temporary safety fences. It was made of simple mesh tied off to metal stakes driven into the ground. That meant I was able to pull, bend, and stretch the bottom of the mesh enough crawl under it. This was possible because the fence was missing a bottom rail, which is absolutely vital to keeping small curious creatures with opposable thumbs out.

The same is true for many child safety fences, screens, and gates. The idea seems to be that it’s best to keep things nice and soft for the child while making it easy to remove later. Unfortunately, there is a gap between the time when a child learns how to bypass a simple child-safety fence and when they know not to eat strange plants. These screens are often insufficient to deter a rambunctious three- or four-year-old, and they usually latch with a simple hook and eye, which a child can easily figure out.

DIY Child Safe Fencing

A better option that incorporates necessary safety features might be a DIY garden fence. For those on a budget—most parents—a homemade child safety fence for their garden can be an inexpensive solution. To make one:

  1. Measure off the area, plan to place four posts at the corners, and subdivide the space between these corner posts so that there is no more than six feet between the corner posts and any additional posts.
  2. Place four-by-four posts into position. If this fence is temporary and needs to last no more than a few years these posts can simply be buried in the soil below the frost line.
    • You can find out where the frost line is by calling your local planning department.
    • Instead of burying the post, you can use a spiked post anchor to anchor it instead.
    • If you plan to make the fence more permanent, these posts should be anchored in or to concrete and also buried below the frost line.
  3. Build a rectangle of two-by-fours to the dimensions between the fence posts.
  4. Upright bracing also made of two-by-fours should be placed no more than four feet from the two-by-four forming the side rails of the panel.
    • In other words, for a six-foot panel, a vertical two-by-four centered in the frame will give it enough rigidity.
  5. This should create a robust frame to which you can attach a material like plastic mesh, screen, or even wooden lattice.
  6. Next, attach these panels to the posts with nails or screws.
  7. The gate is simply a similar two-by-four frame of three to four feet in width attached to a post with hinges.

A homemade fence like this should deter a child until they’ve reached an age when it is safe for them in the garden, and it has many advantages over an off-the-shelf safety fence:

  • The bottom two-by-four rail prevents the sort of hijinks that I pulled with my grandmother’s fence.
  • The top rail performs a similar function by being sturdy enough to prevent a child from pulling a flexible fencing material down so they can flop over it.
  • It is also sturdy enough to support a latch and a lock on the gate rather than a simple hook-and-eye closure.

However, a DIY fence like this also has a couple of disadvantages. It is ultimately a temporary structure, and without maintenance will eventually decay enough that it doesn’t serve its purpose. And, while the gate is securable, it isn’t necessarily friendly to being equipped with a self-latching latch. A two-by-four gate will wobble a bit while in motion, keeping the latch from lining up, and it doesn’t have enough weight to reliably swing itself shut. Also, while such a gate isn’t ugly, it is utilitarian, and this is a drawback for gardeners who want their flowers to take center stage. Finally, a DIY two-by-four fence takes more time and money to build than a typical stake-and-mesh fence, and for slightly more you can build a permanent fence that looks better and is more secure.

A Steel Panel Fence Acts As a Permanent Child Safe Garden Fence

If you’re interested in a more permanent, neater-looking child safe fence, a steel panel fence would be my recommendation. This type of fence can fulfill your child safety needs as well as your gardening needs much better over the long haul than a wood-and-mesh fence. When they’re well designed, these are some of the easiest fences to install yourself, and they come standard with gates that self-latch. They’re immobile, and low enough to the ground that they’re difficult for anything larger than a squirrel to get underneath. Since they don’t offer easy purchase for the feet, they’re also difficult to climb over. With their clean lines and wrought iron appearance, they look much better than a temporary safety fence, a key element when choosing fencing for the front garden or for a flower garden where looks matter.

These are not advantages shared by other permanent fence types. Chain link fences offer many convenient footholds for anyone wishing to climb them, and they usually have sharp wire sticking above the top rail which is easy for a child to cut themselves on. Wooden privacy fences, on the other hand, don’t offer convenient handholds, but they’re difficult to see out of and can block light to the plants inside the garden. For all these reasons, steel rail-and-picket fences rise to the top of the list of garden fencing options.

Some of the best-looking and best-engineered steel panel fences out there are made by Fortress Fence. They have features that make them more durable than other steel panel fences–like a corrosion-resistant e-coat over pre-galvanized metal instead of a hot-dipped layer of galvanization. This prevents damage to the metal due to corrosion as well as to the fence’s appearance as the galvanization corrodes. It’s a design element that keeps Fortress fences looking better longer, and it’s this attention to detail that is a hallmark of all of Fortress’ outdoor products, from fencing to decking to railing.


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