Smart Gardening: Tips for an Allergy-Friendly Garden

 

If you have asthma or allergies, you don’t have to decorate your yard with stones and concrete. There are many plants you can use in your home garden that won’t affect your allergies. You can choose from several flowers, shrubs, trees and more.

To make your garden more allergy friendly, check out the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale System (OPALS). It is a standard that considers the likelihood that a plant – flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees – will cause pollen allergy symptoms. Each plant is ranked on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the most allergenic. That means the OPALS® ratings can help you as a consumer, a gardener and person with allergies to reduce local pollen exposure.

So, even if your garden is more allergy friendly, pollen may still affect you in your neighborhood and when you travel both close and far away. Learn more creative ways to become more allergy savvy and reduce your impact of seasonal allergens. Many plants mate by releasing up to billions of pollen grains into the wind during spring, summer and fall. These include certain grasses, trees and bushes. You’ll want to avoid planting these types of plants in your garden. 

Instead, get plants that use only insects to pollinate. Their pollen grains are much heavier and don’t travel through the air as easily. Also, plant more female plants. Female plants don’t shed pollen and trap pollen from male plants.

Pollen from certain trees are more powerful than others. These include mountain cedar, olive and birch. During a long dry spell, these trees may actually release more pollen.

Some flowers, fruit trees and shrubs also have powerful pollen. Ask a nursery expert or a local plant specialist to help you find allergy-friendly plants. Make a list of those you’d like to see in your garden.

Working Outdoors

When gardening, use these tips to reduce allergy symptoms:

  • Start taking allergy medicine a couple of weeks before pollen season starts.
  • Wear a NIOSH-approved face mask, hat, glasses, gloves and a long-sleeve shirt to reduce your contact with pollen.
  • Use gravel, oyster shell or plant groundcovers, like vinca or pachysandra, instead of wood chips or mulch. Mulch can hold moisture and encourage mold.
  • Ask family or friends (especially during peak pollen season) who don’t have allergies to mow lawns and weed flower beds.
  • Keep your grass cut around 2 inches high to help keep pollen from reaching too high into the wind.
  • Be careful about using hedges since their branches easily collect dust, mold and pollen. Keep them pruned and thin.
  • Keep your windows closed while mowing and for a few hours after.
  • Garden on windless or cloudy days when pollen in the air is usually lower. Also, garden in the early morning when pollen counts are also lower.
  • Shower and change your clothes right away when you go back indoors. Wash your hair to remove trapped allergens. Remember, if you are sensitive to poison ivy, sumac, etc., wash your gardening equipment too.
  • If you or someone in your family has a peanut allergy, be careful what gardening products you use. Some potting soils contain peanut shells. 



Allergy-Friendly Plants

Flowering plants:

  • Begonia
  • Cactus
  • Chenille
  • Clematis
  • Columbine
  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Dusty miller
  • Geranium
  • Dahlia (formal-double)
  • Impatiens
  • Iris
  • Orchid
  • Bird of paradise
  • Pansy
  • Periwinkle
  • Petunia
  • Phlox
  • Rose (unscented, tea-type)
  • Snapdragon
  • Thrift
  • Tulip
  • Verbena
  • Zinnia

Grasses:

  • St. Augustine
  • Female cultivars of buffalo grass (such as Legacy or UC Verde)
  • Male-sterile hybrid Bermuda grasses

Shrubs:

  • Azalea
  • Boxwood (if kept pruned)
  • Female English yew
  • Female wax myrtle
  • Female pittosporum
  • Hibiscus
  • Hydrangea
  • Viburnum

Trees:

  • Apple and crab apple
  • Pie cherry
  • Chinese fan palm
  • Female fern pine
  • Dogwood
  • Female English holly
  • Hardy rubber tree
  • Magnolia
  • Pear
  • Plum
  • Female red maple


 



Plants to Avoid

Grasses:

  • Common Bermuda
  • Fescue
  • Johnson
  • June
  • Orchard
  • Perennial rye
  • Redtop
  • Male salt grass
  • Sweet vernal
  • Timothy

Shrubs:

  • Cypress
  • Male junipers
 

Trees:

  • Alder
  • Male ash
  • Male aspen
  • Beech
  • Birch
  • Male box elder
  • Cedar
  • Male cottonwood
  • Elm
  • Hickory
  • Male maples
  • Male mulberry
  • Oak
  • Fruitless olive
  • Male palms
  • Pecan
  • Pine
  • Male poplars
  • Sycamore
  • Walnut
  • Male willows
 

Weeds:

  • Poison ivy/oak/sumac
  • Cocklebur
  • Pigweed
  • Ragweed
  • Russian thistle
  • Sagebrush 

Beware of sunflowers, chrysanthemums and daisies. They are distant cousins to ragweed which is a common allergen for many people.

Medical Review April 2018.

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