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A Dozen Tips for Producing Low Allergy Gardens

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 09, 2007 4:16 pm    Post subject: A Dozen Tips for Producing Low Allergy Gardens Reply with quote

A Dozen Tips for Producing Low Allergy Gardens
by Thomas Ogren

What we plant often has a direct effect on our own health and the health of those near us. A pollen-producing male tree in our own garden will easily expose us to ten times more pollen than would a similar tree growing just down the road. This can be compared to second-hand smoke. It is possible to inhale some smoke from a person smoking a house or two away from you, but it is hardly the same as someone smoking right next to you. It is the same with plants. If your own garden is full of allergenic plants, then you will be exposed most.

Primary school landscapes are frequently highly allergenic because all too often they have been landscaped with trees and shrubs that will not produce any seeds, seedpods or fruit—which the children might want to toss at each other. What is over-looked is that these tidy choices are usually male cultivars (clones) and although they are "litter-free," they are prodigious producers of allergenic pollen. I am now involved with a pollen-free landscape planting at a new primary school, this work is being sponsored by their local asthma coalition and it is very encouraging to see preventative measures like this being taken. Children suffer greatly from allergies and asthma, and asthma is now the most common chronic childhood disease.
Another fine example of low-pollen landscaping surrounds the new American Lung Association Regional Headquarters in Richmond, Virginia. With "green" construction principles a new 'Breathe Easy' allergy-free office was constructed. The allergy-friendly landscape plant materials are predominantly female, and compliment the clean air building. Other Breathe Easy offices are also now using pollen free landscapes, as are numerous Heath Houses.

Twelve tips: Remember, the greater the exposure to pollen, the greater the incidence of pollen-triggered allergy and asthma.

1. Don't plant any male trees or shrubs. These are often sold as "seedless" or "fruitless" varieties but they're males and they all produce large amounts of allergenic pollen.

2. Do plant female trees and shrubs. Even though these may be messier than males, they produce no pollen, and they actually trap and remove pollen from the air. There is also some very good all-female sod to use for pollen-free lawns. As an added bonus, these female lawns stay low and require less frequent mowing.

3. Plant disease-resistant varieties: mildew, rust, black spot and other plant diseases all reproduce by spores and these spores cause allergies. Disease resistant plants won't get infected as much and the air around them will be healthier.

4. Use only trees and shrubs well adapted for your own area. Plants grown in the wrong zone will often fail to thrive. Because they are not healthy, they will be magnets for insects. Insect residue, "honeydew," is a prime host for molds and molds produce allergenic mold spores. Often native plants will be the healthiest choices.

5. Be careful with the use of all insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Accidental exposure to all of these chemical pesticides has been shown to cause breakdowns in the immune system. Sometimes one single heavy exposure to a pesticide will result in sudden hypersensitivity to pollen, spores, and to other allergens. This is as true for pets as it is for their owners. Go organic as much as possible. Make and use compost!

6. Diversity is good. Don't plant too much of the same thing in your landscapes. Use a wide selection of plants. Lack of diversity often causes over-exposure. Use lots of variety in your gardens.

7. Wild birds are a big plus because they eat so many insects. Plant fruiting trees and shrubs to encourage more birds. Suet also attracts many insect-eating birds. Insect dander causes allergies and birds consume an incredible amount of aphids, whiteflies, scale, and other invertebrate pests.

8. Use pollen-free selections whenever possible. There are many hybrids with highly doubled flowers and in many cases these flowers lack any male, pollen parts. Formal double chrysanthemums, for example, usually have no pollen. Another example would be almost all of the erect tuberous begonias. These have complete female flowers, but their male flowers have nothing but petals, making them pollen-free.

9. If you simply must have some high-allergy potential plants in your yard, just because you love them, then watch where you plant them. Don't use any high-allergy plants near bedroom windows or next to patios, well-used walkways, or by front or back doors. Place the highest allergy plants as far away from the house as possible and downwind of the house too. Remember: the closer you are to the high-allergy tree or shrub, the greater is your exposure.

10. Know the exact cultivar name of a tree or shrub before you buy it. Don't buy any that are not clearly tagged with the correct cultivar (variety) name and the Latin, scientific name. Compare the exact name of the plant with its OPALS/TM allergy ranking. With this scale, 1 is least allergenic, and 10 is the most allergenic. Try to achieve a landscape that averages at OPALS #5, or below.

11. If you have a tree or hedge that has high allergy potential and don't want to remove it, consider keeping it heavily sheared so that it will flower less. Boxwood, for example, has allergenic flowers but if pruned hard each year, it will rarely bloom at all.

12. Get involved with your own city's tree and parks departments, and encourage them to stop planting any more wind-pollinated trees. There are thousands of fine choices of street trees that do not cause any allergies and we should be using these instead. Working together we can make a healthy difference, and we'll all breathe better for our efforts.

*Note, with the dioecious plants (separate-sexed) males cause pollen-allergy, and females because they are pollen free, do not. Examples of some of these dioecious plants are: red maple, silver maple, box elder, holly, willow, aspen, cottonwood, poplar, fringe tree, pepper tree, carob tree, Osage orange, mulberry, cedar, juniper, podocarpus, yews, ash, date palms, and even asparagus.

About Author:

Thomas Ogren is the author of Allergy-Free Gardening, Ten Speed Press. Tom does consulting work on landscape plants and allergies for the USDA, county asthma coalitions, and the Canadian and American Lung Associations. He has appeared on HGTV and The Discovery Channel. His book, Safe Sex in the Garden, was published in 2003. In 2004 Time Warner Books published: What the Experts May NOT Tell You About: Growing the Perfect Lawn. His website:

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 03, 2008 9:37 pm    Post subject: Allergy free gardening Reply with quote


I have just put this together. It's a bit similar to the above article but I have added a photo of a buddleia sniffer for that extra touch of realism....


For most of us the summer growth of plants and trees is a joy. For others it can be weeks of streaming eyes and blocked noses as the pollen count increases

If you have asthma or allergies, this doesn't mean you can't enjoy the pleasures of gardening. In fact, there is a wide range of big, showy flowers, shrubs, and trees that shouldn't make you wheeze, cry or sniffle with hayfever.

By choosing insect-pollinated plants, which tend to have heavier pollen that doesn't become airborne easily, you can enjoy hours of virtually allergy-free gardening.

What is an allergy?
An allergy is a physical response to an irritant in the environment that may cause the body to react in a variety of ways. Allergic reactions can occur year-round, including in winter. Types of reaction may include running or itchy eyes and nose, skin flare-up, breathing problems and headaches.

Allergy Facts

Most respiratory-related allergies are caused by pollen. Not all pollens are the same however. Some pollen spores, if viewed under a microscope, are basically smooth. Pine pollen, for example, has a more-or-less smooth outer surface. Others, like sycamore, have barbed surfaces. The latter type is the one that tend to cause the greatest irritation in eyes, sinuses and lungs.

Male plants are the most problematic since they are the pollen producers. Female plants, on the other hand, produce seeds rather than pollen. It's the flowering process, including the release of pollen that leads to the misery of allergies.

It's important to note that some plant species have both male and female elements within a single plant, while others are "only male" or "only female."

Most pollen lands close to the source plant, so a heavily pollen-producing tree in your own garden, for example, will have a much greater impact than a similar tree planted some way away.

Tips for Creating an Allergy-Free Garden
Identify the culprits and take action. If it's feasible, remove the problem plant or tree entirely and replace it with allergy friendly plant.

If you can't remove the problem plant, keep it pruned back regularly.

With allergies, avoidance is key. When the pollen producers are flowering, try to physically avoid them. For example, if you have a problem plant at the back door, get in the habit of using the front door until the plant's flowering phase is complete.

Avoid planting pollen producers near windows that you're likely to open on nice days.

Avoid planting male (pollen-producing) specimens. Ask the staff at your local garden centre to help you select female plants. They're pollen-free and actually trap and remove airborne pollen.

If you're involved in a local planting scheme or know someone on the council, suggest avoiding plantings of male-only trees in publicly landscaped areas. Large numbers of male trees raise the pollen count substantially.

Get rid of any plants that attract mildew, rust or aphids. Plants grown in the wrong place will fail to thrive. Pest and mildew infested plants produce moulds, which produce allergenic spores. Cut these plants down, dig them up and replace them with plants that thrive in your garden conditions.

If the entire garden is shaded by trees, consider thinning them out or removing some to let in the light. Fresh air and sunshine will cut down on moulds and spores.

Keep your lawns well fertilized and mow them often. Lawnmower blades should be sharp; dull blades rip off the grass and the exposed surfaces are subject to disease - thus, mould and spores. Also, sharp blades put less stress on the grass, resulting in healthier lawns that are able to choke out allergy-causing lawn weeds.

Point to note
Remember, flowers with pollen that may not cause a problem outdoors can be a different story if brought indoors. Not only can pollen become airborne as the flowers age and dry out, but also the chances of coming into contact with pollen increase by walking past them

"Nose-Friendly" Plants

Female trees of any type. Some examples are: apple, cherry, dogwood, magnolia, pear, plum.

If you are growing your own bedding plants then go for the F1 Hybrids. These do not reproduce.

Other annuals and perennials include: alyssum, begonia, cactus, clematis, columbine, crocus, daffodil, daisy, dusty miller, geranium, hosta, impatiens, iris, lily, narcissus, pansy, petunia, phlox, rose, salvia, snapdragon, sunflower, tulips, verbena, zinnia. Morning glories are a good choice for the allergy prone. Their pollen is not allergenic. Most flowering plants with trumpet- or tube-shaped blooms tend not to be as problematic.

Shrubs: Azalea, boxwood, hibiscus, hydrangea, viburnum. Low fragrance roses such as shrub or floribunda roses.

The key to an allergy-free garden is patience. A hard or garden relatively free of allergens doesn't happen overnight. Plant selection is key. Learn what species and varieties are safe to plant and which to avoid.


if you are interested in raised vegetable beds and veggie growing I have a new website - We're busy on social networking too and have over 12,000 members in the group.
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