Cultivating an Allergy-Free Garden
Tips for reducing the sneeze-makers in your landscape.
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If you're one of the 50 million-plus Americans affected by seasonal allergies, your yard and garden may be sources of misery.
"Allergies are getting to be a bigger and bigger problem all the time," says master gardener Pam Geisel. "We plant more trees that produce pollen, and so the background count of allergies has gone up dramatically over the last 20 years."
Flowers that aren't showy are among the worst culprits. Microscopic pollen contains the male cells of flowering plants. Pollen can have a smooth surface, but the real nostril tweakers are the barbed ones that latch on to your sinus membranes and don't let go. These tend to come from flowers that are small and unattractive. "Flowers that are not really showy tend to be pollen producers," says Pam. Because they're not attractive to bee pollinators, they have had to evolve to the barbed form in order to be wind pollinated and carried off into the air.
Ornamental grasses are some of the most popular landscape plants because they're so versatile. But if you live on antihistamines during allergy season, you may want to steer clear of them. "Grasses are probably the worst pollen producers," says Pam. Their flowers bloom for a long period of time and are grown over a large area. Even lawn grasses like Bermuda and annual bluegrass can be terrible on allergies, unless you mow frequently to minimize flowering.
Many communities plant non-fruiting male trees so they don't have to deal with messy fruit-producing female trees. The olive tree is popular in many landscapes, and because of its beautiful structure, many homeowners plant one in their garden close to their house and windows. The olive tree's barbed pollen, however, makes it one of the worst pollen producers.
How to Maintain a Low-Allergen Garden
The closer you are to a pollen source, and the more frequently you're exposed to it, the more likely you are to develop an allergy. With that in mind, here are some steps you can take to minimize your exposure to allergenic plants.
When working outdoors, protect yourself personally by wearing gloves, coveralls, sunglasses and a hat. Then before you go in your house, take all that stuff off so you don't bring the pollen into the house.