April 22, 2021

Stop to Smell the Roses Even if You are Allergic

Gardener woman sitting on the floor is suffering with cough and feeling bad

Creating a relaxing green space around your home need not be an impossible dream simply because you have allergies. Neither should your vision be limited to cactus, rocks, and sand. Many plants, trees, and flowers are considered allergy-friendly. Knowing what to plant and when to plant will make a big difference for your health and comfort.

When Being a “Ten” is Not What You Want

When planning your garden spaces, consult the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale System (OPAL). This measures a plant’s potential to cause an allergic reaction. Each plant is ranked on a one to ten scale, with ten being the worst potential producers of allergic reactions. These ratings can help you choose plants that are low pollen producers. This won’t change your town’s pollen levels, but you can mitigate pollen impact in your slice of paradise at home.

Bees Do It, So Do the Birds…

Biologically speaking, during spring, summer, and fall, plants reproduce by pollen dispersal via wind, birds, and insects. Wind-blown pollen from certain grasses, trees, and bushes are culprits you’ll want to avoid planting in your own garden. Some examples of high pollen producers: Bermuda, Male salt grass, and Fescue grass. Avoid planting cedar, olive, and birch trees. Pass up the Cypress and Male Juniper shrubs.

What can you grow in your garden? Here are some ideas: Get plants that use only insects to pollinate. The grains of pollen are heavier and don’t travel through the air as easily. Consider adding some showy blooms varieties such as roses, Clematis, or lilacs. Grasses such as St. Augustine and several cultivars of buffalo grass are considered allergy-friendly. Despite its sour name, Crabapple trees create a four-season visual impact, as do the snowy white flowers of the Ornamental Cherry trees.

Well, That Figures…

Did you know there are female-­‐only plants?  Female plants don’t produce pollen. One example is a plant used in beer production – the Hops vine. This beautiful climber propagates by spreading rhizomes from the female variety of the plant. When in bloom, its intoxicating aroma is rumored to imbue a feeling of calm and happiness. A male Hop plant is not needed for flowering.

Know When to Get your Hands Dirty

Did you know pollen counts are the lowest in the morning? Check reports on air quality and pollen count for your area. Even with an allergy-friendly garden, being outside on a high pollen count day is inviting misery. Avoid being out on a windy day to reduce the increased risk of exposure to wind-borne pollen. Planting during cool, wet days may be your best time to get out and play in the dirt. Damp weather can ease the pollen impact. On a dry day, turning on the sprinklers to dampen grassy areas before spending time outside will reduce allergy effects.

Consider also your mulch choice. Decomposing mulch produces mold. If you suffer from mold allergies, replace the more traditional mulches like bark or pine straw with pebbles, crushed oyster shells, or shredded rubber. More ideas can be found here.

Learn more about plants and garden design by visiting local nurseries or consider joining up with other allergy-free gardeners in your area to exchange ideas and plants.

Let Your Imagination Run Wild

Creating a beautiful, allergy-friendly garden space is possible by understanding some simple biology and the habits of the natural world. You can choose plants, trees, and grass varieties that reduce allergen exposure to pollen, and you can enjoy the outdoors again without the anxiety of making your allergies worse.