Q. I am an avid gardener but an allergy sufferer and I find myself avoiding going out in the garden in pollen season. Is there any hope of having at the very least a low allergy garden?
A. Research has always shown that the closer we are to a highly allergenic, high pollen plant, the greater our exposure will be. A high pollen tree in your own yard will expose you to ten times the pollen than would a similar tree planted down the block. With this in mind, your own garden could be full of problematic plants and these should be removed and replaced with plants known NOT to cause allergies. This will help to clean up the airspace in your own garden. A really well-designed landscape would have nothing but plants known to be either very low-allergy or completely allergy-free. This is true with all types of plants, trees, shrubs, flowers, even lawns.
Q. Are there any shrubs or flowers that are worse offenders than others for allergy sufferers? Why?
A. There are many common shrubs that are male clones. These produce pollen every year, and lots of it. Female shrubs never produce pollen and are the ones you want to look for. Certain flowers, honeysuckle's for example, for some reason they cause allergy, even though they do not produce a great deal of pollen. Other flowers like lilacs have a fragrance that can be deadly for perfume-sensitive people.
Q. Is there any time of day in which the pollen is likely to be less active and gardening is safer for allergy sufferers?
A. In lawns the pollen is most active from 3am to 8am. Don't mow your lawns early in the day, as the pollen might still be active. Right after a heavy rain pollen levels are often quite low. The rain has washed away much of the pollen. However, after a light rain, many kinds of pollen, birch in particular, becomes activated and is most allergenic. The worst times for airborne pollen are on days that are warm, dry and breezy.
Q. Is there any difference between the allergic potential of annuals or perennials?
A. There isn't much general difference between allergy levels of annuals and perennials. Some annuals cause allergies and some don't. It is the same with perennials.
Q. What are some popular annuals that are low pollen producers?
A. Annuals such as Impatiens, snapdragons, and petunias cause very few allergies.
Q. What are some popular perennials that are less allergenic?
A. Some perennials like phlox, dianthus, and peonies also cause almost no allergy at all.
Q. Even if I had an allergy-free garden myself what is the point, as I would still be subject to the pollen flying in from neighbors yards?
A. Yes, even in a perfectly designed allergy-free garden you could still get some pollen coming in on you from others' yards. However, you would be exposed to much less pollen. You would have no high pollen sources directly near you. Your garden would be free of any plants that caused allergy from smells or from actual contact. Because your overall pollen exposure would be lower, you and your children or grandchildren would feel better and breath more easily. You would also know that your own plants were not making any of YOUR neighbors ill. You would know that you were doing something positive, something real to improve air quality. Also, if your yards and gardens were allergy-free, at least you would be doing something proactive, instead of just doing nothing and then suffering the consequences.
Published with permission from Thomas Ogren, Author of Allergy-Free Gardening.