University of Vermont
Department of Plant and Soil Science
TIPS TO REDUCE GARDEN ALLERGIES
Dr. Leonard Perry, Horticulture Professor
University of Vermont
Do you sneeze a lot while working around plants? Does your nose get itchy
and runny? If your allergies prevent you from enjoying your garden, here are
15 ideas which may help your gardening to be more fun during allergy season.
All these may not always work for all people, as sensitivities to specific
plants will vary with the person and environmental conditions.
-- Limit gardening in the afternoon in spring, and early mornings in fall,
when pollen counts tend to be highest.
-- Remain indoors during windy days, during allergic pollen times, as pollen
can blow in from far away (even though it is otherwise quite local in
nature, such as from a tree in your yard)
-- Once done working outdoors, wash well or shower, and wash clothes.
-- Don't hang laundry on the line during high pollen periods. (I learned
this through hanging bed sheets on the line to dry, then wondering why I
kept sneezing all night, even indoors, with the windows closed.)
-- Use an air conditioner if you have one, particularly at night, or while
driving, and set on recirculate if possible.
-- Beware of, and wash, pets that might pick up pollen outdoors and share
-- Cover your body with clothing, even using a cap for your hair, and wear a
breathing mask, especially when mowing the lawn. Best is to have someone not
allergic do the mowing!
-- Keep windows closed during, and a few hours after, mowing.
-- Begin allergy medication at least a couple weeks prior to your normal
allergy season to get your body ready, following directions. If severe
allergies, symptoms worsen, or you develop food allergies, consult a doctor
If you develop food allergies, these could be caused by
the increasingly common cross-reactivity of pollen and chemicals of plants
in the same family, sometimes known as “pollen-food syndrome”. For
instance, pollen from honeylocust trees may cause reactions in individuals
with peanut allergies (another legume family member). Even plants from
different families may cause allergies, such as those allergic to birch
pollen becoming allergic to some raw fruits and vegetables such as melons,
apples, strawberries, carrots, and celery.
--If available, choose female selections of plants to which you’re
allergic. Some plants such as maples and junipers have male and female
flowers on separate plants (termed “dioecious”). For instance with red
maples, ‘Autumn Flame’ and ‘Autumn Spire’ are male trees, so will produce
pollen to which some may be allergic. ‘Autumn Glory’ and ‘October Glory’ are
female trees with no pollen, so good choices if you’re allergic to maple
pollen. For green ash, ‘Marshall Seedless is a pollen-producing male,
while ’Summit’ is female. An extensive listing of plants and
cultivars, with their allergenic details and ratings, can be found in The Allergy-Fighting Garden (2015) by
Thomas Leo Ogren.
-- Choose low allergen-producing plants when establishing a new garden, or
to replace others in your landscape. Remember, in general, to avoid
wind-pollinated plants, choosing insect-pollinated plants instead. These
latter generally are those with showy and bright flowers, whether woody or
herbaceous. Those with red, orange, blue, or pink flowers tend to be
attractive to pollinators too, meaning they’re likely not wind pollinated.
You can find a searchable plant database online (pollenlibrary.com).
Some trees to avoid if you have allergies, or at least
check to see if you’re allergic around them, include oaks, ash (males),
maple (males and some species), hickory, willows (males), and birch.
While pines are often implicated as culprits, their quite visible but waxy
pollen generally isn’t irritating. Many fruit trees are fine to plant for
allergy-suffering gardeners, as are flowering plums and cherries. Other good
tree choices include firs, spruces, shadbush or serviceberry.
Some flowering shrubs to avoid, if you think that you are
allergic to their pollen, include many junipers (males), hollies (males),
privet, and yew (males). As with many plants, there may be species or
cultivars (cultivated varieties) that cause allergies, and others that
don’t. Female cultivars of Chinese juniper that are fine to plant include
‘Blue Point’ and ‘Excelsior’, while male cultivars that you should avoid if
allergic include ‘Armstrong’ and ‘Blue Pfitzer’.
-- Avoid strongly scented flowers, as these may aggravate allergies.
-- Beware of molds from compost and bark mulches, possibly substituting the
latter with gravel.
-- Avoid hedges that can trap dust, pollen and mold. Keep existing ones
-- Keep watch in your local daily broadcast and print media during the
season for pollen counts, and garden on days when the counts are
lower. Or, look for a map and forecasts online (pollen.com).
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