Keep the Green Thumb, Avoid the Red Nose
Gardening with Allergies & Asthma
If you have asthma or allergies, you don’t have to limit your yard decorating to stones and concrete. There are many plants you can use to design your home garden (including flowers, shrubs, trees, and more) that won’t contribute to your outdoor allergy symptoms.
However, keep in mind that, even if your garden is “allergy free,” many of the pollens that affect you can travel to your yard from other gardens in the neighborhood or even from as far away as the next state. But there are intelligent and creative ways to make sure you minimize the allergens growing right in your own back yard.
Blowin’ in the Wind
Many plants “mate” by releasing billions of pollen grains into the wind during the spring, summer, and fall months, including many grasses, trees, and bushes. These are the types of plants you want to avoid in your garden. Instead, you should consider plants that rely on insects for cross-pollination, which are known to have pollen grains that are much heavier and don’t travel through the air quite as easily.
You should consider plants that rely on insects for cross-pollination, which are known to have pollen grains that are much heavier and don’t travel through the air quite as easily.
Grasses – Bermuda, fescue,
Johnson, June, orchard, perennial
rye, redtop, salt grass, sweet vernal,
Shrubs – cypress, juniper
Trees – alder, ash, aspen, beech, birch, box elder, cedar, cottonwood, elm, hickory, maple, mulberry, oak, olive, palm, pecan, pine, poplar, sycamore, walnut, willow
Weeds – poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, cocklebur, pigweed, ragweed, Russian thistle, sagebrush
Flowering Plants – begonia, cactus,
chenille, clematis, columbine, crocus,
daffodil, daisy, dusty miller, geranium,
hosta, impatiens, iris, lily, pansy, periwinkle,
petunia, phlox, rose, salvia,
snapdragon, sunflower, thrift, tulip,
Grasses – St. Augustine
Shrubs – azalea, boxwood, English yew, hibiscus, hydrangea, viburnum
Trees – apple, cherry, Chinese fan palm, fern pine, dogwood, English holly, hardy rubber tree, magnolia, pear, plum, red maple
Among these types of plants are several bright colored flowers, fruit trees, and shrubs. Ask any nursery expert or a local horticulturalist to help you identify these types of plants and make a list of those you would like to see in your garden plan. (See sidebar for a list of garden friends and garden foes.)
In addition to strategically selecting certain plants, there are many other prevention tips you can follow to help reduce your allergy and asthma symptoms. When working outdoors, wear a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-approved facemask, hat, glasses, gloves, and a long-sleeved shirt to reduce skin and nose contact with pollen. Since wood chips or mulch can retain moisture and encourage molds to grow, use gravel, oyster shell, or special plant groundcovers (Vinca or pachysandra) instead.
Ask a family member who doesn’t have allergies to mow lawns and weed flowerbeds. Keep grass cut low – two inches high – to help keep stems of pollen from reaching too high into the wind. Be cautious about using hedges since their branches easily collect dust, mold, and pollen, and keep them pruned and thin.
Keep the windows in the house closed while mowing and for a few hours afterwards. Limit your gardening days to cool or cloudy days and in the later afternoon or evening when pollen concentration in the air is generally lower. After gardening, immediately shower and change your clothes when you go back indoors and make sure to wash your hair to remove allergens trapped there.
Source: Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, www.aafa.org
This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, Spring/Summer 2011.