Planting an Allergy Free Garden

For allergy-sufferers, the emerging buds of spring and the flowering petals of summer seem anything but inviting. Rather than enjoying the spectacular scents and sights of the growing season, allergy sufferers find themselves locked behind glass windows, clutching tissues and popping allergy tablets like candy. There are, however, viable gardening solutions for allergy sufferers. With just a little planning and some information about low-allergy gardening alternatives, even those with the most stubborn sniffles can enjoy the benefits of gardening.

Not all plants (or allergies) are created equally�
The first step to creating an allergy-free garden is to understand what allergies are and how plants contribute to them. Thankfully, not all plants (or allergies) are created equally. As a result, fine-tuning a garden to meet your specific needs can be done.

To begin with, all plants reproduce with the help of pollen. Whether transported by air, insect, or animal, the transfer of pollen is vital to the reproduction of plants. The good news is that every plant transfers pollen its own unique manner, allowing gardeners to choose plants that have fewer effects on specific types of allergies.

For those with airborne allergies, contact with pollen in the air creates undesired reactions such as coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, and itching. Are you particularly prone to airborne pollen, such as ragweed or grass? Avoiding plants that rely primarily on breezes to transport pollen will help alleviate allergic reactions.

On the other hand, if it’s only physical contact with a plant that causes allergic reactions, then avoiding plants (such as hedges) which require frequent trimming or pruning is suggested. No matter what type of allergies you experience, planting an allergy-free is possible once you determine what type of allergies you have.

Cross pollination out�
With today’s science, it’s possible to cross pollination out of the allergy equation. Many plants are available without ANY pollen, making the creation of an allergy-free garden easier than ever. Have you ever noticed “double” flowers at your local nursery-such as double chrysanthemums? These flowers have petals instead of pollen parts, making them a great choice for an allergy-free garden.

Battle of the sexes�
Sorry to say, but the battle of the sexes doesn’t end at the garden gate. Anyone wanting to create an allergy-free garden must consider plant gender before digging the first hole. For those of you who didn’t even know that some plants actually have genders, don’t bother looking on the tag of your next plant purchase to clue you in-especially if you’re purchasing your gardening supplies from a mass retailer. It’s pretty rare for plant tags to read “male” or “female”.

Plant tags do, however, clue buyers in on the gender with terms such as “fruitless” and “seedless.” Plants, trees, and shrubs that are labeled as fruitless or seedless are male, and should be avoided by anyone with allergies.

Why? Female plants, while messier, produce no pollen and actually help remove other pollen and allergens from the air. In nature, male and female plants each compromise around 50% of all growth. However, some urban landscapes are comprised of 100% male plants, making allergic reactions inevitable.

However, by purchasing more female varieties of plants, shrubs, and trees, individual gardens can be virtually allergy-free. Even lawns can be suited for allergy sufferers. Does your lawn leave your eyes slamming shut at the mere sight of a lawn mower? Female sod can be purchased, helping to create an allergy-free garden AND lawn.

strong>Disease free means allergy free�
Not only do disease-resistant plants fend off garden plagues such as mildew, rust, and blackspot, they also help keep allergens to a minimum. In addition, make sure to choose the location of your plants very carefully. Although a plant that requires full sun may grow just fine in shade, it will become a magnet for disease. Did Aunt Mabel bring you a shrub from Maine? Don’t plant it. Shrubs and plants that aren’t indigenous to your area will also attract disease and insects, creating more allergens.

Weed out the enemy�
Okay, so you’ve planted male trees and shrubs, double flowered annuals, and disease-resistant perennials. Now it’s time to make sure that only invited guests are present in your allergy-free garden. Weeds, which rely on their oh-so-effective pollination methods to spread, can easily transform any garden into an allergy machine. Regular weeding (wear gloves and an air mask to reduce allergic reactions!) will keep your garden looking good and you feeling good for a long time.

Outrank your enemy�
Not long ago, allergy sufferers relied on vague descriptions from nursery workers in their battle to create an allergy-free garden. However, there was no way of officially ranking the allergy potential of plants. Now there is. Known as OPALS-or the Ogren Plant Allergy Scale-this system of ranking the allergy potential of plants is the most reliable way to determine which plants present the most problems for allergy sufferers.

Best of all, the scale is easy to decipher for even novice gardener, making it easier than ever to create a truly allergy-free garden. The scale rankings range from one to five, with level 5 plants possessing the most pollen. Plants ranked at a level one, such as Purple Wave Petunias and Red Maple trees, have virtually no pollen.

Typically, those with even severe allergies would be safe in choosing plants of a level three or two. However, there are many plants with level one ranking that can make any allergy-free garden beautiful and safe.

Bear in mind that, while helpful; the Ogren scale has yet to be fully embraced by nurseries. And don’t plan on finding plants tagged with their rankings in your local home improvement store. Generally, local landscapers and more reputable nurseries can provide the scale ranking for plants that they carry. Until this scale is utilized on a wider basis, you may have to rely on what you’ve learned about plants to create your own allergy-free garden.

Knowledge is power�
Without a doubt, allergies have become a major concern in the US, and with good reason. With 38% of Americans suffering from allergies, the need to create beautiful and safe gardens is undeniable. Thankfully, this epidemic has made information to create allergy-free gardens more accessible than ever.

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