Is this what happens whenever you step into your yard? You're probably suffering from seasonal allergies. If you love gardening or relaxing outside, then allergies can interfere with your enjoyment of life. Don't let that happen!
Allergy medications are a great defense against the sneezing, watery eyes, headaches, and congestion that allergies cause. But did you know that there are many offensive tactics that can prevent your allergies from becoming so severe? You don't have to be content to see your outdoors from an indoor window. By learning how to reduce the allergens in your landscape, it is possible to design an outdoors that you can spend time in.
Culprit No. 1--Trees, shrubs, and flowers
Most allergy suffers know that tree pollen cause a few weeks of misery every spring. But we often blame the wrong trees. You may be surprised to hear that the flowering pear, dogwood, and flowering cherry trees in your front yard cause few allergies. Your suffering is more likely related to the oaks, pines, cedars, and cypresses that you treasure.
How is it possible that flowering trees cause fewer allergies? A plant's ability to cause allergies comes from the plant's pollen. Many plants are pollinated by insects that pick up pollen from one plant and carry it to the next. These insect-pollinated plants have heavy pollen that doesn't waft through the air, and therefore doesn't cause allergic reactions in humans.
Other plants, though, are wind-pollinated. They reproduce by releasing pollen into the air. Often, the male plant releases this pollen and the female receives it, although some plants have both male and female parts. Because the pollen is designed to travel through the air, these are the plants that cause allergies.
While you don't want to cut down any majestic, 100-year-old oak trees, there are some techniques you can use to keep windborne pollen from trees, shrubs, and flowers to a minimum:
If you are shopping for a home, shop for a low-allergy yard--While you may have always wanted to live in a forest, people who suffer from seasonal allergies will suffer more if they buy a house surrounded by oaks, willows, and loblolly pines. Learn to identify trees that produce the most windborne pollen. Then, as you look at houses, you'll be able to decide if the perfect house is worth a month of hay fever every spring.
Plant pretty trees and flowers--Happily, insect-pollinated plants are pretty. Their sweet smells and vibrant colors attract the insects that they need to reproduce. Feel free to include as many crepe myrtles and irises in your landscape as you wish.
Plant female trees and shrubs--Male plants produce pollen. If you choose female plants, you won't have to worry about them spewing pollen into your yard. Unfortunately, nurseries often sell more male plants than females, because gardeners who don't suffer from allergies prefer not to clean up the fruits dropped by female trees. Choose a reputable nursery with knowledgeable salespeople, and talk to them about your preference for female plants. They will be able to show you what is right for your zone and conditions.
Plant with variety--Having too many of the same type of plant causes overexposure, and can increase your allergic sensitivity. While you might not have any symptoms after being exposed to one boxwood, fifteen might send you running to the pharmacy. Diverse gardens are healthier for more than just your hay fever; they reduce the risk of certain pests and can lower the risk for plant diseases.
Culprit No. 2--The Lawn
Mowing the grass is a sure way to give allergy sufferers a full-blown case of hay fever. When conditions are right, even standing in the yard can cause a massive attack. Grass and lawns are so dangerous to allergy sufferers because grasses produce flowers, and the flowers produce wind-born pollen.
Flowers on grass? I know they don't look like much, but the stalks that shoot up from the lawn are pollen-producing flowers. Those homely little flowers release as much pollen into the air as several great oaks, but do it throughout the entire growing season. Having a beautiful lawn doesn't have cause terrible allergies, though.
Well-kept lawns can actually benefit allergy suffers. Lush, healthy grass captures wind-born pollen that drifts to the ground, holding it there until the rain washes it away. Pollen that lands in places other than your lawn can blow back up into the atmosphere. If you follow the following rules, your lawn will help your allergies instead of causing them:
Plant female sod--If you're starting a new lawn, work to find all-female sod. It won't grow tall as quickly as male sod, so you won't have to mow as often. It also won't produce pollen-spewing flowers, so you will be able to roll around in the grass if you so desire.
Plant low-allergy grass seed--If you're not planting an entirely new lawn, just trying to refurbish the one you've got, plant grass seed that's low on the OPALS scale. OPALS was developed by Thomas Leo Ogren as a way to rank plants for their allergy-causing abilities. In his book, Allergy Free Gardening, Ogren ranks over 3,000 plants, including types of grasses.
Maintain a healthy lawn--Lawns that are well maintained with the proper use of fertilizer and weed control will stay allergy-free. Undesirable plants that sprout in a poorly cared for lawn often produce copious amounts of pollen, so don't allow weeds to take hold.
Culprit No. 3--Mold
Pollen is only one of the allergy-causing particles that float through the air in most people's yards. Mold spores are often present in even higher concentrations, and can cause the same symptoms. Wise gardeners know that they can reduce the amount of mold in their gardens by following a few rules:
Plant disease-resistant varieties--Many plant diseases are fungal in nature, and reproduce by wind born spores. Plant varieties that are less susceptible to diseases such as black spot and mildew are less likely to produce the spores that make allergy sufferers sneeze.
Mind the label--Plant labels and nursery experts can tell gardeners all of the sun, soil, climate, and fertilizer requirements for a particular plant. Choosing plants that grow well where you live increases the chances that your plants will be healthy enough to withstand mold-producing disease. Native plants are often the best choices.
Use less mulch--Mulch decays, attracting mold. Creative gardeners can cover bare earth in ways that are more attractive and less allergen-producing than mulch. Ground covers can fill the spaces around trees or between bulbs with low-lying flowers or greenery, and many of the most popular are also low on the OPALS scale. Gravel also makes a great ground cover, and can be found in a variety of colors.
Culprit No. 4--Insect dander
Just like cats and dogs, insects produce dander that can cause allergic reactions. If you have reduced your wind-pollinated plants and have a mold-free outdoors, but are still having allergic reactions every time you step outside, try the following strategies to reduce harmful insects in your yard:
Invite birds--Planting trees and flowers that produce berries or nectar that draws birds to your yard is the best way to reduce the number of harmful insects flying around outside. Birds eat such insects, and add life to any garden.
Plant pest-resistant varieties--Horticulturists have invested a lot into producing insect-resistant varieties of the best-loved plants. Ask your nursery specialist which varieties of your favorite flowers, trees, and shrubs are most resistant to the insect pests most common in your area.
Plant native varieties--Often, the varieties of plants native to an area are the ones that thrive with the fewest infections from disease and insects. Planting an orange tree in Minnesota is a sure way to develop an insect problem. You'll have better luck if you stick to plants that are more suited to your climate.
It's not possible to create an outdoors that has absolutely no pollen, mold, or insect dander. Allergens carry too far and allergy provoking plants, insects, and spores are too prevalent. Even the most cautious gardener will still probably need to wear a mask to mow, and spend less time outside during the times when the air is the least healthy. But following the aforementioned rules, allergy sufferers will be able to enjoy their gardens and their yards more fully.