The hills are green and the trees are in bloom
Its a beautiful time of the year. But for allergy suffers it can also be a time with watering eyes and sneezing, especially if you love to work in your garden.
While there is no such thing as an allergy-free garden, there are some things that can be done to put the enjoyment back into gardening and make it more allergy-friendly.
Start off by knowing what trees, flowers or shrubs you and your family, as well as your pets, are allergic to and eliminate them. If you eliminate a few each year in time you will have an allergy-friendly garden.
Try not to garden on warm, dry, windy days. The wind blows the pollen into the air. Garden when it is cooler or overcast, if possible.
To reduce the skin coming into contact with pollen wear gloves, long sleeves, and glasses to protect your eyes not just from the pollen but also from the sun. A hat will help keep some of the pollen out of your hair.
After gardening change your clothes if possible before going inside your home, so you dont bring any pollen.
Plant flowers, trees, shrubs that are pollinated by insects like butterflies and bees rather than plants that are easily airborne pollinated. This will help in an allergy friendly garden. Airborne pollen stays rather close to home.
Use native plants from our area when you can. They have adapted to our climate, will require less fertilizer or pesticides, are easy to grow and use in an allergy-friendly garden.
Make sure the plants you are adding to your garden are put in the right place to make them grow and thrive. Putting them in a place that they dont thrive will add to mold and spores and attract insects and disease.
When looking for shrubs or trees to plant, its important to know that some species can be male and female within a single plant, like a gingko. But only the male produces allergy causing pollen.
As a rule female trees and shrubs are messier than males. While females arent pollen producers, they help trap and remove pollen from the air. But they stink.
Male trees that are sold as fruitless or seedless are often very heavy-pollen producers. One of the highest allergy producing plant is bottlebrush. Its flowers contain a lot of pollen.
If you love bottlebrush and suffer from allergies plant it away from your home so the pollen doesnt drift in through an open window.
Plant a pollen-free tree rather than one like a sycamore. Sycamore trees produce fuzz on their leaves and stems, which becomes airborne. This can cause irritation to your eyes and throat.
Cottonwood, pecan, olive, ash birch and elm are a few trees that you might want to avoid in your allergy-friendly yard. Instead try a dogwood, redbud, poplar or magnolia as they are low-allergy trees.
If you have a hedge, thin it out so the air can circulate through their leaves. Hedges are very often heavy dust, pollen and mold collectors.
Keep your garden as weed free as you can as most weeds are also heavy pollen carriers.
Whenever possible look for a disease-resistant plant. They dont get infected with mildew, rust and other plant disease as easily so the air around them will be healthier.
Hybrids that have double flowers lack male pollen parts. Double chrysanthemums, tuberous begonias, alyssum, columbine, geranium are all pollen free plants. If you have a shade garden, you can plant hosta, azalea, camellias and hydrangeas as they are pollen-free plants.
If you love roses, petunias or daisies, plant them. They are low-allergy plants. Because pollen is heavy and sticky in perfectly (plants with both reproductive structures) flowering plants, they are not airborne pollinated. Insects pollinate these.
If there are plants you love and must have in your garden, but are high pollen producers, plant them where they can be seen, so you can enjoy them but not suffer because of their pollens. Keeping them away from the house, patio or deck also helps.
Trees are planted for their beauty and shade, but thinning them out to let the sun in so the air can circulate helps reduce mold and spores. There is a book by Thomas Leon-Ogren titled Allergy-Free Gardening. In it he lists more than 5,000 plants and how they rank as to the pollen each carries with No. 1 being that lowest allergenic and No. 10 the highest.
Check the library to see if this book is available.
When you go to your favorite nursery ask for help in choosing the right flowers, trees or shrub to help keep your garden as allergy friendly as possible so you can continue to enjoy gardening.
Betty Victor is a Master Gardener with the University of California Cooperative Extension office in Fairfield. If you have gardening questions, you can call the Master Gardeners office at 784-1322.