How to Design a Low-Allergen Garden

Sneezy, itchy, teary-eyed gardeners rejoice: You can create a garden that won’t make your allergies flare up by choosing hypoallergenic plants.

| May/June 2019


 Photo by Adobe Stock/Sandor Jackal

If sneezing, itchy eyes, coughing, and postnasal drip are preventing you from working in the garden, you’re not alone. The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology estimates that allergic rhinitis — commonly referred to as “hay fever” — affects up to 30 percent of people worldwide. Still others are bothered by the skin rashes and abrasions, mold spores, and heavy fragrances associated with gardening. Fortunately, with careful planning and plant selection, you can create a low-allergen landscape that will allow anyone to enjoy the bounty of your garden.

Bear in mind that completely eliminating pollen sources is impossible, and actually not desirable. Pollen transfer is integral to fruit and vegetable production, and pollen itself is a necessary food source for beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies. The key is to give allergy sufferers some relief by minimizing the effects of allergens planted in your landscape. Here are a few tips on designing a beautiful, healthy, low-allergen landscape.

Know Your Pollinators

Plants that are pollinated by wind, such as pine and spruce trees, and wheat, barley, and corn, are more likely to produce more pollen — and trigger more allergy symptoms. Wind carries pollen long distances between plants and, in doing so, may come into contact with allergy sufferers. On the other hand, bees and other insect pollinators usually flit from flower to flower in relatively small areas, reducing the risk of pollen exposure to humans.

Determine the Sex of Garden Plants

Plants have male and female parts, but not all are arranged in the same way. The sex of a plant has a great deal to do with how pollen is transferred, and can therefore influence the quantity of allergens in the landscape.

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