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Low-Allergy Gardens

Ten Tips for Avoiding Allergies and Asthma

What we plant in our own yards often has a direct effect on our own health and the health of those near us. The greater the exposure, the greater the incidence of allergy and asthma. Here are some tips to avoid allergies and asthma:

1. Dont plant any male trees or shrubs. These are often sold as "seedless" or "fruitless" varieties but theyre males and they all produce large amounts of allergenic pollen.

2. Do plant female trees and shrubs. Even though these may be messier than males, they produce no pollen, and they actually trap and remove pollen from the air.

3. Plant disease-resistant varieties: mildew, rust, black spot and other plant diseases all reproduce by spores and these spores cause allergies. Disease resistant plants wont get infected as much and the air around them will be healthier.

4. Use only trees and shrubs well adapted for your own climate zone. Plants grown in the wrong zone will often fail to thrive. Because they are not healthy, they will be magnets for insects. Insect residue, "honeydew," is a prime host for molds and molds produce allergenic mold spores. Often native plants will be the healthiest choices.

5. Be careful with the use of all insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. Accidental exposure to all of these chemical pesticides has been shown to cause breakdowns in the immune system. Sometimes one single heavy exposure to a pesticide will result in sudden hypersensitivity to pollen, spores, and to other allergens. This is as true for pets as it is for their owners. Go organic as much as possible. Make and use compost!

6. Diversity is good. Dont plant too much of the same thing in your landscapes. Use a wide selection of plants. Lack of diversity often causes over-exposure. Use lots of variety in your gardens.

7. Wild birds are a big plus because they eat so many insects. Plant fruiting trees and shrubs to encourage more birds. Suet also attracts many insect-eating birds. Insect dander causes allergies and birds consume an incredible amount of aphids, whiteflies, scale, and other invertebrate pests.

8. Use pollen-free selections whenever possible. There are many hybrids with highly doubled flowers and in many cases these flowers lack any male, pollen parts. Formal double chrysanthemums, for example, usually have no pollen. Another example would be almost all of the erect tuberous begonias. These have complete female flowers, but their male flowers have nothing but petals, making them pollen-free.

9. If you simply must have some high-allergy potential plants in your yard, just because you love them, then watch where you plant them. Dont use any high-allergy plants near bedroom windows or next to patios, well-used walkways, or by front or back doors. Place the highest allergy plants as far away from the house as possible and downwind of the house too. Remember: the closer you are to the high-allergy tree or shrub, the greater is your exposure.

10. Get involved with your own citys tree and parks departments, and encourage them to stop planting any more wind-pollinated male trees. There are thousands of fine choices of street trees that do not cause any allergies and we should be using these instead. Working together we can make a healthy difference, and well all breathe better for our efforts.

Thomas Leo Ogren. Thomas Ogren is the author of Allergy-Free Gardening, from Ten Speed Press. More than 3,000 plants are individually allergy-ranked (OPALSTM) in this book. His next book, Safe Sex in the Garden, will be published in March of 2003.Tom can be reached through his website at http://www.allergyfree-gardening.com.