An Allergy-Free Garden

Featured Article, Healthy Recipes and Nutrition, Nutrition
on March 13, 2012
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It’s hard to enjoy gardening and appreciate the beautiful end result if it’s the cause of torturous allergy flare-ups. Thomas Leo Ogren, author of Allergy-Free Gardening, horticulturist and allergy consultant (, has good news—there’s such a thing as allergy-free gardening!It just takes a little know-how about the varieties you plant and where you plant them. You’ll be doing your dog a favor, too, since—surprise!—they get allergies, just like you, and can track pollen from your garden back inside the home.

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Is your dog allergic?
Some breeds of dogs are more susceptible to garden allergies, and pure breeds often have more allergies than mixed breeds. “Allergies in dogs will not usually show up until they are several years old. In the case of a dog, it may instead cause skin allergies, and/or respiratory problems,” Ogren says. “Look for signs like dark fluid draining from their eyes, and lots of itching and scratching.”

Throw your dog a bone
For your dog’s sake, don’t plant the following high pollen-producing plants in your garden: fruitless mulberry trees, any juniper bushes or trees that do not make juniper berries, olive trees, cypress bushes and trees, yew bushes that make no fruit and Podocarpus shrubs or trees.

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Male vs. female plants
For people with allergies, Ogren says all male trees and shrubs should be avoided in the garden. There are many kinds of male trees, including cypress, juniper, yew, yew pines, mulberries, ash, willow, aspen, poplar, silver maple and red maple. “The females of all of these are perfectly safe to plant in your garden,” Ogren notes. How to tell the difference? If the tree produces nuts, berries or fruit, it’s female, for sure. But the absence of these things doesn’t necessarily make it male. Male trees have something called stamens, club-shaped, pollen-producing structures that extend from the middle of the flower. If you’re not sure, Google it or ask a landscaper or horticulturist at your local garden center.There are a few other plants that are not separate-sexed that should also be avoided in the garden as they are extremely allergenic, including olive trees, bottlebrush bushes and any kind of castor bean plant.

Fruit and veggie choices
Most of your favorite fruit trees are safe for your garden, like apple, orange, tangerine, lemon, plum, fig and peach. Ogren says to stay away from sweet cherry trees (pie cherry trees are OK) and almond trees, which both produce large amounts of allergenic pollen. Nut trees, such as pecan and walnut, can also be exceptionally allergenic. “The only vegetables of much concern would be asparagus. Some kinds that are sold (the ‘Knight’ series) are now all male plants, and they will produce allergenic airborne pollen,” Ogren says.

Can’t part with the petunias?
If you simply must have some high-pollen tree or shrub, Ogren recommends planting it as far away as possible from any doors or windows that will be opened. Keep it small in size, if possible, by regular hard shearing or pruning. “Some trees in your garden can be pruned just before they flower, and this may get rid of most of the pollen for that season.”

Hedging your bets
Planting tall hedges on the windward side of your garden can help block oncoming pollen. “In most areas, the wind generally blows from one or two directions. If the wind mostly blows from the west where you live, then a tall hedge on the west side of your garden makes great sense,” Ogren says.