How to Grow: Allergy Free Gardens

Learn about allergy free gardens, including how to plant and grow them.

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It’s garden and allergy season. 50 years ago, less than 5 percent of the population had allergies to plant pollen. Now that number hovers closer to 40 percent. What happened? Plant breeders started selecting male trees and shrubs (which are loaded with pollen) over females (which have little pollen) to reduce that amount of “litter” that falls to the ground from female plants. The unintended consequence is that we have more street, park, and landscape plants that produce pollen than ever before. Also, with the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, more pollen is being produced and the pollen season lasts longer. So for those that suffer with seasonal allergies, summer in the garden may not be much fun.

What’s a allergic gardener to do? You could go for silk and plastic, but that wouldn’t be satisfying. Why not create an allergy-free garden? While pollen can travel a great distance through the air to your nose, it’s most likely your reaction is from pollen on trees, shrubs, and flowers in your own yard. Start with buying trees that naturally don’t produce lots of pollen, such as hawthorn, mountain ash, and dawn redwood. Avoid trees advertised as “seedless” or “fruitless” because they are probably male selections loaded with pollen. Look for known female varieties of trees such as ‘October Glory’ maple.

For flowers, select double-flowered varieties of favorite perennials such as coneflowers, daisies, hollyhocks, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums. True double flowers don’t produce pollen. Check out Tom Ogren’s book Allergy-Free Gardening which has a scale that ranks plants by their pollen content. With a little care, you can spend less time sniffling and sneezing in your garden.

Now for this week’s tip, after all the rain we’ve gotten, many seeds and transplants have succumbed to rot diseases. There’s still time to replant, but make sure the soil is well dried out. Squeeze a handful of soil and if water runs out, wait a little while longer.

From the Vermont Garden Journal on Vermont Public Radio.