Landscaping with allergies is nothing to sneeze at. Whether you’re a year-round or seasonal sniffler, our tips for allergy-free gardening will let you stop hiding indoors and get back to enjoying your backyard.
1. Choose grass wisely
Not all grass is made equal when it comes to allergies. Grasses release tiny pollen grains that can travel for hundreds of miles, and some of those pollen grains trigger allergic reactions. Everyone’s bodies react differently to grass, and some species may be worse for you than others.
In addition to seeding your lawn with grass that’s better for your sinuses, keep your turf cut on the shorter end of its recommended length. A good rule of thumb is to mow at about 2 inches to prevent too much pollen from circulating in the air.
Minimizing the amount of turfgrass is also a good idea. You can replace traditional grass with a rock garden, an outdoor kitchen, patio, or a water feature.
Worst grasses for allergy sufferers:
Best grasses for allergy sufferers:
✓ St. Augustine grass
✓ Female Buffalo grass (Legacy or UC Verde variety)
✓ Artificial turf
2. Skip the mulch
Mulch’s moisture-retaining abilities might be good for thirsty plants, but it also can be a breeding ground for mold. Replacing mulch is especially important for people with mold allergies and asthma. While clearing out your mulch, remember to wear gloves and a mask.
Why should you replace it instead of letting the soil be bare? Aside from aesthetic reasons, some kind of ground cover is important for allergy sufferers because it minimizes soil dust entering the air, which can irritate the respiratory system. It also suppresses weeds.
Substitutes for mulch:
Ground cover is any low-lying plant that usually spreads in a creeping manner. Plant an allergy-friendly ground cover like creeping thyme, Corsican mint, ajuga, pachysandra, phlox, or vinca.
3. Choose female trees
Trees are some of the worst culprits for the spread of pollen, especially male dioecious ones. Male plants and male parts of plants produce pollen — female plants don’t. Dioecious plants have either male or female flowers (instead of both), so the flowers of dioecious male trees all produce airborne pollen.
Choosing female trees or monoecious plants (trees that produce both male and female flowers) can help reduce allergy symptoms. If you’re not sure what kind of tree you’re choosing, ask your local nursery for guidance.
Did you know most of the trees you see on sidewalks and in parks are males? This is known as “botanical sexism.” Female trees are believed to be messier because of their seed pods, fruit, and flowers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommended male trees for public spaces to minimize cleanup which is believed to be partly responsible for the rise in hay fever.
4. Keep weeds in check
Pulling weeds isn’t anyone’s favorite way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but it’s especially important if you deal with allergies. Although ragweed gets the most publicity, there are a few other weeds that people with allergies are often sensitive to.
Weeds to watch out for
- Low-growing shrub sometimes resembling a vine
- Leaflets have hairs on both sides
- Three leaflets
- Three leaflets on a compound leaf
- Green in summer and spring and yellow or red in the fall
- Stalk in the center leaflet is much longer than the stalks of the side leaflets
- Shrub with small grey leaves with three teeth at the end
- Crushed leaf gives off a spicy, bitter smell
- Shrub with alternating leaves with notched tips
- Green flowers
- Lots of small, shiny black seeds
- Round, bushy shrub
- Green stems have red or purple vertical stripes
- Tiny white to pink flowers attached directly to the stem
- Fern-like leaves about 6 inches long and 4 inches wide
- Small off-white blooms that look like upside-down teacups (not to be confused with goldenrod which has bright yellow flowers)
- Initial leaves after germination have purple markings
How to keep weeds in check
✓ Fill in cracks between pavers and concrete slabs with sand or gravel
✓ Install artificial grass
✓ Keep your yard clear of debris like dead leaves and brush
✓ Plant or install a ground cover on areas of bare dirt
✓ Use an herbicide for spot treatments and young weeds
5. Pollen-free plants
Sniffle-proofing your landscape doesn’t mean making it bare or boring. There are tons of allergy-friendly plants to choose from.
In fact, safe plants tend to be more vibrant than their toxic counterparts. That’s because allergy-friendly plants are insect-pollinated as opposed to wind-pollinated. To attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, and birds, flowering plants need to be showy and colorful.
|Female red maple||3-9|
|Herbaceous perennial||Butterfly weed||3-9|
|Blue false indigo||3-9|
For more ideas for how to fill your allergy-friendly garden bed, check out the full list from the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.
6. Avoid these allergy-inducers
Skip these if you’re looking to use fewer tissues. The following plants exacerbate inflammation and hay fever due to airborne pollen and strong fragrances.
If you really want to keep one of these in your yard, plant it toward the perimeter of your yard away from your house. That way you at least won’t be carrying the irritating substance into your home.
Flowers to avoid:
Trees to avoid:
- Male ash
- Male aspen
- Male cottonwood
- Male maple
- Male mulberry
Ornamental grasses in general are not good for people with pollen allergies, so trade them out for a good ground cover.
How to reduce allergy symptoms when gardening
Don’t let allergies keep you apart from your garden. Yard work doesn’t have to be a source of stress; with a few adjustments, you can minimize your allergy symptoms and get back to your love for landscaping.
Tips for reducing allergies while gardening:
- Choose a cloudy or windless day to garden. You can use the National Allergy Bureau’s resource to check mold and pollen count in your area.
- Avoid touching your face.
- Wear a NIOSH-approved mask, hat, glasses, and gloves to minimize contact with pollen.
- Leave your tools outside so you don’t bring allergens into the house and wash them regularly.
- Keep your windows closed while mowing the lawn and for a few hours after.
- Take a shower right after.
If you’re not getting enough relief or don’t want to risk your health, hire a pro to do the grunt work for you. A landscaping company in your area can maintain your flower beds, mow the lawn, and keep weeds in check. That way, you’ll have more worry (and sneeze) free time enjoying your outdoor spaces.
Main Photo Credit: cenczi | Pixabay