Create A Low-Pollen Garden!

When you have asthma, the typical garden is not a very friendly place at all. There are mold spores to contend with and worst of all, is all that pollen. Typical gardens have pollen-producing male trees and male shrubs
Tom Ogren

When you have asthma, the typical garden is not a very friendly place at all. There are mold spores to contend with and worst of all, is all that pollen. Typical gardens have pollen-producing male trees and male shrubs and other plants that can provoke asthma attacks. Almost anyone with asthma will tell you that their asthma can be triggered by a good number of things, but pollen is often number one for causing an attack. Allergies and asthma attacks caused by gardens could be largely a thing of the past, if you are willing to make some simple changes.
Avoiding attacks
In fall of 1999 in Richmond, Virginia the American Lung Association of Virginia (ALAV) built a new Breathe Easy office and headquarters. They had an entire large building constructed with the latest innovations in green construction and sustainable design. No construction materials were used that would off gas any harmful or toxic chemicals, no materials were used that would trigger asthma or allergies. Every attempt was made to build something that would be pleasant and healthy to work in. The people who work in this office now will tell you too, that they all notice what a great improvement it is. Their office is a healthy building.

The ALA decided it would make perfect sense to landscape their new healthy building (in some states these are now called Health Houses) with an allergy-free landscape. OPALS (the plant/allergy 1-10 numerical ranking system) was used to select only those plant materials that were either very low pollen, low allergy, or that were totally pollen free and allergy free. In effect they created the first true asthma-friendly garden in the US.

Pollen-free landscapes
Health Houses in other states are now also adding pollen-free landscapes to their green construction, green buildings. A new Health House is about to be built in Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Association of Landscapers and Nurserymen are helping to surround it with an asthma-friendly landscape.

Schools too are getting into the clean air act, and in the city of Visalia, California, the Tulare County Asthma Coalition recently directed the asthma-friendly landscaping of a newly-built elementary school.

Twelve keys to building your own asthma friendly garden
1. Plant lots of female trees and female shrubs. Not only will these not shed any pollen, they will also trap a good deal of pollen that may stay in from somewhere else. Think of these female plants as nature's air cleaners.

2. Use only low-pollen or no-pollen lawns. There are types of lawns now that are pretty well pollen free and these are a big improvement over some of the older lawn varieties. In southern states, if you have a common Bermuda grass lawn, consider replacing it with a newer, more asthma-friendly hybrid Bermuda grass. Princess 77 is a new Bermuda grass hybrid that can be planted from seed. It is next to pollen free, grows very low and tight, and is especially good looking.

3. With OPALS 1 is best, 10 is worst. Use only plants with rankings of 1 to 5. The more plants in your gardens that have rankings ranging from 1 to 3, the friendlier your place will be for anyone with allergies or asthma.

4. Remove any trees or shrubs with rankings over OPALS 7. The woody landscape plants with rankings of 8 to 10 are all sure-fire allergy triggering plants and you can live without them.

5. Replace any removed high-pollen, asthma-triggering plants with their opposite, female trees or female shrubs. Also good as replacements are perfect flowered plants that are known to be very low-pollen producers. These will all have good (low) OPALS rankings.

6. Use only plants that are well adapted to your own area. If you can find natives that have low allergy rankings, consider using them. Look around your own neighborhood, and see for yourself, which kinds of plants seem to be flourishing there already. For almost every kind of plant used in landscaping, there is now a no- or low-pollen version of it, if you know what to look for.

7. Use a wide variety of plant materials. Diversity is good. Biodiversity always makes sense. The more diverse our gardens are the fewer problems we'll have with insects and molds.

8. Avoid plants with strong fragrances or odors, as they can cause can asthma attack. Don't plant jasmines or similar vines next to entrances or exits and certainly don't use them underneath bedroom windows.

9. For mulch, use rock or gravel instead of bark to cut down on toxic mold spores in the garden. Flat stones or pavers also make good, mold free mulching materials.

10. To further eliminate mold spores, encourage wild birds in your garden. Virtually all wild birds eat insects, and insect damage triggers outbreaks of mold. Even the tiny hummingbirds actually eat a large number of insects. Put up a hummingbird feeder!

11. Keep your plants healthy. This too will cut down on both pollen and mold. When it is hot and windy, do some irrigating. Fertilize everything in the garden spring and fall. If plants are crowding each other too much, thin them out. If tree branches overhead are putting your whole yard in deep shade, consider having the tree thinned to let in more light. Fresh air and light are the enemies of molds.

12. If a tree, shrub, vine or any other plant always looks sickly, looks dirty, or always attracts bugs, then shovel prune it. Dig it up and get rid of it. Replace it with something easier to grow. Don't get caught up in having to spray insecticides all the time, as they too can easily cause asthma and allergies.

Make your garden a fun, stress-free zone
Be sure to have a few comfortable garden chairs to sit in, and a little table of some sort is always good, too. Wind chimes, bird feeders and birdbaths can add greatly to your enjoyment and cost little. A beautiful, pollen-free, allergy-free, asthma-friendly garden can be just the place for healthy children, and a great place for anyone to relax and enjoy the great outdoors. For more advice on low-allergen gardening, look up allergy-free gardening on the Internet, or go to your local library and read some books on this new important subject.

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